Mesa College is one of three two-year colleges and six continuing education centers that make up the San Diego Community College District, which serves nearly 100,000 students each semester. Mesa offers occupational certificates and A.A. and A.S. degrees in a variety of academic and vocational subjects, including GIS.
Launched in 2001, Mesa’s GIS program is an outgrowth of its geography department. The small but growing department has a state-of-the-art computer lab that accommodates up to 20 students; its staff consists of part-time adjunct instructors who also work in the industry. The GIS department emphasizes ArcView and ArcInfo software from ESRI and all of the instructors are experienced GIS professionals. The program revolves around four core courses and an internship, for a total of 15 credit hours.
Mesa’s GIS program primarily attracts two types of students: full- or part-time employees that are interested in upgrading their skills, and full-time degree or certificate candidates seeking a first career as a GIS technician. “In the San Diego area, we have a strong presence of employers that use GIS,” says John Johnson, an adjunct instructor and independent GIS consultant. “There is a very high demand for computer-based mapping skills.”
"There is a very high demand for computer-based mapping skills"
In fact, that’s an understatement: Johnson says that students are being snapped up by eager employers. “In our summer internship program, there were five paid positions that I was unable to place students in, because there aren’t enough students,” he explains.
NSF Grant Supports Program Expansion
Thanks to a three-year grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF), Mesa’s GIS department is expanding to meet the area’s needs for more and better-trained GIS technicians. “The end goal of the NSF grant is to increase the production of qualified GIS technicians to meet workforce demands,” he explains.
Johnson says that the NSF grant will help alleviate one of the biggest challenges facing the GIS program: increasing awareness of how GIS is relevant to other program areas. “We’re working to incorporate GIS curriculum into other disciplines that have a spatial component,” he explains. “Real estate, city planning, biology, epidemiology, and transportation engineering are just a few examples. We’d like GIS classes to be offered as electives where appropriate.”
Johnson, the grant’s principal investigator, says that the department has nearly completed the first year of the grant, which supports both program development and educational outreach.
Developing a GIS Curriculum
The first step in program development was to perform a DACUM analysis. DACUM, or Developing A CUrriculuM, is a model that facilitates the development of competency-based training. The DACUM analysis involves identifying the tasks performed by GIS technicians and using this task list as a basis for developing the curriculum. Johnson pulled together a 12-person committee made up of local industry representatives at the GIS technician level. For two days, the committee met and fleshed out an initial list of 75 tasks grouped into 11 categories. The task list created by the committee was sent to more than 100 additional GIS technicians in the San Diego area who will help validate the responses.
So far, the MATE Center’s role has been to advise Johnson and his colleagues on the DACUM process. “Now that we’ve clearly defined the appropriate job tasks, the next step is to work with a curriculum consultant to develop the curriculum,” explains Johnson.
The initial plan is to work with the department’s four existing courses and develop competency models, learning outcomes, syllabi, and activity and assessment plans. If it’s determined that new courses are needed, the department will add them, Johnson says.
Another dimension of the NSF grant is educational outreach, which has resulted in partnerships with the geography department of San Diego State University (SDSU) and San Diego City Schools, who are working with Mesa on the grant and partly funded by it. With SDSU, Mesa is helping to develop the curriculum for an undergraduate-level GIS class that will articulate with a similar class at Mesa. This will help facilitate the transfer of students from Mesa College to SDSU’s graduate-level GIS program.
"We’re working to incorporate GIS curriculum into other disciplines that have a spatial component"
Aggressive outreach at the high school level helps bring GIS curriculum into high schools. Mesa conducted three GIS institutes in San Diego this summer, reaching several hundred high school teachers. “We’ve seen a lot of interest from high school teachers in basic GIS skills,” says Johnson. “And a large number of them want us to follow up with additional skills training in GPS and GIS, which we’ll probably hold later this year.”
“The NSF funding is a great resource for us to use to reach a lot more people and we’re trying to take full advantage of it,” he says. “Being connected with the NSF project has opened up all kinds of doors and opportunities.
And certainly, with the work being done to further develop its GIS curriculum and improve educational outreach, Mesa College’s GIS department is on a fast track to increase the quantity and quality of trained GIS technicians in the San Diego area!
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