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GIS: Little-known but in demand in many industries

Many disciplines use GIS (geographic information systems), which is a highly sought-after skill in today's workforce

November 30, 2021

There’s a hidden jewel in the Mount’s academic offerings: it’s GIS, or geographic information systems. But what is it, exactly? Think of GIS as creating data maps using technology. GIS is a jewel because a growing number of industries need people with these mapping skills. And although the program for these tech skills is relatively unknown, the Mount is educating the second-highest percentage of graduates in each class with a GIS background second only to Cal State Northridge in Southern California.

Some examples of its use: Police take cell phone data to track a criminal’s whereabouts. The California Coastal Commission mapped our state’s wetlands. Community demographic data – how far people travel to work and the number of 911 calls made, for example – help state and city governments allocate resources for services such as public transportation and the number of fire departments. 

This map, created by a Mount student as part of an assignment, illustrates the size of breeding populations of different species of grackle, a bird that controls insect numbers but also does a lot of damage to crops, especially corn. While this map may not be that sophisticated, the data points created to hone in on the final results shown in this map are possible thanks to GIS technology.
This map, created by a Mount student as part of an assignment, illustrates the size of breeding populations of different species of grackle, a bird that controls insect numbers but also does a lot of damage to crops, especially corn. While this map may not be that sophisticated, the data points created to hone in on the final results shown in this map are possible thanks to GIS technology.

The GIS program at the Mount began in 2014 with Title V funds. “It’s a very white, male-dominated field,” says professor Patrick Kahn. “I’m happy to tip the scales, to make it inviting to women and underserved populations.”

According to Kahn, “having a minor in GIS makes a wide array of jobs available that people wouldn’t be qualified for otherwise.” According to the Department of Bureau of Labor Statistics, the need for people with GIS skills was expected to grow 19% between 2008 to 2018, faster than the average of all other occupations, and industry associations say that the demand for skilled workers remains high. Also, geospatial technology is one of 14 sectors identified by the U.S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration that is projected to add substantial numbers of new jobs, affect the growth of various industries, and require new skill sets for workers.

The biggest challenge is introducing students to GIS. Kahn works closely with colleagues in criminology, sociology, biological sciences and computer science to include GIS as a component in three or four of their assignments each semester. He usually gets some “transfers” as a result. Currently, students can major in geospatial criminology or minor in GIS; there are plans for a GIS certificate program to launch in fall 2022.

Kahn’s next goal: update the Doheny computer lab – the hardware is too old for the GIS software -- and expand the program. He had a recent moment of joy: for the first time, a first-year entered the University with the intent of declaring geospatial criminology as a major. One giant step forward for a Mount program putting women into the forefront of tech-based data mapping.

 

 

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