John McGee, a professor and geospatial specialist for Virginia Cooperative Extension in the College of Natural Resources and Environment, received the 2015 Distinguished Geospatial Education Partner Award from the National Geospatial Technology Center of Excellence.

McGee was recognized for his work with the Expanding Geospatial Technician Education Through Virginia’s Community Colleges (GeoTEd) project, a Virginia-focused effort designed to build academic pathways to employment for geospatial technicians through Virginia’s community colleges.

Because geospatial technology is an increasingly prevalent tool employed worldwide, efforts are focused on training a workforce prepared with geospatial skills applicable to fields as diverse as tourism, finance, real estate, epidemiology, marketing, emergency response, natural resources management, agriculture, and transportation.

According to the Department of Labor, the tremendous growth potential of geospatial technology is limited only by the educational system’s ability to provide future workers.

The award recognizes the GeoTEd project, for which McGee is a co-investigator, for work “that has made significant contributions in support of geospatial education at two-year colleges.” McGee shared the award with his co-investigators: Chris Carter (principal investigator), Virginia Space Grant Consortium; David Webb, GeoTEd consultant; Chérie Aukland, Thomas Nelson Community College; and Sandy Stephenson, Southwest Virginia Community College.

GeoTEd works with partnering community colleges to lead students to careers in geospatial technology by increasing the number of courses the schools offer in geospatial topics. Importantly, GeoTEd “trains the trainers” by educating faculty, staff, and administration. Partnering community colleges then serve as models for other colleges to further disseminate geospatial education throughout the state.

One-week intensive residential workshops for community college and high school educators are just one of the programs offered. Participants receive hands-on training in using geospatial technology, as well as classroom-ready materials and geospatial data for Virginia and their local area. GeoTEd partners provide two years of mentoring to participants as they implement courses at their home institutions.

“The GeoTEd partnership is actively working to provide communities across Virginia and five other states with increased access to a geospatially literate workforce,” McGee said. “A geospatial skillset can often provide individuals with a workforce niche, thereby making them more marketable. Communities, businesses, and organizations can then harness that expertise to enhance decision-making. In essence, these tools increase efficiency and often provide businesses with a competitive advantage.

“The National Geospatial Technology Center of Excellence oversees the larger goal of building a nation of geospatially savvy people,” he continued. “The GeoTEd partnership is thrilled that we have been recognized by this national center as making a significant contribution towards that larger goal.”

While his GeoTEd work focuses on community-college-level learners, as a Virginia Tech geospatial Extension specialist, McGee extends his knowledge in all directions.

He works through the Virginia Geospatial Extension Program in Virginia Tech’s Department of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation to support the geospatial needs of communities in Virginia. Examples include workforce development initiatives and the development of data and applications to support the needs of communities, including mapping urban tree canopies, helping small businesses reach and attract markets, and supporting local economic development efforts.

“Extension specialists work closely with an array of stakeholders in many programming areas, including agriculture, health, community development, youth development, and natural resources management,” McGee said. “Geospatial tools can, and are, being used to better understand community efforts to identify and solve local problems and foster local strengths.

“Historically, geospatial tools were often perceived as accessible only to experts and researchers,” McGee added. “Common Web mapping applications and spatially enabled smartphone apps have brought the power of geospatial information to the masses. We are still looking at a snowflake at the tip of the geospatial iceberg.”