Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI) of Redlands, Calif., has given a Special Achievement in GIS Award to Virginia Tech at its 24th annual International User Conference, which occurred Aug. 12, in San Diego to recognize the university’s successful integrated state program that benefits business and government in a partnership with education

The award names Katherine Williams, software applications analyst in the Information Technology Acquisition Department; John McGee, specialist in the Virginia Geospatial Extension Program; and Randy Dymond, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering and director of the Center for Geospatial Information Technology. Virginia Tech was selected from more than 100,000 GIS users worldwide and was the only academic institution to receive an award.

Virginia Tech structured its unique contract for the three-year-old statewide program in such a way that pulls all partners together to allow for large cost savings, widespread availability of the full spectrum of ESRI software, and building synergistically on the expertise across Virginia so that the state and businesses can take advantage of the many uses of spatial data from flood control to making 911 operations seamless. Virginia Tech’s program has brought a complete circle of benefits to the state, from the low cost purchase of ESRI software to positioning the Virginia for the new economy and shoring up the future workforce.

ESRI is a GIS (Geographic Information Systems) software vendor that supplies software to users of the technology. A GIS is a computer-based information system that enables users to superimpose different map layers on top of each other. Users can then conduct spatial analysis from these combinations of layers to support decision making for myriad application needs associated with natural resources management, economic development, transportation planning, forest management, local and regional planning, and public safety.

Virginia Tech took the lead in forming and continuing to coordinate a coalition of Virginia public universities to provide a statewide ESRI site license. Last year, Virginia’s community colleges were added to the agreement at minimal additional cost. The state’s public colleges and universities benefit from the cost savings rather than having individual contracts, from the greater availability of ESRI software to train future GIS professionals, and from the interactions among state institutions.

Outreach and research programs of Virginia Tech use ESRI software to enhance economic development, projects pertaining to the environment, and good governance throughout state agencies and localities. ESRI also benefits from this collaboration through the exposure of its products to higher education students throughout the state, and from the streamlining of technical and contract support that this unique contract offers.

Virginia Tech’s Geospatial Extension Program, a partnership between the Virginia Space Grant Consortium and Virginia Cooperative Extension, provides workshops and training opportunities across the state to support Extension agents, local and regional governments, state governments, and federal employees working in Virginia, and services workforce demands.

Since January 2004, the program has provided workshops and educational forums for more than 500 Virginians and has allocated numerous geospatial training scholarships to faculty and staff at community colleges. The program also produces a quarterly newsletter that provides an overview of geospatial products and services available to Virginia residents.

Dymond was involved initially in the statewide licensing effort but is better known for his work as the founding director of the Center of Geospatial Information Technology, an interdisciplinary center drawing on colleges, government agencies, and the private sector to increase geospatially-related research activities and provide technical expertise in the areas of GIS and Global Positioning Systems (GPS) applications research.

Williams’ coordinating role in Virginia Tech’s Information Technology Acquisition Department is what makes the contract so unique. Her team’s efforts in serving as the one-stop software licensing office has saved the university and other Virginia public colleges and universities more than $1 million annually in GIS software fees. Under Virginia’s ESRI academic software license agreement, the Information Systems and Computing at Virginia Tech is now coordinating the distribution of ESRI software to all of Virginia’s Community Colleges at no additional cost to the state in an effort to increase training opportunities throughout Virginia.

Founded in 1872 as a land-grant college, Virginia Tech has grown to become among the largest universities in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Today, Virginia Tech’s eight colleges are dedicated to putting knowledge to work through teaching, research, and outreach activities and to fulfilling its vision to be among the top 30 research universities in the nation. At its 2,600-acre main campus located in Blacksburg and other campus centers in Northern Virginia, Southwest Virginia, Hampton Roads, Richmond, and Roanoke, Virginia Tech enrolls more than 28,000 full- and part-time undergraduate and graduate students from all 50 states and more than 100 countries in 180 academic degree programs.