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Geography Information Science (GIS) Program Expands
Minor and certificate are now offered.

The Geography Information Science (GIS) program has expanded at UMD. A minor in GIS is now being offered for undergraduates. In addition, a GIS certificate is being offered through the office of Continuing Education.

At its core, GIS is the collection, management, analysis, and representation of spatial data. That description may sound a bit dry, but through its application, GIS is dynamic and impactful. Last year, Olaf Kuhlke, associate professor and head of UMD's Geography Department, and students from his Urban Ecology class used GIS in a project to measure light levels throughout Duluth.

Lighting Project map
Map of one of the Duluth neighborhoods included in Kuhlke's Duluth Lighting Project.

Students went out at night and measured light using Lux meters. They then transferred the data onto maps showing where street lighting was too bright, resulting in light pollution, and where street lighting could be improved. Taking that further, they could overlay crime statistics onto the maps to see if there is a correlation between crime and low-lit areas. Duluth Mayor Don Ness has expressed interest in this project. To read more about the Duluth Lighting Project, visit Kuhlke’s website

Kuhlke believes that the GIS minor will be popular with UMD students majoring in a variety of disciplines. In addition to being used in environmental studies, geology, and biology, “GIS is used in business for retail site selection and planning. GIS has many applications,” he noted. In political science, GIS can be used to track voting trends in neighborhoods, cities, states, or regions. In urban planning, it can be used to assess traffic flow and vehicular accidents.

In 1987, the National Geographic Society initiated Geography Awareness Week (GAW) to be held each November. This year's GAW is Nov. 14-20. Wednesday, Nov. 17, is GIS Day.

Watch in the coming weeks for announcements of UMD's GAW events.

Kuhlke also stated that GIS is one of the fastest growing industries. A recent UMD graduate who had a strong proficiency in GIS was hired by the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, a branch of the CIA, to interpret satellite data. “GIS is an exciting employment field with high wages,” he said.

For information about the minor in GIS, please contact Olaf Kuhlke at You may also visit the UMD Department of Geography website at

For those who are already be working in a field and want to increase their knowledge of GIS, the certificate program through UMD Continuing Education is a great way to add comprehensive skills. The certificate program consists of five courses and takes students through the basics onto advanced courses in geospatial technologies.

For more information about the GIS certificate program through Continuing Education, contact Suzan Gonia at You may also visit the Continuing Education GIS certificate website at


Written by Kathleen McQuillan-Hofmann,

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