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Monday, August 13, 2012

Central Pennsylvania Geospatial Technology Center to Support Experiential GIS Learning

Back in June Gannett Fleming announced a new organization to provide central Pennsylvania college/post college GIS students with hands on work experience (press release). The Central Pennsylvania Geospatial Technology Center (GTC) is a joint effort of the company with Harrisburg University of Science and Technology and Harrisburg Area Community College (HACC). Per the press release:
Students, faculty, and professionals from the three organizations will offer their expertise and resources to geospatial technology projects for the public. The partnership will focus on providing substantive and practical knowledge for students, while providing valuable services for the greater central Pennsylvania area.
First off, who are these players? These blurbs come from the organizations' "about" page save the one from HACC, which has no such page. The blurb is from that school's employment page.
Gannett Fleming is a global infrastructure firm that provides planning, design, technology, and construction management services for a diverse range of markets and disciplines. With 2,000 highly qualified individuals across a global network of 60 offices, we are united in our passion to deliver excellence. We have played a part in shaping infrastructure and improving communities in more than 65 countries, specializing in transportation, environmental, water, energy, and facility-related projects.
Founded in 2001 to address Central Pennsylvania’s need for increased opportunities for study leading to careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields, Harrisburg University is an innovative and ambitious private institution that produces graduates who provide increased competence and capacity in science and technology disciplines to Pennsylvania and the nation. Harrisburg University ensures institutional access for underrepresented students and links learning and research to practical outcomes. As a private University serving the public good, Harrisburg University remains the only STEM-focused comprehensive university located between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh and is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.
Established in 1964 as Pennsylvania's first community college, HACC has grown to become a multi-campus institution that plays a vital role in improving the quality of life in Central Pennsylvania. We provide high quality, low-cost educational opportunities, we strengthen the local economy, we train the region's workforce, and we share our cultural and educational resources with the community.
With a full- and part-time student enrollment of nearly 20,000 and over 55,000 served in noncredit courses, we are always seeking leaders in various fields to join HACC's mission to provide excellence in all aspects of the community and in quality education throughout the Central PA region.
So, that's one private infrastructure firm with a geo division, GeoDecisions, that's considered "a global leader in the design and development of innovative geospatial solutions and application," a private college that grants a four year geospatial degree and a certificate, and a state funded community college that offers an associates degree in GIS as well as a certificate program. The announcement left me with more questions than answers.

So, beginning in June, I left sent e-mails, left messages and finally spoke to a rep at Gannett Fleming who promised a response to the questions on July 9. Sadly, I never received a response. So, I made contact directly with GeoDecisions. The team there passed my questions on to Harrisburg University. Albert R. Sarvis, PMP, GISP, Assistant Professor of Geospatial Technology & Information Technology Project Management answered my questions. He comments that "We will likely have several months of business development work to do before the first official GTC project will begin," but all systems are in place.

Ignite Education: Is this a separate entity from the three partners?
Albert Sarvis: The center is virtual, in that work can take place at any of the three initial partner locations. A Memorandum of Understanding defines how the initial partners will operate together.

IE: Who will run it? A full time executive? Will there be a board?
AS: Liaison’s from each of the initial partners will coordinate activity and contribute to decisions regarding the future direction and activities of the Center. We intend to add additional partners over time and more fully define the governance and leadership of the center.

IE: Is it a non-profit?
AS: Revenue from GTC projects will cover employee/student direct costs and overhead for HU and HACC and will include a small profit percentage for the GTC to be used for both GTC capability expansion and public outreach activities. Non-academic partner organizations will continue to bid projects with profits built into their proposals, including profit to be contributed to the GTC.

IE: The press release notes the Center will be "online." I could find not Web presence at this time. Is there one?
AS: We will be building an online presence as activity increases. For now we have allocated space on the Harrisburg University Website for information about the GTC. http://www.harrisburgu.edu/academics/undergrad/gis/gtc.php

IE: How will these projects "for the public" be found/solicited? Will they be for non-profits only? For governments? For whom?
AS: The academic partners will primarily focus on grant based project opportunities and look to partner organizations, such as Gannett Fleming, to develop public, private project opportunities.

IE: Which students will be involved in the projects? A whole class? If not, how will they be selected?
AS: Individual students will be selected based on their ability to perform specific project requirements. Evaluation of their qualifications will be based on their completed coursework and demonstrated abilities.

IE: Will students get course credit for their project work?
AS: Students may work within the GTC for Internship or Project based experiential learning credits. Harrisburg University students must complete 2 experiential learning projects (each for 3 credits) and in internship (a minimum of 3 credits).

IE: What was the impetus for setting up this organization?
AS: The center was set up to provide robust alternative experiential learning for Geospatial Technology students. All of the initial partners recognize the importance of extended and substantive experience in addition to academic coursework. The GTC will provide students with opportunities to gain valuable experience that is not possible within the traditional post-secondary academic model.

IE: How is it funded?
AS: Each initial partner contributed startup funds and organizational resources such as software and workspace.

IE: Are the faculty being involved in efforts to put these projects in the context of a course or a program? How?
AS: Harrisburg University’s Geospatial Technology courses have been designed to put the program in the context of the needed skills for Geospatial Technology services. Any project tasks assigned to students will be directly correlated to the instruction they have received in class.

IE: Are faculty looking for ways to explore ways to evaluate learning from these projects?
AS: Students who conduct their internships or experiential learning projects (See HU requirements above) develop a Learning Contract with specific learning objectives and outcomes defined based on the GTC projects they are working on. Learning evaluation and grade assessment will be based on how well they meet the objectives of these contracts.