Every time you use Google Earth, pull up a weather map, or track your location with your phone you are using Geographic Information Science. In the past few years, geospatial information has completely transformed the way people view the world, and careers within this growing field have exploded — especially when it comes to environmental research.

Organizations from NASA to the National Park Service to the Peace Corps have always gathered and analyzed spatial data as it relates to the environment, but recent advances in technology and surges in available data for public use have allowed for an increased depth and breadth of new research. The potential overlay of data from hundreds of organizations offers endless possibilities for environmental researchers: from mapping humpback whale migration routes, to assessing the patterns and causes of fire activity in forests, to even mapping the impacts of climate change. The combination of GPS data, satellite imagery, and aerial photography with a variety of existing datasets has become particularly common in virtually all environmental science fields.

To support a developing need for geographic information systems (GIS) and remote sensing skillsets in the environmental community, Unity College’s growing distance education program is announcing an expansion of the Master’s in Professional Science program with a new track of study: Environmental Geographic Information Science.

“We want to give environmental researchers the tools they need to become leaders in their chosen fields without upending their lives for an experiential education,” Unity College President Dr. Melik Peter Khoury said. “Understanding spatial technologies is more important than ever, and we want to meet that need where it is. Take the research you care about, or research you need for your current job, and bring it with you to GIScience at Unity College. Gain the tools you need to get the job done — and then go change the world.”

Students of the Master’s of Professional GIScience will learn to identify and gather a variety of environmental data produced by government agencies, industry, academia, and popular media, and subsequently quality check, fix, analyze, and process that data in a way that relates to real-world environmental issues they may encounter in their careers. Working environmental professionals within the GIScience program will be able bring data and concepts from their current jobs — data they’ve gathered in the field — and apply it as they work through their classes.

The GIScience program culminates in a professional portfolio for current or potential employers, demonstrating a graduate’s ability to conduct projects from proposal to research to public dissemination, blending GIS and remote sensing technologies to solve real-world environmental problems. Throughout the program, students will learn to work within teams and communicate the results of a final research project via presentations, videos, and written work to both scientists and the general public.

“This is one of the fastest growing career fields in the country, and there are currently not enough programs to meet the demand,” Chief Distance Education Officer Dr. Amy Arnett said. “We wanted to take that issue and do what we do best: put an environmental focus on it. It’s becoming more and more essential that people in environmental careers — wildlife biology, environmental sciences — start to weave remote sensing and GIS into their jobs. At Unity, we won’t just give you the skills to do that. We’ll help you figure out how this technology can best be used to suit your interests and needs.”

GIScience students are expected to be highly inquisitive about the ramifications, motivations, and cost of global responses to environmental issues. They will identify and discuss the ethical dimensions and policy issues related to environmental research, and learn to present spatial information to scientists and public officials to aid decision-making in resource-stretched communities. The U.S. Department of Labor predicts that careers involving GIScience skillsets will grow “much faster than the average for all occupations,” with job prospects “likely to be excellent.” And “heightened public interest in the hazards facing the environment, as well as the increasing demands placed on the environment by population growth, is expected to spur demand for environmental scientists and specialists.”

Unity College’s Environmental GIScience Master’s program is offered completely online. Alongside Distance Education’s multiple start dates throughout the year, working professionals will find extreme flexibility in educational scheduling, as well as world-class teachers, small class sizes, and competitive pricing. The program will begin October 23, 2017. Applications are currently being accepted. More information is available at online.unity.edu.