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Virginia’s Geospatial Extension Program
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The author is the Loudoun County GIS Coordinator and a statewide authority and speaker on the subject of geographic information systems and their applications.
specialist’s job is to integrate geospatial technology, meaning the use of remote sensing, geographic information systems (GIS), and global positioning system (GPS), into decision support tools. Each state program is different and is tailored to meet local needs. In Utah, for instance, they are focusing on tools to support precision agriculture.
A major component of both the national and state programs is to provide educational opportunities in grades K–16 and for the professional workforce, the many people who need to use spatial technology as part of their daily work. The goal is to facilitate the adoption of these decision making tools to support day to day needs throughout Virginia.
JOB REQUIRING DIFFERENT HATS
John McGee is Virginia’s geospatial extension specialist. He says that there are several aspects to the job title. The position provides services to and through Virginia Cooperative Extension. The Virginia Tech Geospatial Extension Program also provides geospatial services through outreach to support the efforts of local communities, regional programs, and state agencies. In Virginia, the program is administered by the Virginia Tech College of Natural Resources, the Department of Forestry, and Virginia Cooperative Extension in partnership with the VSGC.
The role of the geospatial extension program is to introduce the technology and show people how they can use it. According to John McGee, “Many organizations don’t know how to take the first step, or they are hesitant because they don’t know what it will cost or the kinds of people they will need to manage the system. Many individuals and organizations also do not understand the potential benefits associated with the adoption of geospatial tools.”
Education in the geospatial technologies is becoming increasingly important. Virginia recently adopted Standards of Learning (SOL) for geography, a science that makes extensive use of the technology. Also, the US Department of Labor recently identified geotechnology, together with nanotechnology and biotechnology, as one of the three most important emerging employment fields. At the federal level, one agency alone, the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency (NGA), headquartered in Northern Virginia, will add 7,000 trained employees over the next
he Virginia Space Grant Consortium (VSGC) is part of the National Aeronautical and Space Agency’s (NASA) space grant and fellowship program. Established by Congress in 1988, the program funds research, education, and public service projects through a national network of universities. Mary Sandy is the director of Virginia’s consortium, that has counterparts in all
the other states, Puerto Rico, and Washington, DC.

According to Mary Sandy, participation in the geospatial extension network has been a dream of the program since the early 1990s. Mary Sandy worked closely in conjunction with Dr. Randolph Wynne, who is an associate professor in
the department of forestry, and with the administration in Virginia Cooperative Extension to make this dream a reality. The dream was realized when the consortium and Virginia Tech received a $100,000 grant from NASA to establish a geospatial specialist position at Virginia Tech Cooperative Extension and the College of Natural Resources at Virginia Tech.
Virginia is one of several states participating in the network, a collaborative effort among several land grant universities, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The objective of the program is, “to enhance decision support, education, and workforce development related to the use of geospatial information among users at the local, state,
and regional levels.” According to Sandy, “Virginia’s program is one of the largest in the nation.”
The geospatial extension program is managed in each state by a geospatial extension specialist who typically works in conjunction with the state’s respective land grant university and through the state’s agricultural extension service. The
By Larry Stipek