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GIScience education gets $2 million boost

Date of release: 06/27/01

SAN MARCOS, TEXAS — Middle and high school teachers struggling to replace the notion that geography is only about locating places on a map will soon have another tool to get students pumped up about modern geography and introduce students to today’s high-tech geography concepts, which can help solve important real-world problems.

Southwest Texas State University’s Geography Department and Grosvenor Center for Geographic Education � in conjunction with Sun Microsystems, Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI) and the National Geographic Society (NGS) Geography Educational Outreach Program � have developed a $2 million center devoted to teaching Geographic Information Science (GIScience) to middle and high school teachers.

The Sun Center of Excellence in Web-based Geographic Information Science Education is expected to officially begin in September.

Geographic Information Science, used by everyone from real-estate agents and the FBI to Hollywood and environmental agencies, relies on computer applications and remote sensing imagery to obtain data and develop state-of-the-art maps and analyses. As a high-tech approach to geography, GIScience, which includes Geographic Information Systems (GIS), remote sensing, cartography, and visualization, is one of the fastest growing career fields. The center is expected to give students a new look into the world of geography.

According to the project proposal, the center will develop in three phases. The first phase, to be complete by August 2002, will establish two replicable Sun GIS labs that will enhance efforts to carry the project into middle and high schools nationwide. Faculty and graduate students will develop GIScience curricula and support applications and conduct GIScience research. During the summer of 2002, SWT will host two-week workshops for middle and high school teacher training.

Phase II in 2002-03 will be the implementation of the curriculum into Central Texas middle and high schools, and Phase III, to be completed by summer 2004, will see the curriculum go nationwide. Teacher workshops and improvements to the program will continue through all phases.

“This is an example of a fantastic win/win situation,” said Van Wyatt, vice president of information technology at SWT. “We’re hoping it’s a first in a series of relationships to establish with Sun.”

Sun Microsystems will contribute almost $400,000 in direct hardware, software and maintenance discounts to support the project. ESRI is contributing more than $300,000 and NGS will give almost $100,000.

“This is going to be a showplace,” said Lawrence Estaville, chair of the SWT Geography Department. “We’re going to take this nationwide. This has blossomed into something special, not only for SWT, but for high school and middle school students across the country.”