A Mississippi State University program geared to the needs of natural resource managers is receiving international attention.
"Geographical Information Systems for Natural Resource Managers," a continuing education course in the College of Forest Resources, has received the Learning Resources Network's Certificate of Exemplary Programming during 1999.
Referred to most often by the acronym LERN, the network is a Manhattan, Kan.-based association in lifelong learning programming. Information about the MSU course was included in a showcase of international programs at LERN's recent Washington, D.C., convention.
The class brings natural resource managers from Mississippi and other states to the Starkville campus for instruction on the use of GIS resources in their work.
GIS is a computer program used to pose and answer geographic questions. Users guide the program to arrange and display location data in a variety of ways, including maps, charts and tables.
Wes Burger, associate professor of wildlife and fisheries, and Rich Minnis, director of the MSU-based Mississippi Gap Analysis Program, have taught the course since its beginning in 1997. Their students have included a mixture of more than 160 private landowners and timber company, government agency and university representatives.
"Rather than just a general discussion of GIS, our program tailors use of the technology to the specific needs of those taking the course," Minnis said.
"For example, wildlife biologists would learn how to use GIS data to determine the home range of a wildlife species, its habitat and the availability of habitat," Minnis explained. "We teach how to use the data to see the big picture and how changes in particular aspects of the environment can affect an entire area."
The course is scheduled three times a year, but demand usually results in one or two additional sessions being offered, according to Alan Brown, College of Forest Resources coordinator for continuing education.
"It's no mystery why this program has done so well," Brown said. "Rich and Wes combine an understanding of natural resource management with a mastery of GIS technology, which creates an exciting learning environment."
The latest LERN honor is the third in a row for Mississippi State. The network presented a similar award for a wildlife forensics certification program in 1997 and for a workshop on curve sawing in 1998. All three award-winning programs were created by the College of Forest Resources and the university's Division of Continuing Education.