||Schofield Hall 218|
||Eau Claire, WI 54702-4004|
Geography Department Gets
Major GIS Gift
MAILED: Jan. 7, 1998|
EAU CLAIRE -- It wasn't until he was in the midst of a job interview that Jason Dettman thought about a career in real estate. A geography major with an interest in geographic information systems, Dettman was uncertain how a real estate company would put his skills to use.
"Then they explained they're finding GIS to be a useful tool in site selection and it started making sense," Dettman said of his position. "It sounded interesting and challenging."
As an information coordinator with United Properties of Bloomington, Minn., Dettman works with brokers who manage commercial space. The company uses GIS -- a computer system capable of assembling, storing, manipulating and displaying geographically referenced information -- to provide information to brokers, who in turn pass it on to customers seeking rental properties.
"I wouldn't have gotten this job without the GIS training I got here," Dettman said of the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. "They were looking for someone with GIS experience because they're finding it to be a useful tool in their field."
Dettman is just one example of graduates using GIS skills to work in industries that in the past may not have sought out geography majors to fill positions, said Brady Foust, chair of the geography department.
GIS is used in everything from helping farmers determine the exact fertilizer mix for each section of their fields to helping law enforcement officials map crime areas to helping police monitor the movement of stalkers.
"The market is wide open," said Harry Jol, an assistant professor of geography who teaches GIS. "It's a brand new field so students can decide their niche and develop an expertise in it."
Dettman's position is an example of that wide open market, Jol said. For example, he said, in the past it may have taken real estate companies an afternoon or longer to identify vacant properties under a certain zoning in a designated area. "With GIS, you can have an answer for your client in 10 minutes or less," he said.
Trucking companies use GIS to track the speed and location of their vehicles, cities and counties use it to create inventories of properties, and garbage collectors use it to determine the most efficient routes for their trucks, he said of other examples.
"You can ask any question and try to solve it with GIS," Jol said.
UW-Eau Claire students seeking GIS training will have even more opportunities thanks to a gift of software from Environmental Systems Research Institute -- a gift valued at $371,595. The California-based ESRI is among the top software companies in the world and the leader in GIS software.
"This is high-end software that we don't have to buy," Foust said. "And you can't be a geographer today and not use this. We need this software to train our students to be competitive in the workplace."
"The job market in GIS is exploding," Michael Phoenix, manager of University Relations for ESRI, stated in a letter to Foust. "This new field is not just a flash in the pan; spatial analysis is becoming ubiquitous in fields like natural resource management, environmental monitoring, market analysis, urban planning and many more categories of employment that are crucial to our high tech workplace."
GIS has been a part of the geography department's curriculum since the late 1980s but it had low-end software. The ESRI gift will allow for more powerful analysis, Foust said, noting there are 80 to 90 geography majors, all of whom receive some training in GIS.
As a result of the ESRI gift, UW-Eau Claire geography graduates will be in a position to "participate in developing really creative solutions to many of society's problems."
Already, UW-Eau Claire's GIS program makes it a leader among universities offering geography programs, Jol said, noting that often students go to graduate school and say they wish they could come back to use UW-Eau Claire's equipment.
"The ESRI gift will give us the most up-to-date software," Jol said. "We will be as up-to-date as anyone in the world. And that will give our students a phenomenal edge up when they enter graduate school or the job market."
Janice B. Wisner
UW-Eau Claire News Bureau
Updated: Jan. 12, 1998