UNI: The right location for geography majors

Geographic information systems (GIS) may sound like a niche technical major, but you probably use several different GIS technologies every day. Every time you tag your location on Facebook or find your way using your phone's GPS app, you're using GIS technology.

Geographic information systems
The Kirkwood-UNI GeoBridge program gives Kirkwood students the opportunity to network with UNI students and faculty as students work on research projects for their Kirkwood GIS classes.

"People often don't make the connection between things like location-based apps on their phone, in-car GPS systems, interactive web maps and Google Earth as all being connected to a geospatial industry, but those only scratch the surface of how and where this technology is being used," said Patrick Pease, head of UNI's Department of Geography. "The range of careers in GIS is very diverse because we've reached a point where almost everyone is using some form of geospatial data."

UNI's Department of Geography gives students the opportunity to join this rapidly growing field with the undergraduate degree in geographic information science (GISc) and certificate in GIS. Thanks to a new bridge program with Kirkwood Community College (KCC) in Cedar Rapids, UNI's program is growing with the industry.

"Our program is stronger because of the quality of students that transfer from Kirkwood," said Pease. "They are among our best. They are very well prepared, enthusiastic and able to enter midway through our program seamlessly."

The Kirkwood-UNI GeoBridge program gives Kirkwood students the opportunity to network with UNI students and faculty as students work on research projects for their Kirkwood GIS classes. Additionally, UNI and Kirkwood students present their research to each other at the end of each semester. "The goal is to make it easier and more comfortable for KCC students to transfer to UNI because they will already know some faculty and students and will have seen the similarity in our classes," said Pease.

After completing their associate of applied science degree at Kirkwood, students will transfer into UNI's bachelor of science degree in GISc. Though students have been transferring from Kirkwood to UNI for years. In 2010, the geography department made more of an effort to build a relationship with the community college. That was the unofficial start of the GeoBridge program, and according to Pease, "The more structured bridge program has only strengthened that relationship."

Graduates of UNI's GIS program have found careers at businesses and public agencies, including Garmin International in Kansas City, the City of Dubuque, Alliant Energy, John Deere and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. But the opportunities don't end there.

"Any industry that deals with locations, movement or spatial connections will use some form of GISc," said Pease. "It's about understanding how the world works and using that information to solve problems."

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