University's geospatial sciences designation to be touted at open house

Contact: Jeanne Baron

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Western Michigan University later this month will celebrate its recent designation as one of 25 American institutions newly named a Center for Academic Excellence in the Geospatial Sciences.

Photo of several groups of students gathered around computers as they work out geographic information science problems during an in-class GIS Challenge contest.

Students in WMU's introductory Geographic Information Science course compete for prizes in the 90-Minute GIS Challenge.

The W.E. Upjohn Center for the Study of Geographical Change and the Health Data Research, Analysis and Mapping Center, known as the HDReAM Center, have teamed to host the open house from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 26, in 1000 Welborn Hall on the Main Campus.

The public event gives WMU and its Department of Geography an opportunity to tout the designation the University received in July through the Centers of Academic Excellence in Geospatial Sciences—GS—Program. The program is jointly sponsored by the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, or NGA, and the U.S. Geological Survey. Institutions must apply to participate in the program.

The open house also allows WMU's two host centers to showcase several community mapping projects they are conducting that support data-driven decision making, public health and natural resource protection in Michigan and beyond. Open house attendees will be able to meet the researchers conducting those important projects, learn about digitization and spatial analysis options for data the attendees have collected, and tour the Meader Imaging Laboratory.

Excellence in geospatial sciences

The Centers of Academic Excellence in Geospatial Sciences program is an alliance between NGA and USGS created in 2015 to support each other's efforts in building long-term partnerships with America's academic community. The goal is to build, strengthen and cultivate the current and future GS workforce in support of America's geospatial intelligence needs and challenges.

To build such a world-class government workforce, the program includes championing academic and industry innovations to promote the right mix of emerging skills, education, knowledge and competencies to keep America on the leading edge in the application and use of GS. The focus is on national security; military planning and operations; homeland security and disaster management; earth sciences; and global security issues in energy, health and the environment.

Before granting Centers of Academic Excellence status, NGA and USGS assess each applicant's GS curricula, research and development, faculty and student successes, and related capabilities that align with the agencies' mission needs.

WMU's geospatial sciences designation

Picture of the front page of a flyer that describes, through text and map examples, the geospatial services provided by the W.E. Upjohn Center for the Study of Geographical Change.

A variety of services are provided by WMU's cutting-edge W.E. Upjohn Center for the Study of Geographical Change.

WMU earned its geospatial sciences excellence designation along with an additional specialty area designation in Navigation and Location. Depending on what status they applied for, institutions could receive a GS designation and optional designations in any of 10 specialty areas.

Dr. Kathleen M. Baker, WMU associate professor of geography, played the lead role in the University's successful application to become a Center of Academic Excellence in GS. Baker explains that the designation is valid for one year, with expected annual renewals as the University keeps current with evolving GS methods, research and technologies.

"The NGA/USGS program considers achievements over the last five years," she says, "so our designation recognizes the long-term quality of the Department of Geography."

Baker adds that much of the credit for the University being singled out in the Navigation and Location specialty area should go to Dr. Charles Emerson, WMU professor of geography, for his efforts to provide specialty classes in surveying, applied Global Positioning Systems techniques, and use of drone technology for environmental monitoring and research.


To earn its GS excellence designation, she notes that WMU had to meet a high programming bar in terms of:

  • Its course offerings in geographic information science, remote sensing of the environment and spatial analysis.
  • Breadth of outreach and collaboration on and off campus.
  • Student-based GS research opportunities.
  • Multidisciplinary GS research within the institution.
  • The quality of GS faculty recognition regionally, nationally and internationally.

Dr. Ben Ofori-Amoah, WMU professor and chair of geography, says WMU students will benefit from the designation by knowing that GS coursework meets the rigorous knowledge unit requirements of the NGA and USGS.

"We have students from about 15 degree programs in our introductory geographic information science classes," Ofori-Amoah says. "Now, students in any degree program who complete our GS coursework can receive a notation on their transcript explaining WMU's GS status and a statement that, 'This student has successfully passed NGA/USGS-approved core curriculum requirements.'"

Geospatial-Intelligence Agency

NGA is the primary source of geospatial intelligence for the U.S. Department of Defense and U.S. intelligence community. Geospatial intelligence is the exploitation and analysis of imagery and geospatial information that describes, assesses and visually depicts physical features and geographically referenced activities on the Earth. NGA provides this type of intelligence in support of disaster relief as well as the nation's security and defense.

U.S. Geological Survey

Created by Congress in 1879, USGS is now the nation's largest water, earth, and biological science and civilian mapping agency. It collects, monitors, analyzes and provides science about natural resource conditions, issues and problems. The agency serves the nation by providing reliable scientific information to describe and understand the Earth; minimize loss of life and property from natural disasters; manage water, biological, energy and mineral resources; and enhance and protect the quality of life.

For more information, contact Baker at or (269) 387-3345.

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