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GIS education through distance learning: Oregon State University

September 15, 2011

Oftentimes, graduates of programs in geography, planning, environmental science and the like have not acquired the GIS skills necessary to complement their main discipline in the workplace.  Perhaps they did not realize that GIS would be integral for their work, or their university or college did not offer a substantial GIS program.  Either way, many are left without the marketable job skills that employers often require.  Luckily, several top-level universities have developed post-graduate certificate programs in Geographic Information Systems and Sciences available through distance learning.  So no matter where you live, you can boost your skills and qualifications to help your career.  I’m going to introduce you to a few of these programs over the next few weeks so that you can see which one might be right for you.  I begin with a look at the graduate certificate in GIScience at Oregon State University.  I spoke with the program’s director, Kuuipo Walsh.

If you browse the OSU course titles, you will notice that the program is focused mainly on environmental applications of GIS and remote sensing software.   Walsh confirms this; “Oregon State University is very much known for our excellence in natural resources, so we do attract those types of students that are working for federal and state resource agencies.”
The certificate program has two required courses: ‘Remote Sensing of the Environment’ and ‘Geographic Information Systems and Science.’  Additional coursework will be completed from the following list of courses: ‘Responsible GIS Practise: Ethics for future Geospatial Professionals’, ‘Advanced applications of GIS in the Geosciences’ and finally, ‘GIS Programming with Python’.  Students may also have an option to complete a 10-week internship and project toward their additional coursework requirements.  Walsh indicated that the classes are composed of 50% recent graduates and 50% professionals already employed in their field.  The latter group tends to be able to work on their internship project credit with their existing employer.  Currently, the GIS courses are taught using ESRI ArcGIS version 10 and remote sensing courses using ENVI.  

Students can complete the certificate in one year, should they be able to take two courses per term.  If students can only handle one course per term, then the certificate should take two years to complete.  The cost of the program depends where you are located and how you will proceed with the program.  Since the program is also offered on-campus, Oregon residents have the opportunity for a hybrid learning approach through in-class and online learning which may alter the exact cost.  In general the cost of the program whether attained fully online or through the hybrid approach is approximately $9,000.

As with all graduate programs there are some prerequisites.  You will need to have a baccalaureate degree in any field from a college or university with at least a B- (2.75) average for all coursework and at least a B (3.0) in the major field.  Students should have some background coursework in Math (high school or university), Statistics, and Cartography.  Ideally you should have some level of experience with GIS software prior to beginning the program as the initial GIS course in the program is an intermediate level course.  However, Walsh indicated that students have entered the program with no previous GIS exposure.  You may also be interested to know that OSU does not require you to take the GRE for admission into the program.  (What’s the GRE?

With all of the ‘Online Universities’ out there today, it’s important to note that this is not an ‘online certificate.’  Though it may be attained online through distance learning, your transcripts will not indicate conferral of the certificate in a different manner than if you had attained it on campus in Oregon.  So in other words, it is simply a graduate certificate from OSU.

For further reading, click here to visit the OSU GIScience Online Degree site.