Innovative Program Wins Governor's Award


By: Daniel Vieth

While high-stakes tests dominate the high school landscape, students (particularly by their senior year) are yearning to see if there’s more to their education. For example, students are introduced to cutting-edge technologies, but don’t get the chance to see how they can use these technologies to make a difference in their communities. This has been the driving force behind JMU’s Geospatial Semester, a program that has, for the past 11 years, given thousands of Virginia high school students the chance to learn about and use cutting-edge geospatial technologies. The Geospatial Semester was recently recognized for its success at the annual Commonwealth of Virginia Innovative Technology Symposium (COVITS) in Richmond, receiving a prestigious Governor’s Technology Award for the Innovative Use of Technology in Education.

The COVITS is an annual gathering of Virginia’s government information technology (IT) leaders, looking at the future of IT solutions through guest speakers and workshops. This past year, the symposium presented the Governor’s Technology Award to 18 different organizations in nine categories, including Innovative Use of Open Data, Best Citizen Portal, and Cross-Boundary Collaboration. “It’s refreshing to see this model recognized at a time when one might characterize education as frequently being rigid and uniform,” said Paul Rittenhouse, one of the managers of the Geospatial Semester along with Kathryn Keranen. “It’s also pleasing to see the program recognized at an industry conference, rather than just within education circles. I believe this speaks to the genuine success of the program.”

The Geospatial Semester is an innovative partnership between JMU and multiple school districts across Virginia where high school teachers collaborate directly with JMU faculty members to bring different geospatial technologies like GIS, GPS and remote sensing into the classrooms. “[The JMU faculty] each have a set of schools that we visit once a month to support and teach current lessons, observe, and develop student projects,” explained Rittenhouse. “It’s a flexible model intended to accommodate the variety of different styles, issues, and interests of all the classrooms in participating schools.” Through this, students have the chance to earn dual-enrollment credit at JMU for the projects they complete inside and out of the classroom, with over 3,000 students already earning credit since the program started 11 years ago. Many of these projects have even been recognized with a variety of awards, while others have been featured at the ESRI International GIS User’s Conference.

The Governor’s Technology Award is an acknowledgment of the incredible work that all the participants have put into this program. “[The award] is a wonderful recognition of the great work of teachers and students in Virginia high schools,” added Dr. Bob Kolvoord, Dean of the College of Integrated Science and Engineering and co-founder of the Geospatial Semester. “They’re exploring cutting-edge technologies and applying them in new and innovative ways. We’re proud to be a continuing partner in the Geospatial Semester.” 

Published: Monday, September 28, 2015

Last Updated: Friday, January 19, 2018

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