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UNG awarded $609,739 federal grant to expand geospatial program

Student Logan Moore operates a total station surveyor with Dr. Jeff Turk, director of IESA.
Student Logan Moore operates a total station surveyor with Dr. Jeff Turk, IESA director

The National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded a three-year, $609,739 grant to the Lewis F. Rogers Institute for Environmental & Spatial Analysis (IESA) at the University of North Georgia (UNG) to develop a curriculum for a new associate degree and a certificate program.

The project, titled "Applying Geospatial and Engineering Technology," will develop courses for an Associate of Science degree pathway in geospatial engineering technology (GET) and a certificate in land surveying, to be offered at the Gainesville Campus. It builds on the success of a previous NSF award that resulted in the creation of two certificates--environmental science and geographic information science (GIS)--and a Bachelor of Science degree in environmental spatial analysis (ESA).

The goal of the project is to meet the demand for highly skilled and educated technicians in the burgeoning field of geospatial technology.

"Receiving an award from the National Science Foundation to provide opportunities for our region through the IESA program fully aligns with UNG's role as a community-engaged university," said Andy Novobilski, associate provost and chief research officer. "The Institute faculty will use the grant to advance interest in STEM-related (science, technology, engineering and math) opportunities directly applicable to the agricultural and manufacturing activities prevalent in UNGs 30-county service region."

Geospatial technology is the range of tools used to analyze, measure and visualize the earth's features, through global navigation satellite systems, GIS, remote sensing, surveying and internet mapping technologies. It is both indispensable and ubiquitous, from planning shopping centers and assessing economic markets to managing famine relief. The U.S. Labor Department considers the field primed for growth, from about 850,000 employed in the industry today, to more than 1.2 million by 2019.

The project is led by Dr. Jeff Turk, IESA director; project members include IESA faculty and staff members Dr. Sudhanshu Panda, Dr. Yu Sun, Zac Miller and Chris Strother, who will assist in developing the curriculum and disseminating materials, practices and methodologies that will be used in the programs.

"We feel that students will be attracted to high prospective employment opportunities and the uses of technologies such as satellite systems, light detection and ranging, unmanned aerial vehicles, computer aided design, surveying total stations and other geospatial technologies," Turk said.

The degree and certificate programs will prepare students for careers in a number of fields, including land-use planning, flood-plain mapping, environmental protection, precision farming, and national security. Students can choose to complete the coursework and enter the job market immediately or move on to an advanced degree in the field. 

By the end of the grant, project personnel are seeking to bring 150 additional students into the program and will make a particular effort recruiting at local high schools that serve high numbers of underrepresented populations. In addition, project personnel with seek guidance from Sheila Caldwell, UNG advisor to the president on diversity, and the Multicultural Student Affairs office toward those efforts. 

"IESA faculty have been working on this proposal for three years, as this was our third submission and funding attempt,” Turk said. "The award is very significant for the Institute as it augments and complements our geospatial curricula by adding content to current courses and adds the related and complementary discipline of land surveying and geomatics into our programs."

The NSF is an independent government agency created by Congress in 1950 that supports fundamental research and education in all non-medical fields of science and engineering. It has an annual budget of $7 billion and funds approximately 24 percent of all federally supported basic research conducted by the nation's colleges and universities.

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