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Penn State online GIS program earns top national honor

October 29, 2009

University Park, Pa. -- When hurricanes, wildfires or other disasters strike, emergency services personnel frequently turn to geographic information systems (GIS) to help coordinate their response. Since GIS is a relatively young and rapidly evolving technology, many users learn on the job. Thanks to Penn State's online GIS programs, practitioners can advance their knowledge, skills and careers without putting their lives on hold. The Sloan Consortium recently recognized the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences' Master of Geographic Information Systems program delivered through the World Campus as the 2009 Most Outstanding Online Teaching and Learning Program.

"Our online geographic information systems programs are designed to meet the education needs of working GIS professionals," said David DiBiase, faculty coordinator of the Department of Geography's GIS postbaccalaureate certificates and master's degree programs. "The Sloan Consortium award is a validation of our efforts to develop high-quality online education programs that enable these professionals to keep up with advances in this field," added DiBiase, who directs the John A. Dutton e-Education Institute in the College of Earth and Minerals Sciences.

Until the recent economic downturn, the number of professionals who used GIS as part of their jobs was 500,000 in the United States alone and growing at nearly 15 percent a year. Even as the U.S. economy has shed millions of jobs, more students seek GIS skills and a Penn State certificate or degree to better their chances of competing for rewarding careers. According to DiBiase, enrollments in the online GIS programs set all-time records this fall.

The Department of Geography within the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences is the academic home of Penn State's GIS programs. To make this and other programs available online, the college partners with Penn State Outreach, which administers World Campus, Penn State's online campus for distance-based learners. "The Sloan Consortium's recognition of Penn State's online Master of Geographic Information Systems program is an important indicator of the value of online education for working professionals," said Wayne D. Smutz, executive director of Penn State World Campus and associate vice president for Academic Outreach. "The flexibility of this learning environment makes it easier for these professionals to keep pace with the rapid changes in GIS technologies."

The Sloan Consortium, or Sloan-C, an association of accredited educational institutions offering online degree programs, honored the Department of Geography and Dutton e-Education Institute "for creating and sustaining the foremost online graduate program for current and aspiring geospatial professionals." The award will be presented Oct. 29 during the 15th Sloan-C International Conference in Orlando, Fla.

GIS professionals use computer technologies to visualize, analyze and display data. They work in local government, environmental engineering and resource management, utilities, transportation planning, emergency management and homeland security, and many other fields.

Since developing its first online GIS certificate program in 1999, the Department of Geography has expanded its GIS offerings to 26 online courses. Course ware modules used in many of these courses are open for inspection at http://open.ems.psu.edu/ online. To date, there have been nearly 9,000 online enrollments by students from every state and many countries in the combined Master of GIS and Postbaccalaureate Certificates in GIS and Geospatial Intelligence. The department has awarded nearly 1,300 GIS certificates and 55 Master of GIS degrees.

For more information about the Master of GIS, visit http://www.worldcampus.psu.edu/MasterinGIS.shtml online.

Penn State World Campus specializes in adult online education, delivering 62 of Penn State's most highly regarded graduate, undergraduate and professional education programs through convenient online formats. Founded in 1998, Penn State World Campus serves more than 7,100 students in all 50 states and 62 countries. For more information, visit http://www.worldcampus.psu.edu/ online. Penn State World Campus is part of Penn State Outreach, the largest unified outreach organization in American higher education, serving more than 5 million people each year, delivering more than 2,000 programs to people in all 67 Pennsylvania counties, all 50 states and 114 countries worldwide.

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