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New master's degree at Penn State recognizes the importance of location technology

A new master's degree at Penn State University is a sign of high demand for experts in location intelligence.

One of the best ways to tell whether there is an increased demand for certain skills in the workplace is the launch of new courses.

A master's degree at Penn State University in spatial data science has been added to the roster, as employers increasingly want mapmakers with programming and analytical skills.

It is being offered exclusively online through Penn State World Campus, the university's online campus.

The faculty from Penn State's renowned Department of Geography in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences will teach the courses.

It is a sure sign that companies are in need of these skills, as location intelligence is increasingly being used to help make a whole host of commercial decisions – from where to open a new store, to assessing risk for insurers.

Applications are now open for the spring year, which starts in January 2021.

“Location is not just another column in a database" – Anthony Robinson, Director of Online Geospatial Education Programs at Penn State


The course is being offered by Penn State University's online campus, Penn State World Campus.

Anthony Robinson, an associate professor of geography and the Director of Online Geospatial Education Programs at Penn State, said there is an increasing emphasis on the location component of data.

“Location is not just another column in a database," Robinson said in a press statement. “It provides connotations about policy and culture, economic disparities, all types of things that are geographic in nature.

“We are requiring students to dive into domains and apply data science in a geographic context."

Making bespoke maps

Students will take courses in programming, computer science, and spatial data science.

Robinson said a key part of the program is learning to customize mapmaking software to create maps for specific needs that generic solutions cannot address.

For instance, he said, a government agency may need a mapping dashboard that visualizes hospital and COVID-19 testing data to share with the public, the media, lawmakers, or other stakeholders. The data to populate the dashboard would come from different sources and need to be fused together to make it visually effective. A recent example of this was the map, open to the public, which the California Fire Service used during wildfires in the US region.

Location Technology Master's degree

Efficient and effective supply chains depend on location technology.

He added: “In the mapping sciences, we've gotten good with addressing problems that exist," Robinson said. “Industry and research needs [to] focus on what happens if we don't already have an existing tool, so we're trying to fill that gap. It's clear that people who are capable of modifying and creating new map solutions are in very high demand."

Robinson said the curriculum will evolve as the industry's needs evolve, too.

Penn State University has a long tradition of geospatial information courses. When Penn State World Campus opened in 1998, one of the first academic programs available was a certificate in geographic information systems.

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