GIS course mapped out for spring semester

Starting next semester, students will be able to take a new geographic information systems (GIS) course that is being offered at an introductory level.

GIS can be defined as “data analysis in a geospatial context,” associate mathematics professor Carl Olimb said.

In the everyday lives of students, GIS products can be found in the form of Snapchat maps, Apple maps and location markers on Instagram and Facebook.

Last January, Carl and assistant computer science professor Dan Steinwand said they began putting the course together with funding from the Augustana Sustainability grant.

The new GIS course is one step toward developing a possible environmental studies major, according to David O’Hara, professor and director of sustainability.

Sarah Olimb, Carl’s wife, uses GIS in her work for the World Wildlife Fund and has been hired to teach the course.

When looking for interns at Augustana for the World Wildlife Fund, Carl and Sarah Olimb could not find a student on campus with the GIS skills they required.

“GIS is now ubiquitous in many fields such as natural resources, urban planning, archaeology and utility management, just to name a few,” Sarah said. “For many of these disciplines, it’s now expected that applicants have at least some experience using the software and tools. My hope is to give Augustana students the opportunity to learn the software and to be comfortable applying it to their own disciplines.”

Other schools in the state offer GIS courses including the University of South Dakota, South Dakota State University and the South Dakota School of Mines.

Carl said they wanted to fill that curriculum gap at Augustana.

“With the advent of Google Maps and Google Earth and things like that, everybody has their fingertips on [GIS products],” Steinwand said. “All of a sudden, it is consumable by the masses. Now we need to start teaching it to the masses.”

The course is expected to be taught three times before it could be approved by the curriculum council, Steinwand said.

“We will then begin to explore the different tools, such as cartography and spatial analysis, available in the software and learn how to find/create data and build a project,” Sarah said. “The end goal will be a portfolio of skills and projects created by each student.”

According to academic planner, nine students have registered and two are on the waitlist as of Nov. 21.

Because it is an introductory course, there are no prerequisites, Carl said.

“It would be excellent to have a sequence of courses,” Steinwand said.

In the future, Steinwand and Carl said they hope to see more GIS courses.


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