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Today @ Sam

New Master's Program Provides Diverse Job Opportunities

May 3, 2010
SHSU Media Contact: Jennifer Gauntt

With unemployment rates holding at around 9.7 percent this year, Sam Houston State University will begin offering courses toward degree this fall in what could be a recession-resistant field.

Approved by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, the geography program’s master’s degree in geographic information systems provides a skill set in the broad and rapidly evolving area of geospatial technologies that can be used in a variety of application areas, including the oil and gas industry, local government, law enforcement, marketing and public health, according to Mark Leipnik, professor of geographical information systems and graduate coordinator.

SHSU has offered courses in geographical information systems for the past 15 years, leading to the creation of an undergraduate minor and courses offered on the graduate level without a degree. These courses will be augmented by new course offerings and an expanded faculty for the master’s degree.

“We put through the master’s program based on an increased demand for those classes and the growing market for professionals with skills in global positioning systems, computer mapping and remote sensing and the fact that a lot of the students we had placed in jobs in that field were finding that to advance, they needed an advanced degree,” Leipnik said.

“It’s an area with, even during the recession, continued job growth,” he said. “I’m getting inquiries from employers almost weekly, but many of those employers now are looking for a higher level of skills than you can get in even three or four undergraduate courses we currently offer.”

Geospatial technologies encompass satellite remote sensing, global positioning systems, Internet-based mapping and more traditional geographic information systems used in businesses and local, state and national government.

The degree could be used in such fields as the oil and gas industry through managing leasing information, routing pipelines, in civil engineering and planning through mapping land use and flood zones; in law enforcement, through mapping crimes to determine areas where more resources are needed; local government, for those dealing with tax appraisals, mapping, 9-1-1 dispatching and public utilities applications; delivery, through route planning and tracking; and marketing, through site selection and targeting advertising, according to Leipnik.

“The marketing area, typically in the past, has taken the form of looking at siting retail units, where you put a shopping center, where you put a Starbucks,” he said. “During the current recession, it’s morphed a little bit into an approach where you close a unit, and you use the same set of tools to decide that a unit is underperforming and which unit to close.”

Those in the program will have unlimited access to some of the best technology and software in the field, including Arc GIS software and ESRI’s online courses, Trimble mapping-grade GPS units, and ERDAS Imagine software.

Because of Houston’s energy-based economy and there is not a graduate program in the area, Leipnik said he expects that a number of regional professionals whose education levels are limiting their potential for job growth will be interested in the program.

“As the field becomes more widespread and the number of people with some facility with technology increases, a bachelor’s degree doesn’t get you into the better jobs any longer,” he said. “For instance, Anadarko Petroleum, even for their internships, wants people with master’s degrees or in programs.

“A lot of the existing workforce has either an associate’s degree or a bachelor’s degree in some other area, some community college courses, a lot of on-the-job training, and they’re sort of capped in terms of their career growth because they don’t have a specific degree in the area, and they don’t have the additional advanced and up-to-date skills they would need to move ahead.”

SHSU’s program will try to accommodate those Houston-based professionals by conducting some of its classes at The University Center in The Woodlands and online classes, but will also host classes on campus.

Those currently enrolled and taking undergraduate courses can earn as many as six units of credit toward the graduate program, and credit will be given for paid internships and work on research projects.

“The job market for people with these skills in Houston is fairly large, particularly those tied to oil and gas industry, and those tend to be high-paying jobs,” Leipnik said. “It is also a field that’s growing rapidly around the world, so for international students, it’s not simply a matter of having developed skills and staying in America. There are a lot of opportunities in China and India with these technologies, as well as in Thailand and Ukraine.”

The program will admit approximately 20 students for the fall semester, and the application deadline is Aug. 1.

For more information, contact Leipnik at geo_mrl@shsu.edu, or apply online at https://www.applytexas.org/.


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