Regents approve new geospatial analysis and technology degree at UW-Eau Claire

| Judy Berthiaume

Students interested in pursuing a career in the high-demand, cutting-edge geospatial analysis and technology fields will have a new program option at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

The UW System Board of Regents approved on April 8 a new bachelor’s degree in geospatial analysis and technology within the department of geography and anthropology at UW-Eau Claire.

The GAT major will be available to students beginning in fall 2016.

“Students with a GAT major will graduate with the kinds of cutting-edge skills that Wisconsin business and industry need,” says Dr. Christina Hupy, an associate professor of geography who has been leading many of UW-Eau Claire’s geospatial education initiatives. “It will provide our students with many opportunities as they enter the job market, while also supporting economic growth in Wisconsin by meeting the growing demand for workers with geospatial skills.”

The new major also will provide a foundation for students interested in pursuing graduate work within the geospatial fields.

Geospatial refers to the technology used in the global positioning system, geographic information systems, computer cartography, remote sensing and field sensors that help in acquiring, storing, processing, analyzing and communicating information connected to a specific location.

“Through our discussions with business leaders in the state, we know that employers are searching for graduates with geospatial skills,” Hupy said, noting that the new major is designed so that students can graduate within four years, which is good for students and their future employers. “Graduates with a spatial perspective as well as an understanding of science and technology are in high demand.”

Already, UW-Eau Claire students and graduates with geospatial skills are being recruited by businesses and industries in Wisconsin and beyond for internships and full-time positions.

The demand will continue to grow as business and industry identifies new opportunities for geospatial analysis and technologies, Hupy said.

The U.S. Department of Labor has listed geospatial technology and its use as one of 14 "high-growth, high-demand and economically vital sectors of the American economy" and estimates its growth rate to be almost 35 percent annually.

In 2014, UW-Eau Claire received a three-year $418,869 grant from the Growth Agenda for Wisconsin Grants Program to support geospatial education.

The university’s geospatial education initiatives aim to increase the number of UW-Eau Claire graduates placed within successful careers in the geospatial industry, as well as related industries, by directly improving access to high-quality academic programs and innovative educational opportunities.

The geospatial sector encompasses technologies such as GPS (global positioning systems), GIS (geographic information systems), web mapping and earth-imaging satellites.

“These cutting edge technologies are used to map, visualize and analyze the world around us,” Hupy said. “Increasingly, these technologies and the resulting spatial data are in demand as their utility in decision making and problem solving becomes evident across industries ranging from health care to business development.”

Through the geospatial education grant, UW-Eau Claire created a successful geospatial certificate program, which served as the basis for the new GAT major.

“Many of the students completing the certificate program found jobs at successful companies in Wisconsin such as Continental Mapping, Ayres Associates and Xcel Energy,” Hupy said.

UW-Eau Claire is building a geospatial technology program that is more comprehensive than any other programs in the Midwest, Hupy said.

The new GAT major will further strengthen those efforts, she said.

"Many places have pieces of what we do but we're building something that brings it all together," Hupy said. "We offer students a whole package of classes — and now a GAT major — so they graduate with a highly specialized set of skills along with their liberal arts.

"When you add in all the hands-on learning opportunities in our innovative courses, such as experiences with unmanned aerial systems and LiDAR and the internship opportunities we offer, it's even more impressive. I don’t know of another program that’s doing what we’re doing here."

Current and future students are paying attention, Hupy said, noting that a growing number of non-geography majors also take geospatial courses.

“Students are recognizing that this is a high-demand field and that they will have many more options after they graduate if they understand geospatial analysis and technologies,” Hupy said.

For more information about UW-Eau Claire's new geospatial analysis and technology degree program, contact Dr. Christina Hupy at 715-836-3313 or hupycm@uwec.edu.