Front Range Community College Starts Bachelor’s Degree Program in Geospatial Science
If you go
What: Information session on the bachelor’s degree in geospatial science
When: 6 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday
Where: Front Range Community College, 2190 Miller Drive, Longmont
More info: Register for the event at bit.ly/2BJkbf9
Esri, which creates geographic information system mapping software, has 415 job openings across the country, with 29 openings at its Broomfield office alone.
The high demand for workers skilled in geospatial science is part of what drove Front Range Community College to create its first four-year degree program. Starting in April, students can register to get a Bachelor of Applied Science in the subject.
Introductory courses will be offered over the summer and advanced classes will start in the fall. Students also will have a separate building that will serve as the geospatial science suite once the program begins. It will be named after Dave Skiles, who founded the program but died in 2017 before it was approved.
Companies such as Esri and Digital Globe are supportive of the new program, which could help them fill some of their open positions.
“They’re doing some things there that no other college is doing,” said Joseph Kerski, education manager at Esri. “It will help us, because we’ll be able to have additional people who are knowledgeable about how to use and how to apply geospatial technology in various fields. They’re positioning students for the decade of 2020.”
Geospatial science is a “blanket term,” according to Jennifer Muha, the GIS program coordinator and the program’s sole full-time instructor. It encompasses geographic information systems, or GIS, cartography, coding for phone apps and data analysis.
To sum it up, Muha said it looks at the “distribution of data over space,” which lets people analyze where people and landscapes are and how that has changed over time. It includes everything from Google Maps to self-driving cars to city planning.
“We can get jobs anywhere,” Muha said.
The community college has had a geospatial science program since 2004. It started as a certificate program and then expanded into an associate degree program.
Many of the students in the program were already working in the field and needed more training, or were completing the program for vocational rehabilitation, said Deborah Craven, dean of instruction at the college. With the four-year degree offering, Craven hopes other student populations join the program.
The college created its own bachelor’s degree program because no nearby institution had one. While many four-year colleges have degree tracks that incorporate geospatial science into a specific area, such as wildlife management, Craven said none had programs devoted solely to GIS. The closest schools that did were in other states, like South Dakota, New York and Arizona.
When the state in 2015 approved Bachelor of Applied Science programs for community colleges, Craven said FRCC saw an opportunity to fill that gap. The program was approved in January.
Since 2015, Metropolitan State University of Denver created a geospatial science program. It only requires a few dozen credits of GIS-specific coursework, while Front Range Community College’s program requires 76 credits.
“We’re very, very focused in the application of different forces of geospatial science,” Muha said.
While students also learn theory, they apply it in lab work and project-based learning for various companies, and most of the teachers are adjuncts who work full-time in the industry.
Kerski said he thinks the college’s offerings are unique compared to others because of the focus on skills and workplace development.
Most classes are held at night and open labs are held on Fridays and Saturdays, which makes it easier for people to work while attending school.
“There is a demand for all-night bachelor’s programs that are not online,” Muha said.
At $21,467, the program also costs nearly $10,000 less than the program at Metropolitan State University, while still offering updated software for training.
“That’s really important to us, that we’re not going to put people in debt to finish this degree,” Craven said.
Madeline St. Amour: 303-684-5212, firstname.lastname@example.org