At West Chester, we have benefited from having a geography department that can overcome barriers between programs and strategically share GIS technology and licensing for campus-wide use. We strive to show how universities can benefit from connecting their geography and business programs.
West Chester University Incorporates Location Analytics Curricula
• The West Chester University College of Business and Public Management is helping students get ahead and meet workforce needs by using locational analytics in undergraduate and graduate programs.
• Phuoc Pham, PhD, and assistant professor of management at the College of Business and Public Management, pioneered location analytics in his supply chain course, promoting the use of geospatial technologies in other business courses.
Every university graduate wants to know that their future work will be valued and valuable, so preparing for the careers that will be highly sought after is crucial. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, data and business analysts will be in increasingly high demand soon, growing by 26 and 11 percent, respectively, by 2029. Both occupations are already higher than average in terms of growth.
The West Chester University (WCU) College of Business and Public Management is dedicated to meeting this demand. The school's unique program includes a Department of Geography and Planning that has taught geographic information system (GIS) technology for over 20 years. "WCU takes an interdisciplinary approach to our programs and colleges; we consider GIS to be another form of analytics that just uses location as the focus," said Evan Leach, PhD, dean, and professor of management at WCU. "GIS is a really important tool to answer strategic business questions and address business challenges."
Undergraduates can pursue a bachelor of science in geography with a location analytics track, as well as minors in GIS, business analytics, and business GIS. The college also boasts accelerated master's programs in geography from business management, international business, marketing, and supply chain management.
"Our hope is that students don't approach today's problems with the mindset of siloed majors like business and geography, but rather approach problems holistically and through an interdisciplinary lens," said Leach. "Achieving that comes from not thinking in a traditional sense. Just because a business program hasn't had a prominent GIS program in the past, doesn't mean it shouldn't be open to developing one in the future."
And developing a business-centered GIS program is what WCU faculty have set out to do.
One Professor Introduces a Location Perspective
A major contributor to WCU's status as a leader in location-informed business education is Phuoc Pham, PhD, and assistant professor of management at the College of Business and Public Management. Pham teaches a required supply chain course for both business majors and minors. Typically offered year-round, Pham's course explores the fundamentals of supply chain management, including how to leverage big data and technologies to solve supply chain issues. Students in his course are exposed to concepts like cloud computing; machine learning; the Internet of Things (IoT); and, most recently, GIS and location analytics.
"We don't want to throw a bunch of theory and textbook materials at students to solve a supply chain problem; we wanted them to be able to analyze them and know how to use a specific tool to do so," said Pham.
Seeking ways to give the course a stronger analysis component for solving current business challenges, Pham attended a GIS presentation in the fall of 2019, hosted by WCU's geography department. The department had invited an Esri representative to present the technology. "It was a eureka moment," said Pham. "This was the technology I was looking for, and I began learning how to integrate the tool into my course to make it more relevant to solving the problem."
Pham collaborated with fellow WCU staff to learn how to use ArcGIS technologies. In the winter of 2020, he began testing core concepts in his class using Learn ArcGIS, a series of online tutorials that contain ready-to-use lessons based on real-world problems. By spring 2020, Pham had fully integrated ArcGIS Business Analyst, ArcGIS Pro, and ArcGIS Online into his course for the students to analyze and map supply chain challenges. Students also used ArcGIS StoryMaps to present and publish their assignments on the web.
To help students adapt and become comfortable with the software, he created guidelines on how to use the technology in the supply chain context. He paired these resources with sample business problems he had created and supplied data for the students to analyze. "It really was the right time to integrate these technologies and prove how important location was to these business problems," said Pham. "The pandemic was happening, and supply chain challenges were a hot topic to discuss."
Pham shared with his students some examples of supply chain problems that were happening due to the pandemic and thought leadership pieces about solving them with maps. "Students really enjoyed the course because they could clearly see the application of these tools," said Pham.
Teaching Students to Apply GIS Knowledge to Real-Life Problems
While Pham worked with organizations to get case examples for his course, the business school eventually developed a case competition in spring 2022. The competition exposed students to a real-world business challenge to build their résumés, provided an opportunity to network with executives, and revealed job opportunities. The success of the first case competition has led to new sponsorships with other businesses, presenting students with internship, job, and experiential learning opportunities.
"It's clear that these skills are highly desired in the market; students need to know how to use data to solve problems and make decisions," said Pham. "I am lucky to work on a team that has the same mindset and strategy that we are doing the right things for students."
From the success of integrating location analytics in his supply chain courses, Pham hopes to expand using the technology in his logistic courses next. He encourages other university professors to be unafraid of bringing in tools or skills they find valuable to the classroom.
"I saw this was a great tool, and that I just needed to do it, so I learned by doing, as I went, " said Pham. "I want to see other business schools do this too; you can do it, and your students can too."
An Interdisciplinary Foundation of Essential Workplace Skills
Leach observes that as organizations and businesses leverage the benefits of big data, business schools will need to adapt curricula to marketplace expectations and student preferences. "Universities need to have a lifelong learner mindset and develop a model that supports students long after they graduated with their bachelor's [degree] and throughout their careers," said Leach. He added it will be crucial for universities to consider certifications that meet workforce needs and evolving technologies.
WCU has already begun this process, developing a new major in business analytics with a GIS-focused track and requiring students in the major on other tracks to take one dedicated GIS course. The college is also developing a GIS certificate among others for undergraduate students wanting to supplement or specialize their skill sets regardless of their major.
"Our hope is that GIS becomes a tool that is widely used by people strategizing and making business decisions," continued Leach. "We are proud of what we have been able to accomplish at WCU and remain in constant conversation to move forward."
Enrich Business Education Curriculum with GIS
Discover resources for applying location analytics