Geospatial technology fields are not just growing, but exploding, both in the commercial and government sectors.
Tesla is building self-navigating cars. NASA is using geospatial technology to launch rockets to the moon. The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency is working to supply the military and its warfighters with imagery that can turn the tide on the battlefield — or avoid the battle altogether.
Students who go into geospatial technology fields are in high demand, a panel of professors, university administrators and students at a recent Geospatial Advantage Conference in Huntsville, Alabama, all agreed.
“Our kids are getting jobs with huge salaries and full-time benefits before they even have their degree in hand,” said Dr. Rob Griffin, associate dean of the College of Science at the University of Alabama in Huntsville and an associate professor who teaches GIS, remote sensing and other geospatial-related topics.
“It’s a little bit mysterious why students aren’t flocking to our programs to take advantage of those jobs,” Griffin said.
The problem, panelists said, is that geospatial technology programs are hiding in plain sight. A tech-minded student is more likely to choose something “sexy,” like aerospace engineering or cybersecurity, because they don’t realize that a GIS degree could also result in a job in the space program or military intelligence.
“I think there is still some lack of awareness that our discipline has always had to deal with. People think geography and they immediately think of memorizing state capitals and things like that, and parents don’t think that’s an employable field,” Griffin said. “So, we have to get creative about ways to combat that prevailing mentality and change the image of what our discipline is doing, as a very techy, edgy, very technological field.”
The key, panelists said, is starting early to identify bright students in middle and high school. It’s also necessary to do a better job of explaining what geospatial technology is and how it’s being used across a spectrum of “cool” disciplines, from navigating autonomous cars on the roads or rockets in space to identifying threats to national security and public safety.
Hexagon is eager to help encourage students by providing software and training systems to education entities across the world, said Michael Lane, a Hexagon senior manager who oversees the Safety, Infrastructure & Geospatial division’s education partnerships.
“Showing kids cool tools is something that can help them get into this field,” said Lane.
For example, Hexagon partners with Brilliant Remote Sensing Labs, which provides training in remote sensing and satellite image processing to students and professionals. Hexagon offers free ERDAS IMAGINE software educational licenses to students, professors and professionals while they train at BRS Labs’ remote sensing portal.
As for starting early, BRS Labs also offers a program for kids 10 and up to become a certified junior astronaut and image analyst interpreter.
On college campuses, Hexagon provides M.App Enterprise, a software platform that combines geospatial content with other data to create an interactive experience that includes a map and dashboard of insightful analytics.
“I’m proud Hexagon is able to offer some of the most innovative and well-known tools in our industry to students and researchers – not only to enhance their education, but also for them to continually expand and strengthen the industry,” said Lane.