Renaissance Education Shaped by Disruption

This panel of education leaders from across academia and industry discusses the positive and constructive opportunities that may become available to geospatial educators in the coming years.


The last panel moderated by Tim Walton, James Madison University, brought together education leaders from across academia and industry to discuss the positive, constructive opportunities that may become available to geospatial educators in the coming years, as well as to identify potential educational system weaknesses.

According to Gordana Vlahovic, professor and chair, North Carolina Central University (NCCU), some historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) face a variety of challenges particularly now during COVID-19. Among those is the recruitment and retention of students.

“Particular challenges that HBCUs face during COVID-19 stem from two issues. One is the long history of underfunding of HBCUs, and the second, of course, is that we are serving a very unique population,” Vlahovic says.

Last year, 8,000 students enrolled at NCCU; nearly 85% were African American, and more than half displayed extensive financial needs. Today, 60% of the university’s operations are conducted online, but if there had to be a complete virtual shift, Vlahovic believes the quality of the education would not suffer.

“What worries me is our ability to recruit and retain minority students. This not only affects HBCUs but the diversity of the discipline as a whole,” Vlahovic says. “In terms of support, we need funding from the federal government, and from industry, we need continued engagement with our students.” Many students at NCCU are first-generation college students, and they need that industry engagement to make the necessary connections to enter the field, she adds.

In addition, according to John Wilson, professor and director, University of Southern California Spatial Sciences Institute, it’s time to think of new ways that industry and academia can partner together to build a stronger workforce.

John Serafini, CEO, Hawkeye 360, provides a different perspective on the relationship between industry and geospatial educators. “Yes, we think internships are phenomenal, and yes, we value furthering our employee’s education. But I’d also say that it’s incumbent for colleges and universities as they think about their geospatial curriculum to include radio frequency as a new modality in training or next generation of geospatial leaders,” Serafini says. Organizations like Hawkeye look for individuals who are creative, able to continue learning on the job, and can take risks while still remembering the basic skills and tools of the trade.

But to design an online class is a complicated task. According to Anthony Robinson, associate professor of geography, Pennsylvania State University, designing an online class does not require less time, and they are not cheaper to maintain or produce—common misconceptions about designing an online education. But when done correctly, the result is a valuable immersive education experience.

“As departments and some academic units think about the opportunities here, I’d encourage people to think past the current crisis mode—to not rapidly re-engineer their current curriculum to accommodate resident students, but to consider a broader world of lifelong learners,” Robinson says.

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