Geographic Information Systems Certificate Program

Department of Geography/Earth Science, University of Wisconsin - La Crosse

Last Revised: March 4, 2005




A Geographic Information System (GIS) is a system used to capture, store, manipulate, analyze, and display all types of spatially referenced geographic information. A GIS provides a means of linking databases to maps, creating visual representations of statistical data, and analyzing how location influences features and events.  The demand for trained personnel in this field exceeds the current supply and growth in this area is projected to continue for many years.  In order to meet the increasing technology needs of working professionals, the Department of Geography & Earth Science at UW-L would like to implement a Geographic Information Systems Certificate program. The Certificate Program will serve the technological needs of the nontraditional student, as well as provide regular students with greater educational opportunities.  This certificate will allow students and professionals from any discipline, business, or agency to add GIS skills to their repertoire. 


The program will be comprised of two distinct components.  Component A will require the completion of two core courses (Sequence 1 - Geo 481 and Geo 485 OR Sequence 2 - Applications of GIS I and II).  Either sequence will provide ample experience, through hands-on exercises, to prepare certificate candidates to complete Component B of the Program.  Sequence 1 (Geographer) is required for Geography majors seeking the GIS Certificate and recommended to certificate candidates with an interest in developing a stronger conceptual foundation in geographic theory and principles as applied to GIS. This cohort is anticipated to be recent graduates, those already with limited GIS knowledge, and students within the College of Science and Allied Health.  Sequence 2 - GIS Practitioner - is recommended for non-degree seeking students and students outside the College of Science and Allied Health.  The intended audience for Sequence 2 (GIS Practitioner) is La Crosse area residents not enrolled at UWL and students outside the College of Science and Allied Health that wish to add to their repertoire of skills and earn the certificate for purposes of professional development and preparation. In addition, Western Wisconsin Technical College (WWTC) students planning to work towards a bachelor’s degree and middle and high school teachers needing academic credit will also find this option valuable.  There is no assumed geographic knowledge for this audience which is reflected in the core courses of this sequence.  Sequence 1 provides certificate candidates with far more in-depth knowledge regarding coordinate systems, projections, cartographic techniques, geo-statistical analysis, and exposes candidates to a greater breadth of data models.  Sequence 2 is not open for Geography majors. 


Sequence 1 and 2 will be taken for credit.  There will be a third option (Sequence 3) for certificate candidates that would like to earn the certificate without UWL credits.  The intended audience for this sequence is GIS professionals obtaining the certificate for professional development, the business community, and local government employees.


The second component of the GIS Certificate Program will be comprised of six credits of internship, undergraduate research, or a combination of the two.  Candidates choosing the non-credit option will fulfill component B by performing the equivalent of six credits of internship.  Certificate candidates choosing undergraduate research, will complete a research project under the supervision of the appropriate staff or faculty member and then present their research during the Undergraduate Research Symposium.  Certificate candidates choosing to do an internship will apply their GIS skills in a professional environment.  One credit will be awarded for every 35 hours of GIS related work.  If candidates are already working in their chosen profession, they can incorporate GIS into their activities to fulfill this requirement.  If candidates are not in a position to incorporate GIS into their current job, an internship will be set up and facilitated by the Department of Geography & Earth Science. 


This design will provide certificate candidates with a solid GIS background and the opportunity to customize their certificate program to meet specialized industry/academic interests. A certificate recipient from UW-L will be a professionally competent entry-level GIS user.



Component A.  Core Courses

Sequence 1 – Geographer

GEO 481 Introduction to GIS (3 Credits)


GEO 485 Advanced GIS (3 Credits)


Sequence 2 – GIS Practitioner (Credit).
Applications of GIS I   (3 Credits)


Applications of GIS II  (3 Credits)


Sequence 3 – GIS Practitioner (Non-Credit).

Applications of GIS I  


Applications of GIS II 



Component B.  Internship/Independent Study

GIS Internship                   (3-6 Credits or equivalent)

Undergraduate Research   (3 Credits)



During the course of the certificate program we expect students to gain the following:

1.   An understanding of basic spatial analysis especially as implemented in GIS
      The ability to demonstrate working familiarity with the tools of a GIS.          
      The ability to describe and discuss the operating principles of both vector and raster -
      based GIS;
      The capability to demonstrate hands-on technical expertise using ArcView GIS
      The ability to complete all phases of a full GIS project;
      The knowledge required to assess the accuracy and limitations of GIS and associated
      data; and
7.   The knowledge and skills necessary to improve computer-related problem solving



This program will potentially benefit the following groups:


UW-L Students

The GIS certificate program will be of interest to many current degree seeking students who have a time-intensive academic major in another department and do not have the time necessary to complete the GIS minor. Students currently majoring in Business, Computer Science, Educational Studies, History, Management, Marketing, Sociology/Archeology, and Political Science/Public Administration would potentially be interested in the GIS certificate.


WWTC Students

The GIS certificate would be an appropriate addition to many programs offered at WWTC. There have already been inquiries from WWTC students about the GIS certificate program and support has been voiced by WWTC administration, including Larry Horsfall, Dean of Business Education. WWTC students who participate in the GIS certificate program may decide that the combination of the skills and education offered at WWTC and GIS certificate provides the foundation on which to start a career or they may decide to become degree seeking students at UW-L. With the recent increase in transferability of technical college credits to the UW System, WWTC students find this a more attractive option.


The La Crosse Community

Because GIS is seen as an incredible technology with ever expanding applications, area residents will potentially be interested in the GIS certificate. Those wishing to not only better understand a critical tool in the community planning process, but actually contribute to that process may be interested. City and county employees that want to be better equipped to do more in-house GIS projects or want formal training for purposes of professional development will also benefit from the GIS certificate program.  Recent graduates from WWTC and UW System schools who are preparing for entry into the workforce or into graduate school would be interested in this program as well.


Business applications of GIS make it an attractive technology for marketing, business planning, and analysis.  A targeted marketing effort of the proposed program to the

La Crosse area business community is planned.




Geography Majors

The GIS minor is not open to Geography majors. There is, however, a newly developed Geography major, GIS concentration.  This program is geared toward Geography students planning on using GIS as their primary job function upon graduation or who plan to enter a Master’s program in GIS.  Many Geography majors, recognizing the importance of GIS within the discipline of Geography but not seeing their individual academic needs being met by the Geography major, GIS concentration, would like tangible recognition of their GIS skills and knowledge. The proposed program would be a way of providing that recognition and at the same time presenting Geography students with added incentive to take more than the one techniques course required for the major.  Geography majors that are primarily interested in cultural or regional geography do not usually take more than the required one techniques course.  The proposed program would provide incentive to those students to acquire additional geotechnical skills.



The proposed program will be a joint effort between the Department of Geography & Earth Science and the Office of  Continuing Education and Extension.  The Department of Geography & Earth Science will provide instruction and academic supervision for the certificate candidates.  Continuing Education will be responsible for marketing the certificate program to the campus and greater La Crosse communities.  It will also assume responsibility for financial administration of the program, as well as assist in student registration. 


The Department of Geography & Earth Science is well equipped to handle the instruction and academic supervision of the program.  A GIS Lab/Projects Manager was hired in 2002 to, among other things, play a major role in the GIS certificate program. Major duties listed in the Lab Manager’s position description include, “Develop and implement GIS certification program with instructional activities.” Initially, no overload or extra-ordinary payment would be associated with these instructional duties. If, after future evaluation it is determined there is an adequate revenue stream being generated by the program, the issue of an extra-ordinary payment for instruction will be revisited.  Because the GIS Lab/Projects Manager has a high level of involvement in the GIS courses currently being offered, preparation time for the new courses would be minimal.  The GIS Lab/Projects Manager will be an ESRI authorized instructor by the end of March 2005.  ESRI is the leading GIS software producing company worldwide.  As an ESRI authorized instructor, he is recognized by the GIS industry as a qualified teacher of the use of ESRI GIS software.  This authorization will be of great value in marketing the program.


The Department of Geography & Earth Science houses two state-of-the-art GIS teaching labs that are well equipped to accommodate the needs of the proposed program.  Each teaching lab has 30 computers capable of running the latest GIS software.  UW-L is part of a state-wide ESRI license which means each student is able to have his or her own computer.  The labs are underutilized during the summer – when certificate courses are going to most likely be offered.


Continuing Education and Extension works with faculty and departments to extend the instructional, research and public service resources of UW-L to individuals and organizations in western Wisconsin and in other parts of the state.  In 2003-04 that office administered approximately 180 credit courses with more than 5,300 total enrollments and offered approximately 150 non-credit programs with approximately 7,200 participants.  Continuing Education has its own marketing specialist and experienced support staff responsible for student registration and financial management for both credit and non-credit programs.



Two new courses will be offered for the certificate program: Applications of GIS I (GEO 208) and Applications of GIS II (GEO308). These new courses have been designed specifically to serve the certificate program. GEO 208 will be offered every fall semester and GEO 308 will be offered every spring semester. The largest audience is expected during the summer which would be the ideal time to offer the certificate courses.

                                                      Course Descriptions

Geo 208    Applications of GIS I
An Introduction to applied aspects of Geographic Information Systems.  GIS software, with an emphasis on ArcView, will be used to develop a working proficiency with basic GIS procedures and applications.  Topics include: data input and output; forming queries; data overlay processes; and creating map layouts. (not open to Geography majors)

Geo 308    Applications of GIS II
An Advanced exploration of GIS tools and applications.  GIS software, with an emphasis on ArcView, will be used to develop advanced GIS skills.  Topics include: working with coordinate systems, editing and managing attribute tables, working with ArcView extensions, and basic GIS project management. (Prereq. GEO 208 – not open to Geography majors)


The Department of Geography/Earth Science will see immediate, tangible, and significant benefits from the GIS certificate program. Because certificate candidates will come from many different backgrounds and sectors of the La Crosse community, as well as the UW-L campus community, the program will increase the visibility of the Department of Geography & Earth Science. Students already enrolled at UW-L will be exposed to the discipline of Geography and to the expertise of its faculty and staff. This increased visibility on campus could potentially lead to an increase in Geography majors and minors. Increasing the department’s visibility on campus will also strengthen cross-disciplinary ties and have the potential to facilitate future partnerships between faculty and departments. Greater exposure from the La Crosse area community will elevate the stature of the Department of Geography & Earth Science in the municipal planning, K-12 education, and the geospatial research and consulting sectors.



The College of Science and Allied Health already has a respected and successful GIS program. With the addition of the certificate program, on-campus recognition of the College’s high tech initiatives will be bolstered. It will also expose more students to the College as a whole and introduce them to the tools associated with the physical and social sciences.


The GIS certificate program will help UW-L meet its Select Mission. Specifically, due to the nature of geographic information systems, the certificate program will “…support studies related to the environment, culture, heritage, institutions, and economy of La Crosse and the surrounding Upper Mississippi Valley region.” Because the certificate program will attempt to reach a broad and diverse audience through its design and content, it will help the University, “…serve as an academic and cultural center, providing service and professional expertise, meeting the broader educational needs of the region.”



Students not already enrolled at UW-L desiring to take an undergraduate course through the Extension must complete a streamlined special student application form which asks for name of high school attended and date of graduation.  If the individual is a very recent high school graduate, the admissions office will seek additional info such as HS GPA. 




Students enrolled in Sequence 1 and 2 will pay regular tuition and segregated fees.


Sequence 3, will be offered as a non-credit certificate.  The cost will be 80% of regular tuition.  For the Fall 2005 semester, this would be $462.40 per course or $924.80 for each component.  This will result in a total cost of $1849.60 for the non-credit certificate (plus $50 exam fee).


In order to ensure that certificate recipients display a strong command of geographic information systems, the certificate is granted only to those students who complete the certificate requirements and pass a GIS certificate exam.   The cost to take this exam is projected to be $50.