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News and Views from the University of Redlands

U of R prepares to launch online GIS certificate program

With classes beginning this fall, the new online certificate program builds on the University’s on-ground programs to equip working professionals with graduate-level knowledge of geographic information systems (GIS). (Photo by Coco McKown '04, '10)

In response to the ever-changing business world, the University of Redlands is planning to offer an online geographic information systems (GIS) graduate certificate with courses beginning this fall. Katie Olson of the Bulldog Blog sat down with GIS Department Chair and Professor Fang Ren to talk about the certificate’s objectives, the need it will fill, and how the program will create a bridge to a career in GIS.

Bulldog Blog: Is this online certificate being proposed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic? 


Fang Ren: This certificate was in the works long before COVID-19, but we do hope there will be additional interest in the new program due to current circumstances. 

BB: The U of R currently offers two master’s degrees in GIS and an undergraduate minor in spatial studies. Where will this certificate fit in?

Ren: Unlike the University’s larger programs, the certificate will include one required course and three elective courses. We decided to create the program for two reasons. First, we’ve gotten many inquiries about online coursework. Working adults and professionals often can’t relocate to Redlands to study GIS, so we wanted to provide a learning opportunity for them. Secondly, the certificate provides a stepping stone to our master’s programs. A graduate degree can sound intimidating, and this certificate allows students to grasp the foundations of GIS through smaller-scale projects. Once students learn the basics, they can integrate those principles into their workday or they can pursue more knowledge. We’re bridging the gap between having no knowledge of GIS and pursuing a master’s degree.

BB: What are the course objectives for the certificate?  

Ren: The core class will include the foundations of GIS technology. After that, students will be able to choose elective courses based on individual interests. The electives cover four aspects of GIS—the Python programming language, cloud-based GIS computing, remote sensing and image analysis, and databases. Students will analyze data collected through remote sensors, such as satellites and drones. The database aspect is also important because every project requires a database. Students will ultimately be prepared for a master’s degree in GIS, if that is something they want to pursue, and the credits can be applied to our GIS master’s programs.

BB: How does this GIS certificate compare to those from other institutions? 

Ren: Compared to other programs, ours has a few important features, including being taught at a graduate level. Our classes are well-designed by experienced faculty and by adjunct faculty who also work at Esri. Students will have access to Esri Academy training resources, which includes three tiers of training and maintenance videos. We’re also committed to a high quality of learning—we carefully hire adjunct faculty members who have many years of professional and academic experience.

BB: With U of R’s close proximity to Esri, will students be offered any unique opportunities? 

Ren: Students receive free registration to the Esri User Conference—Esri’s main annual gathering in San Diego—which is a great opportunity for networking and broadening knowledge horizons around GIS. The conference allows students to meet GIS professionals and gives them a chance to attend workshops and ask questions about GIS applications and solutions.

BB: Who is the ideal student for this certificate? 

Ren: Anyone who wants to learn more about GIS is a candidate. Individuals who want to learn GIS foundations but have family or work obligations that prohibit them from relocating to Redlands could benefit from the program. People who want to integrate GIS into their daily tasks can also benefit, as GIS principles apply to a wide range of industries. Many companies are integrating GIS into their workflow. GIS can be applied to nearly any industry, including city planning, logistics, transportation, environmental conservation, business, and more. 

BB: How is the GIS industry changing, and how does this certificate address those changes? 

Ren: GIS has moved away from desktop applications and into the cloud. ArcGIS Online has gained a lot of popularity, and the awareness of GIS in decision-making processes has increased. GIS is no longer restricted to environmental science—now people are using it to make important decisions in many sectors. GIS touches many different parts of our lives, from using navigation tools when we drive to searching for a restaurant and beyond. Everything is related to location information, and this certificate explains how to utilize GIS software and other aspects of the technology for real-world applications. 

Learn more about GIS at the University of Redlands.