Geospatial Program Expands With Undergrad Degree

April 29, 2009

The University’s newest degree program will be a perfect fit for undergraduates who love working with the latest technology. The School of Economic, Political and Policy Sciences (EPPS) will offer a new bachelor's degree in Geospatial Information Sciences (GIS) this fall.

The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board approved the school’s request to create a 120-credit GIS degree program this month. UT Dallas is now the only university in Northern Texas to offer the full suite of GIS degrees – Bachelor of Science, Master of Science and Ph.D.

“From the earliest days of computerized mapping, I have hoped that we could offer a full set of GIS degrees. The approval of the B.S. in GIS realizes this dream,” said Dr. Brian Berry, dean of the school of Economic, Political and Policy Sciences. Berry was one of the early developers of GIS and formerly directed the Laboratory for Computer Graphics and Spatial Analysis at Harvard University.



Dr. Denis Dean says the program has been designed to offer training in the latest GIS techniques.

Only three other public Texas universities currently offer an undergraduate GIS degree program, and GIS Program Head Dr. Denis Dean explains that there are several factors that set the UT Dallas program apart from the others.

“Since we offer a research-intensive Ph.D. degree, all of the students in our GIS programs will be exposed to a research component that the other state universities simply don’t have,” said Dean.

The fact that the program is housed in the School of Economic, Political and Policy Sciences also offers a unique advantage to students. “GIS departments are almost always headquartered in a school of natural sciences; our students will receive a social science twist that you won’t find in many other GIS programs in the country,” Dean said.

GIS is a system for tracking data as it relates to location. It incorporates the use of global positioning and satellite-based remote sensing. The use of GIS is becoming more commonplace with the growing popularity of applications like Google Earth and technology such as GPS systems.

Dean said GIS technology has developed faster than the training needed to use it. “This has created a huge demand for people who have a deep understanding of GIS technology, and that means people with that understanding can move ahead very quickly in their careers; that’s a competitive advantage you don’t get in many fields,” he said.

The new B.S. in GIS program is designed to teach students the logical, mathematical and technological underpinnings of GIS technologies and techniques. Graduates are well qualified for the growing list of careers in GIS.

The United States Department of Labor’s Career Voyager Web site lists geospatial technologies as a high growth emerging industry. Dean agrees with this projection and points out three of the biggest areas of GIS job growth – the government sector, consulting and private corporations. He says that all levels of government, federal, state and local, have GIS offices because government services tend to be distributed across space. Consulting is a big field because many companies have a need for GIS data, but do not want to set up their own GIS departments. Finally, there are private companies that have a critical need for GIS information and technology, such as the oil and gas sector. Texas has a particularly high concentration of these companies.

Beyond these areas, GIS is a valuable skill for any occupation where location is an important variable, such as marketing research, real estate and environmental monitoring.

Because GIS adds such a valuable dimension to data and research, both in the academic and professional worlds, many undergraduates will find it to be an attractive complement to their primary area of study as a second major.

Undergraduate GIS students will also have the opportunity to select the “fast-track” option where up to 15 credit hours will count towards both the B.S. and M.S. degrees.

Dean says that a student with broad intellectual interests, who can look at problems from multiple perspectives, will excel in this program. The highly interdisciplinary program combines courses from EPPS, the School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics and the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science.

Dean came to UT Dallas from the Warner College of Natural Resources at Colorado State University in 2008 to head the GIS program after Dr. Ron Briggs retired. He is proud to lead the program during this exciting time of growth.

“UT Dallas’ GIS program is still quite new, and we’re obviously growing.  We have great students, a wonderful staff and a top-notch faculty.  We’ve received tremendous support from EPPS and the university as a whole.  The future is only what you make of it, so we have a lot of work to do, but I believe the best days still lie ahead for this program,” said Dean. 


Media Contact: Audrey Glickert, UT Dallas, (972) 883-4320, audrey.glickert@utdallas.edu
or the Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, newscenter@utdallas.edu

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Students of geospatial information sciences learn novel uses for global positioning and satellite-based remote sensing. The interdisciplinary GIS programs combine courses from the School of Economic, Political and Policy Sciences, the School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics and the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science.

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