Academic Best Management Practices: Geospatial Information Technologies in MS
Delta State University is a Carnegie Master’s level research and teaching university located in rural northwestern Mississippi. The geographic information technology (GIT) mission of the University is to provide first rate education and technical training within the region, foster technology development and transfer to Mississippi’s government and business sectors, and to develop an institutional center of expertise and knowledge for the region.
Mississippi is a national home for GIT – it is the top technology priority for our state. Our native partners include the Mississippi Automated Resource Information System (MARIS), the Mississippi Coordinating Council for Remote Sensing and GIS, NASA’s Stennis Space Center, the US Air Force’s Space Command, the USDA Agricultural Research Centers at Starkville and Stoneville, Intergraph Corp., Delta and Pineland, Georgia Pacific, In Time, Mississippi Emergency Management Agency, Mississippi Office of Homeland Security, Mississippi Institute for Higher Learning, and NOAA’s National Institute for Undersea Science and Technology. Of special note are the close partnerships we’ve developed with local emergency responders that are fostering the development of significant new approaches and technologies for disaster/crisis planning, mitigation, response, and recovery. These agencies and organizations strongly support geospatial technology training, research, and development at Delta State University and are our partners in all research and technology development.
The top priorities for the Center for Interdisciplinary Geospatial Information Technologies at Delta State University are: 1) conduct leading-edge research and development activities, 2) provide global industry thought leadership and 3) develop the geospatial industry in our home region. A key strategy for achieving the latter is to build a highly qualified cadre of interns and graduates in partnership with industry and leverage the relatively low cost of doing business in Mississippi against an attractive alternative to high cost locations such as Palo Alto, the Research Triangle, and Denver. To accomplish these objectives and in concert with our prior expertise, we have assembled facilities and a team of faculty and staff capable of handling the most complex geospatial projects.
Our production facilities include 32 dedicated GIT workstations, 6 spatial data servers (~12 TB total on site storage), 2 large format plotters capable of producing mapping products up to 60” in width (archival quality waterproof inks are available), a 42” high resolution scanner, digital imaging, WAAS enabled and RTK GPS equipment, and large disk storage array systems. We are site licensed for all Microsoft, ESRI, Intergraph, ENVI, and Leica products. In cooperation with the aviation program and In Time, we are able to fly imaging missions using a Cessna L-206 or bring qualified pilots with us nationwide to assist with projects. Our production team is led by Talbot Brooks and comprises more than 25 faculty, staff, undergraduate and graduate students trained in cadastral data processing, image rectification, field data collection, spatial database, Internet delivery of geospatial technologies, network construction and analysis, basic computer science, and computer programming (.NET, VB, Python, FORTRAN, php, C#, and C).
We are able to leverage these resources and our low labor cost to compete with global outsourcing providers for GIT. Our purpose in doing so is to provide practical training for our students and transfer of our knowledge to our clients. After projects have run for 3-36 months, they are transferred to our private sector partners for continuation. In this way we lower the entry point cost for parties interested in engaging in GIT projects and create new business and trained employees for the private sector. We will never directly compete with US interests for GIT projects, but rather seek mutually beneficial partnerships that advance the implementation and understanding of this rapidly growing technology nation-wide.
About internships, cooperative education, and rural outsourcing
Basic geospatial data collection and processing is currently largely outsourced to India and Far-Eastern countries. While technical proficiency is needed to perform geospatial collection and data processing tasks, this training need not be advanced. Basic mapping of infrastructure, geo-rectification, geocoding, data review, and other repetitive or labor, intensive processes may be accomplished by individuals with 6-12 months of training. The population of the Mississippi Delta is particularly will suited to performing this type of work as a large portion of the currently un-employed workforce has had exposure to geospatial technology through seasonal agricultural work, hunting/fishing guide services, and prior military service.
Our program seeks to provide an alternative to international outsourcing by linking introductory training such as Specialist and GIS Certificate programs with practical experience. The primary mode for accomplishing this will be through the creation of a “Rural Out-Sourcing” program. This program will seek governmental and business partners in need of basic geospatial services. Using cooperative research, development, and training agreements, not-for-profit fixed price contracts will be created that allow partners to create paid internships for students and community members. We envision a 3-5 year time window during which an increasing number of partners will engage the Center in basic spatial services. As individual relationships mature into larger time commitments, the Center will seek to privatize the effort by handing off projects to the private sector, or in their absence, through the creation of a new company or other equitable means.
It is critical that this program not compete with the U.S. private sector, yet it must remain as responsive and flexible. As such, each partnership training and rural outsource program will exist for a fixed period of time while generally conforming to private industry business standards for pricing and overhead costs. To maintain the educational integrity of this program, each local participant will be required to enroll in a minimum of one geospatial technology oriented class for each six months worked and participate in a mandatory internship course that requires regular reports on lessons/skills learned, contemporary geographic thought, and professional development (eg., public speaking, creation of technical presentations).
By engaging the Center for Interdisciplinary Geospatial Information Technologies at Delta State University, our partners are acknowledging the training and education basis of this program and are not using it to foster or gain unfair competitive advantage in any fashion.