New GIS major preps students for growing career field

The new bachelor's program gives students hands-on experience with technology that maps and applies information.

The new bachelor's program gives students hands-on experience with technology that maps and applies information.

A new academic major at Troy University prepares students for careers in the growing field of Geographic Information Sciences.

Troy University’s Geospatial Informatics Department unveiled the new bachelor’s of science in geographic information sciences this semester, aiming to provide students with tools that make them valuable in a variety of sectors, including government, law enforcement, the military, human resources and the business world.

GIS combines elements of the University’s geography and geomatics programs, focusing on analyzing and applying information to maps.

“We combined all the strengths and expertise of our faculty members to create this new major,” said Dr. Xutong Niu, Chair of the Geospatial Informatics Department. “This major has a lot of applications. It’s a very practical major, but a lot of folks don’t know what it is. It’s involving geography, but it’s really more about location-based information. You use it in your daily life all the time, but you probably don’t realize it.”

Niu said GIS forms the backbone of everyday things like traffic maps and weather apps.

“How to get that information and actually display it on a map — those are things we do with this GIS program,” Niu said. “It’s utilized in a wide range of fields. You can use GIS to analyze the market, to analyze business decisions, to allocate human resources, for census data, or to make people aware of services available to them.”

In addition to classes in topics like cartography and geospatial analysis, the program involves in-house access to technology such as GPS, drones and 3D scanners.

Niu said grant-funded research projects give students a chance to learn “on the job” and gain hands-on experience while also showing agencies the value of GIS.

“It is a growing field, but a lot of people don’t know this,” he said. “Until they see the need, they scramble around wondering who can help them with this topic. We’re trying to educate students and, at the same time, educate the public so they know this is a need.”

Niu encourages students who may be unsure about the program to try at least one course.

“Be curious. Come to talk to us. If you’d like, just take one course with us and see if it’s something that fits your skills,” he said. “Maybe it can even give you some special skills to help you excel at your work. Our goal is to train someone who can not only do the work, but can think through the work and understand it.”

Interested students can visit the Geospatial Informatics Department at 344 Wallace Hall or call 334-808-6727 for more information.