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GIS, remote sensing, and international development link Department of Geography with College of Natural Resources at Virginia Tech


BLACKSBURG, Va., Nov. 12, 2003 – Restructuring at Virginia Tech has provided a timely opportunity for the department of geography to transfer from the former College of Arts and Sciences to the College of Natural Resources. The move builds on many long-standing and fruitful collaborations between faculty in geography and those in departments in the College of Natural Resources.

"Geography faculty expertise in Geographic Information Systems (GIS), remote sensing, international development, and human dimensions of resource use will contribute much to these central concerns within the college," says Lawrence Grossman, professor and head of the geography department.

GIS is a computer-based tool for mapping and analyzing things that exist and events that happen on the surface of the earth. Remote sensing is a technique of obtaining information about the surface of the earth through images acquired using special instruments in airplanes and satellites. Both GIS and remote sensing enable researchers to integrate a wide range of data for analysis and decision-making in such varied fields as resource use, planning and assessing human impacts on the environment. These analytical techniques are important to research in geography, forestry, fisheries and wildlife.

"Faculty in geography and forestry have worked together previously in relation to these interests," explains Grossman. "One example is collaboration in writing grant proposals and in numerous research projects. A second is the Center for Environmental Applications of Remote Sensing (CEARS) formed to solve a wide array of environmental problems." Established in 1998 with support from NASA, CEARS has a state of the art computer lab located in Cheatham Hall for GIS and remote sensing research that is widely used by students and faculty.

"A third way we have worked together," adds Grossman, "involves Virginia Tech's Faculty Development Institutes. Members of both departments have taught other faculty how to use GIS and remote sensing to enhance their research and instruction."

"We have gained many benefits by joining the College of Natural Resources," he notes. "Most importantly, it will make the college the clear center of expertise in GIS and remote sensing at Virginia Tech."

The department of geography has a long tradition of international research, with its faculty having conducted fieldwork in 40 different countries. Today, the department's main focus of foreign research is in the Caribbean and Latin American region. In addition, faculty in geography and wood science and forest products have been co-teaching a course on issues relating to international development.

The geography department consists of eight faculty members, 63 undergraduate majors, and 20 graduate students. Faculty members are involved in a variety of outreach activities including study-abroad programs in Cuba, an educational summer train trip across North America for teachers, GIS training workshops for agricultural researchers involved in integrated pest management in Jamaica and Uganda, consultation for the grape-growing industries in Virginia and North Carolina, and numerous geographic education activities for teachers in Virginia.

In the last two years, geography faculty have won three of the 15 major university awards: the Sporn Award for Excellence in Teaching Introductory Subjects, the Alumni Award for Outreach Excellence, and the XCaliber award for excellence in using instructional technology in teaching.

The College of Natural Resources at Virginia Tech is consistently ranks among the top five programs of its kind in the nation. Faculty members stress both the technical and human elements of natural resources and instill in students a sense of stewardship and land-use ethics. Areas of studies include environmental resource management, fisheries and wildlife sciences, forestry, geospatial and environmental analysis, natural resource recreation, urban forestry, wood science and forest products, geography, and international development.

For more information on the department of geography contact Lawrence Grossman at lgrossmn@vt.edu or (540) 231-7557.

Written by Meredith Long, Public Affairs Intern



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