As the demand for GEOINT professionals continues to rise, academic institutions are following suit to ensure students achieve the knowledge and skills necessary to succeed upon graduation. One group of academic institutions beginning to make its footprint in the GEOINT Community is historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs).
There are 106 HBCUs in the United States, most of which do not have GEOINT programs. In April, the USGIF-accredited geospatial intelligence certificate program at Fayetteville State University (FSU) hosted a two-day “GEOINT at HBCUs” meeting to provide HBCUs with more insight into the GEOINT Community and geospatial sciences curricula. About 20 individuals representing both HBCUs and non-HBCUs across the Southeastern U.S. attended to discuss the state of their respective GEOINT programs and offerings.
As the first HBCU to gain USGIF accreditation in 2014, Fayetteville shared its experience in building a GEOINT certificate program and encouraged other HBCUs to consider doing the same.
“Hosting this event was important because we started something and we didn’t want to stop at just one HBCU,” said Dr. Rakesh Malhotra, assistant professor and program coordinator of FSU’s geography curriculum. “We wanted other HBCUs to participate. It should not just be one university—this is much bigger than that. Workforce development is important and we want to get the students to a point where they can find employment based on the skills they learn from us.”
USGIF, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), and the U.S. Geological Survey sent representatives to the event, which also provided an opportunity for the three organizations to learn how to better help HBCUs advance GEOINT programs. NGA shared information on its science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) initiative as well as the grants the agency offers HBCUs under its Academic Research Program.
USGIF CEO Keith Masback discussed USGIF’s Collegiate Academic Accreditation Program, and he shared how GEOINT plays a significant role in the Intelligence Community as well as how academia can make a difference by collaborating with the Intelligence Community.
“I firmly believe we have an obligation to build an increasingly diverse national security community, which is more reflective of the globally connected world we inhabit,” Masback said.
Participant Wubishet Tadesse, associate professor in remote sensing and GIS at Alabama A&M University, aims to take to the next level the school’s minors in remote sensing and GIS.
“The best thing that came out of the event was knowing we weren’t the only program seeking help, and there was great collaboration from everyone,” Tadesse said. “NGA and USGIF gave us firsthand experience in what we should do and what direction we need to go. Having the meeting was nice, but it’s the continuation of the conversation and keeping in touch with the other universities that will help get the ball rolling for us.”
Dr. Gordana Vlahovic, associate professor of earth and geospatial sciences at North Carolina Central University, said the event helped her understand the next steps for growing a GEOINT program at her university.
“Sometimes it’s hard to take new programs and initiatives off the ground, due to lack of understanding on the part of administration and even colleagues that do not share the same interests,” Vlahovic said. “Thus, it was encouraging to even be in the same room with faculty from several HBCUs that have similar goals and face similar challenges.”
FSU hopes to make the “GEOINT at HBCUs” gathering an annual event to further the dialogue of HBCU involvement in the GEOINT Community.