An Interactive Education

University of Redlands achieves USGIF accreditation for its accelerated master’s degree program


The master of science degree in geographic information systems (GIS) from the University of Redlands in Redlands, Calif., is more than an average graduate program. With its unique Esri partnership and a dedicated full-time faculty of five, the Redlands graduate GIS program has helped students advance their skills and be catapulted directly into the workforce.

In addition to real-world workforce connections, the program now also offers students the opportunity to earn a USGIF Geospatial Intelligence Certificate. The Redlands GIS master’s degree program gained USGIF accreditation in August 2013, making it the eighth university to be accredited by the Foundation.

Through the USGIF Collegiate Accreditation Program, students who meet high academic standards and graduate from accredited programs receive USGIF’s GEOINT Certificate, which is the first of its kind, and ensures the Community will have a robust workforce now and in the future.

“We’re excited to be formally accredited,” said Dr. Mark Kumler, a Redlands’ GIS professor. “Students from the Intelligence Community, particularly from NGA, have been some of our very best, and we look forward to continuing a strong relationship with the Community, and taking advantage of our close ties with Esri.”

Redlands’ GIS master’s candidates brush up on basic GIS and cartography skills during a class assignment. Photo credit: University of Redlands

Esri President Jack Dangermond and former University of Redlands’ President Dr. James Appleton founded the master’s program in 2001 as a way for mid-career GIS professionals to earn a graduate degree. The program has since graduated more than 300 students, with nearly 50 from numerous federal agencies, including the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, Defense Intelligence Agency, Central Intelligence Agency, and Department of Homeland Security. The program also has great international participation. To date, students from approximately 50 countries have graduated or are enrolled. Currently, 62 students are going through the program.

Students complete the program in only one year—the duration of three Redlands semesters—taking courses ranging from basic GIS and cartography to more advanced classes in statistics, remote sensing, and imaging data. However, the crux of the program is a final research project where students apply GIS skills and assist local organizations working to integrate GIS capabilities into their day-to-day operations. Whether it’s helping an arts and entertainment organization better its attendance to performances or locating the best spots for mussel farming in Southern California, the final project provides students a well-rounded base of project management and real-world skills.

“It was great to spend a year in this crazy, intense program with an excellent group of motivated students and supportive faculty, and come out the other side knowing that I had done something that someone really valued,” said Caitlyn Raines, who graduated in 2013 and now works with Esri’s database services team.

With Esri headquarters less than three miles from campus, Redlands students take advantage of the close proximity. As part of the curriculum, Esri professionals visit campus to present seminars and workshops on ArcGIS software and help train and prepare students for research. Esri also invites students to present their research projects at the annual Esri International User Conference.

Having Esri at her fingertips was Lisa Berry’s favorite part of her Redlands experience. She heard about the program’s distinctive relationship with the company and the school’s positive reputation from many friends and colleagues.

“Being able to work closely with Esri, attend their conference, and network with professionals was very valuable,” Berry said. “I like how Esri employees came to teach us and show [how] what we’re learning can easily be used in the real world.”

Numa Gremling, a current Redlands’ GIS student from Luxembourg, said the positivity and encouragement from faculty is just another piece of what makes the program successful.

“My favorite aspect of the program is the support from the faculty,” Gremling said. “If you have questions, an idea, or need help finding job opportunities, there’s always someone you can talk to.”

With the increasing demand for GIS and GEOINT professionals, many more future students will surely seek out an intense and interactive master’s program such as this.

Featured image: Students prepare their final projects, which are later presented at Esri’s International User Conference. Photo credit: University of Redlands

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