Geography and GIScience
American River College

We are looking forward to the graduation of our first ARC GIS Certificate recipients next spring, 1999. The purpose of this information paper is to describe what our trek was like to this point and what paths proved successful, to offer some recommendations, to describe the certificate program itself, and to provide a list of brainstorm concerns that we perceive as important. Also, we want to thank all those that offered their expertise and provided the pioneering examples to us. Our GIS program continues to evolve. We welcome all comments, suggestions, and advice, in turn, please consider our experience available to you. We know that this is a powerful direction for community college geography—yet, just emerging from the crucible

American River College is a two-year community college, one of four colleges in the Los Rios Community College District—the second largest district in California. ARC is in the top ten in population of California community colleges with an enrollment of 22,000. The faculty is presently at 285 full-time and 475 adjunct faculty. The college offers 30 certificate programs and 40 occupational degree programs and is a key source for students transferring to University of California, Davis, and California State University, Sacramento.

The Earth Science Department at ARC includes geography, geology, and geographic information science. For spring semester we are offering 58 sections of 23 courses (37 sections in geography, including 14 GIS sections, and 21 sections in geology).

The GIScience Revolution Is Here!

Early in the formulation process we established a GIS Advisory Committee that today has 60 members. This committee of academics from surrounding colleges and universities, state and local government technicians and scientists, and representatives from business and industry, meets twice a year. From the beginning, this committee has advised us on what they need and want from our GIS program and our graduates. We held meetings in which the committee members and faculty worked together to design course content and to select course offerings—charged gatherings filled with creative energy!

Three years ago the Sacramento Valley region was suffering from a shortage of GIS training and certification. As proof of this, when we held a "GIS IS Here!" conference on our campus in April 1997, 250 people attended! We had an overwhelming day, far beyond our expectations, and the administration took notice. Our program is built from the grassroots up, rather than from the top down, making such attention from administration a valuable asset.

Our first section of GIS, a 4-unit "Introduction to GIS," was taught in spring 1997. With the success of this GIS course and the addition of new courses, encouraging advice from our Advisory Committee, and administrative endorsement, we launched a new ARC GIS Certificate Program. Our first half dozen certificate recipients will be granted at graduation this coming spring! We are in full operation this fall with 9 sections of 8 different courses. In the coming spring we are offering 14 sections of 10 different GIS courses—all listed later in this paper.

The GIS curriculum is taught by a combination of regular campus faculty and adjunct faculty drawn from the local professional community—further strengthening the tie between the academic and real worlds. We have been fortunate to attract qualified and enthusiastic people to teach our courses. The role of the GIS Advisory Committee is important in meeting these staffing challenges. In addition, cross-departmental relationships have arisen that link courses from Natural Resources, CAD, and CIS Certificate Programs with our program courses.

Facilities Old and New

Initially facilities were a problem. The Los Rios District is letting us use computing facilities at an outreach center that is intended for computer information science classes in business and industry. The district is expanding these facilities for spring semester and we will continue to offer some classes there as a service to our evening professional students, since this center is nearer to downtown.

Our new 32-station science computer lab is under construction with a budget from the college of $220,000. This is essentially the conversion of a large classroom to computer lab/lecture multiple use. The success of our GIS program meant that we were given, over other areas on campus, funding to remodel a classroom. This remodeling plan is in progress and purchase orders are underway. The new 32-station computer lab (which will also serve as a 50-seat lecture room) will be shared between geography and chemistry and will be on line for the 1999 spring semester!

This new computer lab/lecture classroom is designed by faculty. We visited other colleges and facilities to sample different layouts. To accommodate both lab and lecture and avoid the line-of-sight interruptions that plague computer labs, we selected furniture that places each monitor at an angle below nonreflective glass with a pull-out keyboard tray. We went with a raised flooring that sits on the existing concrete/tile floor to simplify cable and phone-line installation and to add versatility if there are later changes.

Despite our strong beginning over these past 2 years, adequate funding for hardware and software remain an on-going problem. We attempted an NSF grant that narrowly failed according to the attached returned comments. We are resubmitting the grant proposal in response to this advisement. The level of funding needed for future software support for courses alone stretches administrative capabilities.

Philip Renner is the driving force behind our GIScience effort. He designed courses, fought the curriculum wars, and lead our GIS advisory committee. Given the generosity of ESRI and Mike Phoenix, support from Ann Johnson (the community college rep for ESRI), advice from Steve Palladino and NCGIA, input from all the community college GIS pioneers who shared at meetings, assistance from our supportive Dean of Science, Colleen Owings, and a helpful GIS Advisory Committee, progress is rapid. In addition, we have a new member of the Earth Science Department, Dale van Dam, who is teaching geology and one of the GIS courses and is an active part of the new GIS certificate process.

Our Curriculum and New GIS Certificate Program

The following geography courses are offered. Physical geography is our big course, followed by the physical geography lab. Cultural geography is next in enrollment. The remaining courses are scheduled at least once a year. As to the GIS courses, we are scheduling a full selection every semester and enrollments are strong.

Geography courses/ARC Earth Science Department:

(credit listed in semester units)


Geog. 1: Physical Geography (3) 

Geog. 2: Cultural Geography (3) 

Geog. 6: Weather and Climate (3) 

Geog. 9: Introduction to GIS (4) 

Geog. 10: World Regional Geography (3) 

Geog. 11: Physical Geog. Laboratory (1) 

Geog. 20: Cartographic Design for GIS (3) 

Geog. 21: California Geography (3)


Geog. 22: Database Design and Management in GIS (3) 

Geog. 23: Spatial Analysis and Modeling in GIS (3) 

Geog. 25a: Introduction to ArcView GIS (1) 

Geog. 25b: Intermediate ArcView GIS (1) 

Geog. 25c: Introduction to Avenue (1) 

Geog. 26: Data Acquisition in GIS (1) 

Geog. 48: GIS Work Experience/Special Projects(1-3) 

Geog. 24: Introduction to ARC Info GIS (4) 

[Curriculum approval pending]


Geographic Information System Course Descriptions:

Geography 9 - Introduction to Geographic Information Systems (4 Units)

A Geographic Information System (GIS) is a computer-based data processing tool used to manage and analyze spatial information. There are many applications for GIS, including environmental assessment, analysis of natural hazards, site analysis for business and industry, criminal justice, real estate, location analysis, resource management, and land-use planning. This course introduces students to the tools and techniques of GIS including spatial data capture, management, and analysis, as well as cartographic output through hands-on experience using GIS software. Emphasis is placed on training in the use of technology and software in order to provide students with skills and a conceptual base on which they can build further expertise in GIS.

Geography 20 - Cartographic Design for GIS (3 Units)

The principal product of a completed GIS project is a map. This course provides a comprehensive study of GIS applicable cartography including cartographic principals, data acquisition methods used in map production, and methods of base map development. The course includes the study of cartography to include history, map projections, map scale, types of thematic maps, and map accuracy. Techniques used in GIS base map development (scanning, digitizing, and coordinate geometry) are introduced using hands-on exercises. The course includes the production and presentation techniques of professional quality maps and work in computer-assisted mapping projects.

Geography 22 - Database Design and Management in GIS (3 Units)

This course examines the principles of database design and management including conversion fundamentals, modeling techniques, and strategic planning. The needs, alternatives, and pitfalls of database development and conversion are discussed. In addition, the course includes the examination of various types of data applicable to GIS and examines relevant issues including hardware and software requirements. Particular attention is paid to determining an appropriate methodology, developing a conversion plan, and obtaining data quality assurance. Included are hands-on practical exercises in database management skills.

Geography 23 - Spatial Analysis and Modeling in GIS (3 Units)

This course provides a general survey of the fundamentals of spatial information systems and a survey of quantitative techniques applicable to spatial data. Geography 23 is focused on the functionality of GIS as an effective tool for modeling and analyzing complex spatial relationships. Quantitative methods, including measures of central tendency, dispersion, and density are discussed. Application of such methods are presented using empirical data.

Geography 25a - Introduction to ArcView GIS (1 Unit)
[Now being revised to a 2 unit, nine week module]

This course provides the foundation for developing a geographic information system using ArcView GIS software and provides a conceptual overview and the hands-on experience needed to take advantage of ArcView’s display, analysis, and presentation mapping functions. Students learn basic ArcView functionality and become familiar with the components of the ArcView graphical user interface (GUI).

Geography 25b - Intermediate ArcView GIS (1 Unit)
[Now being revised to a 2 unit, nine week module]

This course provides the opportunity to utilize ArcView software’s advanced capabilities in analyzing spatial relationships in GIS. The course also introduces students to ArcView’s Spatial Analyst and Network Analyst extensions which increase the functionality and analytical power of the software in producing a GIS.

Geography 25c - Introduction to Avenue (1 Unit)

Avenue is the programming language used to modify and customize the ArcView GUI in developing a GIS. This course provides the opportunity to utilize Avenue’s attributes in order to customize the way ArcView looks, modify ArcView’s tools, create new tools, and integrate ArcView with other applications and introduction to this important ArcView tool.

Geography 26 - Data Acquisition in GIS (3 Units)

This course provides students with the knowledge and practical experience necessary to develop skills in the acquisition, management, conversion, analysis, and creation of spatial data. Topics include acquisition of existing data sets, data format conversion, and acquisition of data from remote sensing sources and the global positioning system (GPS), an integral part of the development and implementation of geographic information systems.

Geography 48 - GIS Work Experience (1-3 Units)

A directed field study program which provides students with an opportunity to apply GIS skills acquired in the classroom to real-world projects in the community. Students are under the supervision of an advisor from the GIS faculty while participating in a short-term experience program in a business or government agency.

Geography 24 - Introduction to ArcInfo GIS (4 Units)
[Curriculum approval pending]

A Geographic Information System (GIS) is a computer-based data processing tool used to manage and analyze spatial information. This course provides a working knowledge of the comprehensive ArcInfo GIS software. Topics include creating and editing spatial data using ArcEdit, producing map displays using ArcPlot, working with attribute data, and the basics of AML programming. Emphasis is placed on training in the use of technology and software in order to provide students with skills and a conceptual base on which they can build further expertise in GIS.

Course and Certificate Requirements
in Geographic Information Systems
— This program is for a GIS Certificate with an AA or AS degree, or as a stand-alone GIS Certificate —
Core Requirements (at least 17-18 units) :

Geography 9: Introduction to Geographic Information Systems (4)
Computer Information Science 12A: Electronic spreadsheets (1)
Computer Information Science 13A: Database Management (1)
Design Technology 66: Introduction to Computer Aided Drafting and Design (CADD)(2)

Plus any three of the following courses:

Anthropology 3:  Intro to Archeology and World Prehistory (3)
Biology 5:  Survey of Biology (4)
Biology 12:  The Foundations of Biology (3)
Biology 18:  Conservation Biology (3)
Business 20:  Introduction to Business (3)
Business 61:  Principles of Marketing (3)
Chemistry 7:  Environmental Chemistry (3)
Fire Technology 1:  Introduction to Fire Technology (3)
Forestry 1:  Introduction to Forestry (3)
Forestry 2:  Principles of Ecology (3)
Forestry 3:  Introduction to Wildlife Biology (3)
Geography 1:  Elements of Physical Geography (3)
Geology 1:  Physical Geology (3)
Geology 8:  Earth Science (3)
Physical Science 1:  Introduction to Physical Science (3)
Real Estate 19:  Principles of Real Estate (3)
Concentration Requirements (at least 16-18 units): Geography 20:  Cartographic Design for GIS (3)
Geography 22:  Database Design and Management in GIS (3)
Geography 23:  Spatial Analysis and Modeling in GIS (3)
Geography 25a:  Introduction to ArcView GIS (1) [Being revised to 2 units]
Geography 25b:  Intermediate ArcView GIS (1) [Being revised to 2 units]
Geography 25c:  Introduction to Avenue (1)
Geography 26:  Data Acquisition in GIS (1)
Geography 48:  GIS Work Experience/Special Projects(1-3)
Requirements for Certificate (at least 26-29 units): Geography 9:  Introduction to Geographic Information Systems (4)
Geography 20:  Cartographic Design for GIS (3)
Geography 22:  Database Design and Management in GIS (3)
Geography 23:  Spatial Analysis and Modeling in GIS (3)
Geography 24:  Introduction to ArcInfo GIS (4) [pending curriculum approval]
Geography 25a:  Introduction to ArcView GIS (1) [Being revised to 2 units]
Geography 25b:  Intermediate ArcView GIS (1) [Being revised to 2 units]
Geography 25c:  Introduction to Avenue (1)
Geography 26:  Data Acquisition in GIS (3)
Geography 48:  GIS Work Experience/Special Projects (1-3)
Design Technology 66:  Intro to Computer Aided Drafting and Design (CADD)(2)
Computer Information Science 12A:  Electronic spreadsheets (1)
Computer Information Science 13A:  Database Management (1)
Computer Information Science electives: CIS 15A:  Presentation Graphics (1)
CIS 37:  Database Programming (3)
CIS 38:  Programming in Visual Basic (4)
CIS 39:  Introduction to Object Oriented Programming (4)



— Brainstorm of On-Going GIS Concerns and Challenges —

The following are in no particular order but represent some concerns/thoughts that are on an active agenda. Many of these are generic in nature and shared by all of us to some degree.

  • Involvement of other disciplines on campus to design related GIS courses for their fields that integrate with a major in their area.
  • These are the young, tentative steps toward an exciting opportunity for community colleges. We are developing a unique niche for combining vocational and academic functions—blending and melding what some might view as conflicting aims in academia. We know the potential is here for we have seen it in Sacramento, as many others have expressed for their regions. The sustainability of culture and society depends on the spatialanalysis of all the variables that constitute our reality, especially the Earth-human relation. This is a critical challenge as we move into the next millennium. The best to you all in working toward this realization of academic GIS leadership.

    If you have any questions or comments please feel free to contact us at the numbers listed below. This is a dynamic situation and any feedback, criticism, or back slaps will be appreciated!

    Respectfully presented,


    Robert W. Christopherson 

    Geography Professor 

    Earth Science Department Spokesperson 



    Philip Renner 

    Geography Professor 

    GIS Coordinator 


    FAX 916-484-8725

    Dale van Dam 

    Geology Associate Professor 




    g GIS g
    Geographic Information Systems Certificate Program
    American River College —
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