Taking Stock of GIS Technology at HBCUs
By Ronald Roach
September 13, 2001

Recent surveys of information technology resources at historically Black colleges and universities have yielded not only valuable information technology inventories but have provided the basis for new funding and equipment made available to Black campuses by government agencies and Black college organizations, such as the United Negro College Fund.

For Dr. David A. Padgett, a professor of geography at Tennessee State University, the Nashville-based researcher hopes to turn the spotlight on a class of IT and research tools known as “geographic information system(s)” or GIS. This past summer, Padgett and a Tennessee State student researcher collected extensive data on the presence of GIS technologies and curriculum content at 85 HBCUs in what is the first ever GIS survey of historically Black institutions. The survey was largely conducted by the examination of HBCU Web sites and online catalogs.

Padgett, who is director of the geographic information sciences lab at Tennessee State, says the survey results will be published on a Web site by the end of this month. The intention of the survey and its publication is to spread awareness of GIS technology and curriculum within the HBCU community, according to Padgett.

“It’s a way to get a dialogue going on GIS, and hopefully the dialogue will grow into a consortium (among HBCUs),” Padgett says.

GIS can be described as technological and computer systems that record, store and analyze information about features that make up the earth’s surface. GIS images and data can be developed into models, and ideas can be tested with the aid of a computer. GIS, enabled with the satellite-based Global Positioning Systems (GPS) technology, is considered a powerful tool for identifying problem areas on the earth’s surface.

As GIS software and technologies, such as GPS, have spread, information and analyses generated by these tools have been finding their way into college classrooms, Padgett explains. GIS tools and techniques have become particularly valuable in urban planning, agricultural studies and environmental studies, according to experts.

At the 18th annual HBCU GIS Summer Faculty Workshop, Padgett announced that he had undertaken the GIS survey to nearly 50 HBCU faculty members. The conference, hosted by the Howard University Continuing Education Urban Environmental Institute this past July, was held in Washington and Silver Spring, Md.

Dr. Douglas Reardon, an assistant professor in the department of history, geography and global studies at Coppin State College in Baltimore, says the survey is “a good idea.” Reardon attended the GIS workshop.

“I think the survey will give us a sense of where we are and where we can go with opening up opportunities for our students with GIS,” says Reardon, who will be teaching a GIS course at Coppin State in the fall of 2002.

Currently, a number of historically Black institutions employ GIS tools and technologies in their academic departments. In addition to Tennessee State, Clark Atlanta University, Alabama A&M University and Southern University-Baton Rouge are among a small group of historically Black institutions that make extensive use of GIS tools and techniques.

Preliminary findings of the 85 schools surveyed by Tennessee State University include the following:

6 percent offer degrees in geography
60 percent offer geography courses
12 percent offer courses with the words “GIS” in the course title
20 percent offer courses that use GIS in their content
20 percent are active ly using GIS in research
19 percent have some presence of GPS and/or Remote Sensing technology

Padgett adds that GIS is quite popular in agriculture programs at HBCUs. “GIS is something that farmers can utilize to improve cultivation of their fields. They can pinpoint through satellite imagery how to efficiently spread fertilizer and to conduct other tasks,” he says.

It is expected that the Web site survey will be updated periodically, according to Padgett.

The data will be available at <http://www.gislabtsu.freehomepage.com/gislab.htm>

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