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This article was originally published on 01/30/2013. Information and links within may no longer be applicable.

NSF grant to help Virginia Western train geospatial technicians

A new grant by the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Advanced Technological Education program will help Virginia Western Community College create a pathway for students to gain employment in the growing field of geospatial technology. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, employment in geospatial technology is expected to increase 35 percent by 2020.

A partnership consisting of four Virginia community colleges, the Virginia Space Grant Consortium, and the Virginia Geospatial Extension Program, based in Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources and Environment, has been awarded a grant of $899,870 by NSF to support community colleges in their effort to prepare more skilled geospatial technicians.

The participating community colleges include Virginia Western Community College, Thomas Nelson Community College, Southwest Virginia Community College, and J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College.

The Expanding Geospatial Technician Education Through Virginia’s Community Colleges (GeoTEd) project is a three-year effort that will continue a statewide partnership to create academic pathways and train faculty in the use of geospatial technologies.

“Our students are developing geospatial knowledge and abilities that will give them a competitive advantage in the workplace. We are excited to be working with project partners to provide students with nationally aligned curriculum and expanding opportunities for their continued education at senior institutions.” said David Webb, Geospatial Program Head at Virginia Western Community College.

The project, administered by the Virginia Space Grant Consortium, will establish academic pathways in geospatial technologies (such as geographic information systems, global positioning systems, and remote sensing). These academic pathways will serve as model programs for other community colleges nationally.

The U.S. Department of Labor considers the geospatial technology field a high-growth industry, particularly within the public sector—federal, state and local governments—as well as in regulated industries, such as telecommunications, utilities and transportation. According to GIS Lounge, Virginia ranks highly on geospatial job growth with a recent analysis showing it trailing only California and Texas nationally.

“The geospatial industry is causing a social and economic transformation that is impacting almost every sector of the society,” explained John McGee, geospatial Extension specialist in Virginia Tech’s Department of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation.

“Virginia’s geospatial industry has long been considered to be one of the nation’s most vibrant, and the demand for geospatially literate employees continues to grow,” he continued. “This project engages stakeholders from many different sectors to ensure that the region is well poised to support the geospatial technology workforce demand of the future.”

The GeoTEd project will align curriculum with the National Geospatial Technology Competency Model developed by the Department of Labor and the National GeoTech Center and the needs of business and industry in the Commonwealth.

Virginia Tech will host the regional Geospatial Technology Institute, which provides hands-on training in geospatial technologies to 25 faculty from Virginia’s community colleges as well as from Kentucky, Maryland, North Carolina, Tennessee, and West Virginia. Participating faculty will attend a one-week session in each of two years and receive mentoring and follow-up support from project partners.

Other components of the project include the development of distance education courses in geospatial technology, mobile applications, the geospatial Web portal, and career awareness information. The Virginia Space Grant Consortium’s GEOTREK12 program will also provide professional development to 45 high school teachers from the service regions of the partnering community colleges.

“This grant and this partnership continue to pay big dividends for the people of Virginia and we are excited about that,” said Glenn DuBois, chancellor of Virginia’s Community Colleges. “You cannot talk about education today without hearing the word, ‘STEM’, (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). Well, this is what STEM looks like. Our shared focus on STEM means we are helping people prepare for exciting careers and we are positioning Virginia as a leader in a growing industry.”

The National Science Foundation’s Advanced Technological Education program, supporting the development of technicians in emerging fields, recognizes the need to inspire, motivate, and empower students to develop and achieve career goals. The program funds projects that focus on developing partnerships between community colleges, other higher education institutions, and employers to provide workforce development and education of science and engineering technicians at the undergraduate and secondary school levels.

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