TitleSupport for Courses in the Spatial Sciences Request Date2012-11-30
DepartmentLand Resources & Environmental Sciences
RequestorRick Lawrence Phone(406) 994-5409
Campuses Bozeman Billings Havre Great Falls FSTS Extension MAES
Cross Depts Earth Sciences
Proposed Dates Start: 7/1/2013 End:  
This proposal seeks funding for a necessary 0.50 FTE IT support position for our geospatial courses. Our twelve geospatial courses serve students in seven colleges and many majors, and prepare our students for one of the fastest growing job markets. The courses cannot be taught without specialized IT support. Previously established regular budgetary support was cut in 2008, and the position has been funded on an ad hoc year-to-year basis since. Institutional support is necessary to be able to offer these courses.
This proposal most directly addresses two primary Learning Objectives. Objective L.1 calls for improving student learning of critical knowledge and skills. Our Information Age has undergone a Geospatial Revolution, where many fields require the ability to manipulate and understand geospatial data. This proposal provides a necessary part of the infrastructure to teach our students these required skills. Objective L.3 calls for increasing job placement. The Department of Labor has identified geospatial technology as one of the top three critical job growth fields, and in our experience many of our graduates have been able to gain employment based on their geospatial knowledge. The requested support will help our graduates obtain not only in geospatial jobs (e.g., GIS technician), but also jobs that rely on geospatial data (e.g., natural resource manager and, as we saw in the 2012 elections, political consultants).
Funding Type: One-Time Only Funding Base (3-yr Recurring) Funding
  FY13 FY14 FY15 Base ($) OTO Startup ($)   FTE;
Salaries       27898.24      0.50 
Benefits       11979.50       
Materials & Supplies              
Contracted Services              
Other Operations              
TOTAL 39877.74    0.50 
Please comment, if necessary, regarding cost and requirements.

Costs are requested to fund a systems administrator to support 12 spatial sciences courses, including one overview course, four GIS courses, three GPS courses, and four remote sensing courses.

Describe the Proposal

Spatial sciences (geographic information systems (GIS), global positioning system (GPS), and remote sensing (RS)) is one of the fastest growing job markets in the U.S. (listed by the Department of Labor as one of the top three focus areas for growth).  This has been manifested at Montana State University (MSU) in steadily increasing course enrollments (52% increase in the past 5 years, from 711 to 1083 student credit hours, with a wide diversity of majors served in seven colleges) and a steady increase in course offerings (currently 12 courses taught by four faculty).  Spatial science courses at MSU are taught in the College of Letters and Science (L&S, approximately 741 student credit hours per year) and College of Agriculture (COA, approximately 342 student credit hours per year).  Two majors (one in Land Resources and Environmental Sciences, one in Earth Sciences) and one minor (in Earth Sciences) are entirely dependent on these courses, while many other majors include these courses.

The colleges are generally responsible for the classroom costs (faculty, adjuncts, staff, GTAs) related to their respective courses.  However, in the interest of cooperation and economies of scale, the Spatial Sciences Center (SSC, formerly known as the Geographic Information and Analysis Center) has maintained a common teaching lab.  This teaching lab has historically been fully occupied with 20-30 hours per week reserved for course laboratories and the remainder for students to work on course projects (including after hour availability for students in classes using the lab).  The costs of maintaining this lab prior to FY2009 had been included in the Provost’s allocation to L&S, while computers, equipment, and software have been funded by CFAC/EFAC.  From FY2009 to date, IT support for this lab has been provided on an annual ad hoc basis, with costs being shared on different allocations each year by SSC, COA, L&S, and the Office of the Provost.

A series of alternative ways to support these courses, including faculty time, teaching assistant time, and ITC support, have been examined with the relevant deans and department heads and with ITC.  None of the alternatives were found acceptable, both because of lack of expertise and inefficient use of instructional time (if faculty and/or TAs had the expertise and spent time maintaining the computing infrastructure, this would necessarily result in reduced time available for student interaction).  In addition, these alternatives would result in reduced course offerings and course quality, as alternative software that does not take high level IT knowledge would be necessary, which would not prepare our students as well for available jobs and graduate school.  ITC has informed us that they do not have the personnel to support this lab.

SSC is not able to continue supporting academic expenses without an academic budget.  The Provost’s Office and COA have provided funding for the current academic year on a one-year only basis.  Without some established basis for providing technology support for these classes after the current fiscal year, it might no longer be feasible to offer spatial sciences courses as they have been offered in the past or maintain the academic majors (Geography, Geology, Paleontology, GIS/Planning, and Snow Science in Earth Sciences; Geospatial and Environmental Analysis, and Land Rehabilitation in Land Resources and Environmental Sciences) and minor (GIS in Earth Sciences) that require these courses.  We are, therefore, requesting three years’ funding for technology support for spatial sciences classes.

Describe the broader impacts and benefits of this proposal

As noted above, spatial sciences is one of the fastest growing job markets.  In addition to the direct job market, these technologies are permeating nearly every aspect of our daily lives, with GPS, GIS, and satellite images in our phones, cameras, cars, and so on.  Political campaigns are now driven by spatial data (as anyone who watched the 2012 election returns saw), economic models depend on these data, engineering and public health have heavily incorporated them, while the environmental sciences have long embraced spatial data.  It is said that we live in an information age, but in this Century the information age has experienced what has become known as the Geospatial Revolution.  For our students to be equipped to enter and thrive in this age, geospatial education is essential.

Geospatial courses are entirely dependent on a high quality, functioning teaching lab, with state-of-the-art hardware and software.  CFAC has been very supportive in providing the funding necessary for this purpose.  Further, funding from COA, L&S, and the Provost’s Office has recently (May 2011) enable the creation of a new computer teaching lab space designed and dedicated to teaching geospatial courses.  The computer facilities needed to teach these technologies, however, are highly specialized and required highly trained, specialized IT support.  In order to provide this essential education for our students, it is necessary to fund the needed technology support.  Funding of this proposal will enable the continued offering of high quality geospatial education so needed by our students.

Implementation Plan

Funding from this proposal would be used to pay for 0.50 FTE of an IT position dedicated to geospatial sciences educational resources. The person currently providing support for these classes has an additional 0.25 FTE paid by the Spatial Sciences Center for research IT support and 0.25 FTE paid by Film & Photography to support their program.

Assessment Plan

This plan will be assessed based on courses and student credit hours supported by the position.  We will continue to track the course offerings and student credit hours for this purpose.

If assessed objectives are not met in the timeframe outlined what is the plan to sunset this proposal?

If course offering and/or student credit hours were to significantly decrease relative to overall enrollment within the 3-year time frame of the requested funding, the proposal would terminate at that time.

Department Head: Tracy Sterling (
Dean/Director: Jeff Jacobsen (
Executive/VP: Martha Potvin (