The United States Military Academy at West Point has taught three courses continuously throughout its 210-year tenure: French, math, and surveying.
“Because West Point was originally established for army engineers, surveying has stuck around,” said John Brockhaus, the geospatial program director at West Point. “As academic programs at the academy evolved, it moved around to different departments and has stuck with us for quite some time.”
In the early ’80s, West Point formed what was called the Geography and Computer Science department, which entailed five courses focused on mapping, charting and geodesy. Today, West Point’s Geospatial Information Science department averages 25 to 30 cadets per year with a bachelor of science in geospatial information science. In 2011, West Point became the most recent USGIF accredited school, with an official ceremony that followed in May 2012.
The United States Air Force Academy is the second most recent school to achieve USGIF accreditation. According to USGIF President Keith Masback, this reflects the tremendous importance these programs places on GEOINT as it relates to interdisciplinary studies.
Any student who receives a degree from a USGIF accredited program, also receives a certificate from USGIF saying that they have completed the program.
“You can bet that those who hold our GEOINT certificate are absolutely prepared to hit the ground running and speak GEOINT from the day they become second lieutenants,” Masback said.
Brockhaus described the West Point program as one of “breadth and depth” because of the wide range of courses it offers. Cadets at West Point select a major in their sophomore year, then begin courses in the major their junior year. Geo cadets take eight courses: introductory and advanced GIS, surveying, computer cartography, remote sensing and advanced remote sensing, aerial photogrammetry, and military geospatial operations.
Cadets are also given the option to take an independent study course and work one-on-one with a faculty member to identify a problem they would like to address and come up with a method of applying geospatial technology to do so, Brockhaus said.
In one recent project, a cadet studied the integration of terrestrial- and aerial-based LIDAR data. In another, a cadet studied Coronado National Memorial, a National Park Service property in Arizona that had suffered from wildfires. The cadet used imagery from Digital Globe’s WorldView-2 satellite to assess the regrowth of vegetation within the park and provide park biologists with digital and hard copy maps.
The West Point program also has a strong four-week summer internship program. According to Brockhaus, the program is only four weeks because cadets also undergo military training during the summer. Internship placements include NGA, the Army Geospatial Center, the Defense Logistics Agency, Army Space Command, the Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventative Medicine, the Department of Homeland Security, and various private contractors.
When cadets leave West Point, they serve in the Army for at least five years in the branch of their choosing, Brockhaus said. Those who enter engineering or military intelligence have a higher chance of being able to directly apply their Geospatial Information Science degree, however every branch is using some aspect of GEOINT, he said.
Col. Steve Fleming, a geography and environmental engineering professor at West Point, said cadets in the program view GEOINT as consumers given that upon graduation they will be Army officers using their knowledge as warfighters.
“My belief is that the next generation and those that follow will use spatial understanding as the primary context to interpret how the world interacts,” Fleming said. “In this, the question ‘where?’ will be asked first, not who, why, when or what. That said, knowing ‘where’ will be something that everyone does. The GIS experts, those with careers in the discipline, will be instrumental in helping all others answer this critical question.”
For more information on USGIF’s Accreditation Certification Program, click here.