BUFFALO, N.Y. -- A new multidisciplinary, doctoral-level concentration in geographic information science -- believed to be the first in the nation -- has been established at the University at Buffalo with the support of a five-year, $2.2 million grant from the National Science Foundation.
Starting next fall, approximately 18 fellowships of $15,000 per year will be available to doctoral students in seven departments.
The funding, which also will support student research and the administrative costs of the program, was awarded to UB's National Center for Geographic Information and Analysis, one of three sites of the NSF-funded center that conducts research in geographic information science.
Out of 630 pre-proposals, the grant to UB was one of only 16 awarded under the NSF's Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT) program.
Geographic information systems (GIS) is booming, according to the University Consortium for GIS: it's a $2 billion/year industry in the U.S. and is expanding at an annual rate of 20 percent.
Applications of geographic information systems are addressing important social problems ranging from the handling of medical emergencies, to fighting crime, to monitoring agricultural crops.
Currently, almost every student with GIS skills, even at the undergraduate level, gets a job in the field; more people with advanced training are needed for positions in both education and industry.
"This is a growing research area that has a lot of important problems and there is an increasing demand for researchers," said David Mark, Ph.D., professor of geography at UB and director of the Buffalo site of the NCGIA.
In particular, Mark said, there is an increasing demand for faculty in other disciplines who are familiar with GIS.
While geography departments are generally the home base for GIS studies, Mark explained, the field reaches into engineering, social science, philosophy, computing and beyond.
Doctoral students in the new concentration at UB will take a core of required and elective GIS courses while they earn degrees from one of the seven participating departments: anthropology, computer science, environmental engineering, industrial engineering, philosophy and political science, as well as geography.
"In terms of the breadth of our offerings and the number of faculty involved in geographic information science, UB is easily among the top 10 universities in the U.S.," said Mark, who added that the university's emphasis on research that crosses disciplinary boundaries has helped put it at the forefront of GIS.
More than 50 faculty members at UB in a broad range of departments are conducting research that in some way relates to the science of geographic information systems, a field that, by its nature, is multidisciplinary, he said.
At UB, researchers are using GIS to analyze patterns of crimes in specific neighborhoods, develop suburban deer-management solutions and examine problems in caring for the elderly when family members live far away.
GIS applications with which consumers may be familiar include their use in helping retail giants, such as Sears, Roebuck & Co., to route delivery trucks (a move that the company says has saved it millions of dollars). GIS also is making possible spatial analyses of important social problems. They include the mapping of emergency-management services that would expedite treatment of victims during natural disasters and the examination of spatial aspects of environmental health problems, such as those involved in the Long Island Breast Cancer Study.
GIS researchers across the nation are particularly interested in funding for a major new project proposal dubbed the "digital earth" that was suggested in a recent speech written for Vice President Gore.
A kind of human genome project for the planet, the "digital earth" is envisioned as a powerful technological tool with the potential to map scientific, environmental, historical, political, cultural and other information tied to geographic locations around the globe.