$418,869 Grant awarded for Geospatial Education Initiative

Initiative will bring newest technologies to UW-Eau Claire

Geospatial education at UW-Eau Claire is getting a facelift, in an effort to give students a hands-on education in a rapidly expanding field.  A Geospatial Education Initiative (GEI) has been developed by a team of faculty members from the departments of geography and anthropology, Computer Science, Physics and Astronomy, information systems, and marketing and management. This GEI has recently been awarded a three-year, $418,869 grant from the Growth Agenda for Wisconsin Grants Program.

The purpose of this Initiative is to teach students the skills and experience gained from using new technologies needed to enter the Geospatial workforce. Geospatial technologies include the tools that involve the mapping, analyzing and processing of information about the environment of a specific location.

“The scope of this project is to enhance education at the university,” said Christina Hupy, an associate professor of geography and one of the principal investigators of GEI. “Especially in the geography department.”

Geospatial technology and the science behind it is a fast developing field, which spans various industries other than geography, and the demand for new graduates is high. Eau Claire does not currently offer geospatial technology as a major.  

“There are three main goals to this initiative,” Hupy said. “To create meaningful relationships between faculty and students with businesses around Wisconsin, develop a solid internship program so students can jump right into the workforce and it will also create a new comprehensive geospatial major at the university.”

Among the geospatial technology that this grant will help bring to UW-Eau Claire are those related to GPS, GIS, remote sensing and computer cartography systems that are all developing very rapidly according to Associate Professor of Geography Paul Kaldjian.

“These tools are how we analyze, interpret and represent the community,” Kaldjian said. “And as geographers, define the significance of the information.”

Among the new, still developing technologies this grant will bring to the university are unmanned aerial systems (UAS).  These are drone-like systems, which use GPS technology and cameras to take detailed images of the ground, and can gather information about the air, ozone and even more.

“This grant gives us a great opportunity for students to keep up with developments in the field and apply them in the classroom and beyond,” Kaldjian said.

Students will be able to use these technologies and learn them as they develop. Tim Condon, senior geography major already realizes the potential this grant can bring future students.

“I think it’s a really good thing because it’s a growing science, and there’s a lot of applications it can be used for environmentally and culturally,” Condon said. “Plus this puts Eau Claire in the forefront of the area.”

While these new geospatial technologies such as UAS will start with being used in the geography and anthropology department, GEI will integrate them into the other departments involved in the initiative.  Kaldjian thinks this collaboration will open up new possibilities and relationships in other industries as well.

“This grant is a whole package of how to do and what to do with these tools,” Kaldjian said. “What geographers do is connect relationships over space, and relationship with environment.  These tools open up possibilities with a wide range of businesses and industries that have to do with space, which is almost anything.”

Ranging from engineering to environmental consultants, to transportation to health services, there are many industries getting invested in geospatial technologies.  GEI will continue to expand Eau Claire’s geospatial education throughout the three years of this grant. How far these technologies develop by then might  well depend on students still grasping what these could accomplish.

“It’s awesome, but in a way frightening,”  Kaldjian said. “Where are the limits and bounds of these tools we are developing? The good consequences are very powerful, but the negative consequences, well they’re out there, too.”