John McGee is making geospatial technology accessible and beneficial across Virginia
As an associate professor in Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources and Environment, head of the Virginia Geospatial Extension Program, and coordinator of VirginiaView, John McGee helps students and professionals throughout the state understand, use, and reap the benefits of geospatial technology.
So, what does that mean?
Geospatial technology includes geographical information systems (GIS), global positioning systems (GPS), remote sensing, and applications that collect and analyze spatial data. The GPS system in a car is an example of geospatial technology, as is the GIS mapping that enables you to zoom in on a satellite photo of your house from an Internet site.
This technology is expanding rapidly and entering into more and more aspects of everyday life, and that’s where John McGee plays a major role. Through the Virginia Geospatial Extension Program and the projects it supports, McGee is leading the way in training the commonwealth’s next generation of experts, technicians, and users.
The goals of the Extension program overseen by McGee are to provide technical training and assistance and to develop educational resources and geospatial applications.
The program’s educational outreach includes workshops offered to the public. “Marketing in the Virtual World,” for example, is designed to help small business owners learn to revamp their marketing efforts based on geospatial tools that help target customers through online mapping and GPS devices. “GIS on Pennies a Day” teaches users how to obtain and use inexpensive software.
Among the programs John McGee oversees is the statewide urban tree
canopy mapping project.
As Extension’s geospatial specialist, McGee also is coordinating a partnership of the College of Natural Resources and Environment, the Virginia Community College System (VCCS) and the Virginia Space Grant Consortium aimed at supporting the commonwealth’s future geospatial workforce demands.
This initiative, funded by the National Science Foundation, will provide extensive training and mentoring of community college faculty and high school dual-enrollment teachers. Community colleges have developed and are offering new geospatial courses and certification programs.
Another component of this partnership is VCCS Geospatial Portal. Developed by the Blacksburg Electronic Village, the portal is designed to support the VCCS efforts to train geospatial technicians to meet industry demands for skilled workers.
“The VCCS Geospatial Portal will help the community colleges market their geographic information systems courses and work more efficiently together,” McGee says, “and will provide students with immediate access to geospatial courses, certificate programs, and other academic options.”
McGee also is helping to create ways of using geospatial technology to benefit communities and conserve natural resources.
Along with colleagues in the College of Natural Resources and Environment, McGee is leading a statewide urban tree canopy mapping project. Working with a number of state and federal agencies and commonwealth localities, the Virginia Geospatial Extension Program is using aerial photography and geospatial technology to assess urban forests for localities across the commonwealth.
Urban tree canopy improves water quality, mitigates stormwater runoff, conserves energy, reduces air pollution, and enhances property values, but the resource is threatened in many localities by development. Providing local governments with the data from this project, McGee says, can help decision makers develop policies – such as including tree planting in development plans – that will protect urban forests.
The project recently launched an online mapper to support the needs of local administrators and other community stakeholders. The online mapper can be accessed from http://www.utcmapper.frec.vt.edu.
As coordinator of VirginiaView, McGee oversees a statewide consortium that cultivates state and local use of satellite remote sensing through education, research, and geospatial applications. Partners include several Virginia colleges and universities, as well as state agencies.
In addition to these projects, McGee offers educational workshops and training on geospatial technology to university and community college faculty, Extension agents, state and local agencies, and K-12 teachers and students throughout Virginia.