New ASU degree trains for innovation in mapping technology

May 6, 2014

A new, cutting-edge geography degree will prepare ASU students for jobs in the growing and dynamic realm of mapping technology development.

The new bachelor’s degree in geographic information science (GIS), available beginning in fall 2014, pairs the practical skill of computer science with conceptual knowledge of geographical problem-solving and spatial thinking. Translation: many students will go on to work on the forefront of mapping, navigation and location-based software design for major companies. photo of interactive map table Download Full Image

“This is one of the first programs of its kind in the United States,” said Elizabeth Wentz, director of ASU’s School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning. “The program offers a solid foundation in both computer science and geography – giving students the understanding and practical skills they’ll need to be able to build new mapping tools from the ground up.”

GIS stands for both “geographic information systems” – software tools that integrate maps with information – and “geographic information science” – the research field that expands the capability of the software. GIS falls into the group of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) jobs that are projected to grow twice as quickly as jobs in other fields, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Similarly, 80 percent of jobs in the next decade will require technical skills, such as those found in the new GIS program.

Graduates of the new GIS program will be well positioned to find high-paying jobs ($58,000-$126,000) at companies like Google, Esri and GPS navigation software development companies. Government agencies, from local to national, also need employees with the unique mix of computer science and geography provided by this program.

“This degree is a wonderful intersection of computer science and geographical analysis and problem-solving,” said Sergio Rey, professor of geography and one of the faculty in the GIS program. “This program will offer students the opportunity to acquire new types of spatial thinking and computational skills that will offer them exciting opportunities coming out of the program.”

The skills that students will build in this program will allow them to create both new methods and new software for mapping, analysis and navigation. For example, a student might develop a new method to discover hotspots of crime – and also create the software that would allow a crime analyst to use the new technique.

A graduate of the program might find themselves in a software development company, implementing new web or mobile mapping applications – or enhancing existing sophisticated desktop mapping software. The new graduate would be able to customize software to meet a client’s needs, whether to help environmental managers model animal migrations, help a community support its local businesses or improve military reconnaissance tools.

“Many schools across the country teach students how to use specialized Geographic Information Systems software – but ASU’s program is one of the very few in the country that offers students the opportunity to learn how to develop the software,” explained Wentz. “At the same time, we have some of the leading spatial scientists in the world at ASU – who also are highly involved in teaching the courses in the new GIS program.”

“ASU offers a lot of opportunities – at ASU, if you can dream it, you can do it,” commented Nathaniel Gaytan, an ASU student who was one of the first to declare the new major.

The Bachelor of Science in GIS program is housed in the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning, which is ranked 7th in the nation for geography programs by the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Students in the new degree program will have opportunities to engage with any of the school’s more than 40 faculty members, who have expertise in methods that range from highly computational to humanistic, and who study and teach about diverse realms of geography and urban planning.

The school’s nationally recognized faculty includes three members of the National Academy of Sciences, a National Science Foundation Young Investigator award winner, two Guggenheim scholars and members of the National Research Council Geographical Sciences Committee. The GIS faculty is internationally renowned for its work developing GIS methods and software, including open-source products GeoDa and PySAL.

To learn more about the new bachelor’s degree in GIS, contact the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning at 480-965-7533, or visit the website.

Barbara Trapido-Lurie

research professional senior, School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning


ASU professor receives Rockefeller Foundation writing fellowship

May 6, 2014

Together with her collaborator, Lucia Lo of York University in Canada, Arizona State University professor Wei Li has been awarded the Rockefeller Foundation's prestigious Bellagio Center writing residency fellowship.

As a Bellagio Fellow, Li will spend four weeks this fall at the Bellagio Center on Lake Como in Northern Italy. The Resident Fellows program combines the opportunity for uninterrupted work during the day, with the opportunity to spend time with other Fellows in the evenings – leaders, writers and artists from a wide array of fields. ASU professor Wei Li and colleague Lucio Lo standing on a bridge Download Full Image

Past Bellagio Foundation awardees include highly prominent figures such as Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg and P.K. Pachauri, chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Li and Lo will use their time at the Bellagio Center to write up their research on access of immigrants and immigrant businesses to formal financial services throughout North America. The two researchers will compare and contrast financial regulatory histories and immigration policies in the United States and Canada, and among varied immigrant groups.

“Immigrants to North America are diverse not only in origin, language and religion, but also in the human and financial resources they bring to the receiving societies,” explains Li. “Our work aims to uncover the extent to which immigrants are marginalized in the financial arena, and suggest ways of incorporating them.”

Wei Li is a professor of Asian Pacific American studies and geography in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at ASU, with appointments in the School of Social Transformation and the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning. Her research specialties are international migration and integration, highly skilled migration and transnational connections, immigrant settlement and minority finance, focusing on the Pacific Rim.

Li’s research on banking and immigration has been supported by the National Science Foundation, and Lo’s work is supported by Canada’s Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.

Li has held several prominent roles with the U.S. Census Bureau, including serving as an inaugural member of the U.S. Census Bureau’s National Advisory Committee on Racial, Ethnic and Other Populations. She chaired the Census Bureau's Race and Ethnic Advisory Committees on the Asian Population from 2010-2012 and is a member of the International Steering Committee of the International Metropolis Project.

The School of Social Transformation and the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning are academic units in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Barbara Trapido-Lurie

research professional senior, School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning