Graduates Find Employment Opportunities in GIS

For Immediate Release: 
May 11 2004

Graduates Find Employment Opportunities in GIS

Athens, W.Va. - Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Labor identified geotechnology as one of the three most important emerging and evolving fields, along with nanotechnology and biotechnology. Job opportunities are growing and diversifying as geospatial technologies prove their value in newly expanding areas of the country that correspond with urbanization.

Concord College offers students a Bachelors of Arts degree in Geography with an Area of Emphasis in Cartography and Geographic Information Systems (GIS). Cartography and GIS are growing areas of educational interest as employment opportunities in West Virginia and surrounding areas are increasing.

Geographers study the relationship between society and the environment. To better understand this relationship, geographers research the spatial expression of politics, economics, culture, and demographics, and use computers to create maps. At Concord, geography majors take courses in human geography, physical geography, regional geography, and cartography and GIS. Students who major in geography with an area of emphasis in cartography and GIS may supplement their education with coursework in computer science and mathematics.

Students may pursue occupations that include managing a forest, routing 911 vehicles, designing a cellular phone network, guiding “intelligent” vehicles, managing a city, assessing environmental impact, designing a road, mapping natural hazards and disasters, providing famine relief, and studying the causes and consequences of global climate change. Job titles include but are not limited to environmental engineering technicians, surveying and mapping technicians, cartographers and photogrammetrists, mechanical engineering technicians, electrical and electronic engineering technicians with base salary figures ranging anywhere from $30,000-$44,000 annually. Most of these positions do not require graduate school study, and employers usually provide on-the-job training.

According to Dr. George Towers, associate professor of geography at Concord, technology has evolved since the early 1980s through a digital revolution. Concord, he said, has kept up with the technology. “Years ago, maps were made by hand with pen and paper. This was a very laborious process that provided little flexibility. Mapmaking is now computerized. We use scanners and digitizing tablets to create digital maps. GIS software combines computerized maps with geographic databases that provide the means for managers to analyze the landscape. Mapping with GIS is extremely dynamic and flexible. It is a creative process that has tremendously improved the geographic analysis process.”

Concord was one of the first institutions to utilize such technology and has received funding for the program, including grant money from the National Geographic Society as well as the state of West Virginia. Consequently, the GIS lab is up-to-date with computers, digitizing tablets, scanners, printers, and GIS software.

“What this means for students is that our technology gives them an opportunity for hands-on experience in one of the fastest growing employment fields not only in West Virginia but in the nation,” stated Towers.

Concord geography graduates have gone on to successful careers in cartography and GIS. In Mercer Country alone, Concord has placed new graduates in GIS jobs with the West Virginia Region One Planning and Development Council, Pentree Engineering, and the Mercer County E-911. Other graduates have worked in GIS for government offices in Beckley and Charleston while one of the College’s graduates works for a private environmental consulting company in Clarksburg. Among the firms that have employed Concord undergraduates as paid GIS interns are Pocahontas Land Corporation in Bluefield and the Canaan Valley Institute in Tucker County. Despite the availability of local opportunities, some Concord geography graduates have chosen to leave the state and have pursued GIS careers in the Carolinas, Virginia, Maryland, and elsewhere. The number of jobs in GIS is increasing. “I expect the growth in employment opportunities to continue,” stated Dr. Towers.

“The facts speak for themselves,” he continued, “as earlier this spring the supply of Concord students did not meet the demand. For any college student, my advice is to acquire a broad background in the liberal arts and natural sciences as an undergraduate. A broad educational background is valuable in its own right, and it increases one’s employment opportunities. Once a student has decided that he or she wants to major in geography, I advise him or her to gain cartography and GIS skills because these skills will help in every geographic field.”

For more information on majoring in geography, contact Dr. George Towers at 1-304-384-6040 or


PHOTO: Dr. Towers instructs students in an advanced mapping course.

(Left to right, Dr. Towers, Josh Kirtley, Crozet, Va., geography and geology major, anticipated graduation, May 2005; Michael Ray, Spanishburg, W.Va., geography and geology major, anticipated graduation, December 2004; Felicity Ferri, Oak Hill, W.Va., geography and geology major, anticipated graduation December 2005.)

Jessica Taylor, a student in Concord College’s English department wrote this press release. Her hometown is Beckley, West Virginia.