Twenty five years ago, Saint Mary’s University’s GeoSpatial Services (GSS) was formed with just a handful of employees and the desire to provide hands-on digital mapping and experiences for students. This on-campus project center has grown to:
- 80 employees (including 27 permanent plus 50 students on both Saint Mary’s Twin Cities and Winona campuses);
- Providing an additional continuous revenue stream to the school annually;
- National recognition and a lengthy list of clients, including the Biden administration, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the National Park Service.
In its 25-year history, more than 500 graduate and undergraduate students have worked on a variety of projects, which largely revolve around creating and analyzing natural resource information. Job placement has been an astounding 99%, according to director Andy Robertson.
Timothy Boland, who earned his master’s degree in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) from Saint Mary’s in 2008 is now working at Union Pacific Railroad. He credits his time with GSS in helping prepare him for his current role.
“At GSS, I was able to be a part of a community of learners and also gain experience in a business environment,” Boland said. “I was able to not only develop the technical skill sets related to GIS, but also better understand what it takes to work for a GIS-driven organization with customer goals and requirements. Today, part of my role at Union Pacific Railroad is managing our critical engineering GIS datasets that allow us to move trains with greater safety and efficiency, and I’m very thankful that GSS was there to provide that learning environment for me as a student.”
Which students benefit from working in GSS?
GSS employs both graduate and undergraduate students from all disciplines. The students who benefit most directly from the experience of working at GSS are the M.S. in Data Intelligence and GeoAnalytics students and science majors at the undergraduate level (particularly environmental biology). But, Robertson said, students in business, theatre, history, and criminal justice have all gone on to careers in the geospatial technology field after having been exposed to GIS technology through working at GSS.
“The application of geospatial technology spans all disciplines GeoSpatial Services focuses on the application of the technology to natural resource management, however, a solid understanding of the software tools can benefit the career aspirations of students from any undergraduate major,” he said.
GSS works in GIS
They operate in the field of geographic information science, also known as GIS. Students in GSS at Saint Mary’s most often map using remote satellite imagery to assess wetlands, streams, lakes, rivers, and vegetation; they also do field verification, which includes traveling to some of our nation’s most beautiful locations.
Their work varies from assessing the natural resource condition for 38 national parks across the U.S., to assisting seven Indigenous tribes in the U.S. with developing a wetland and water management program, to providing the Biden administration with information related to the Clean Water Act.
The GIS market is projected to reach $25.6 billion by 2030, increasing at a compound annual growth rate of 12.1% between 2020 and 2030, per Prescient & Strategic Intelligence. The U.S. Department of Labor predicts that GIS skills will be in high demand over the next decade.