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The University of Maine at Fort Kent has completed an upgrade to its Geographic Information System (GIS) classroom and laboratory.  The facility now provides students interested in careers in forestry, environmental studies, or computer applications with the most modern, comprehensive learning facilities anywhere.  

The 16-seat laboratory houses a modern teaching station and GIS digitizing station.  The GIS laboratory serves the forest technology and environmental studies programs as well as students in computer applications, business, and rural public safety.  

The upgrades to the laboratory included the installation of 16 Dell Optiplex 755 small form (space-saving) factor computers.  Each is equipped with two, Dell 19-inch flat panel monitors (dual monitor setup); Intel core duo processors; Windows XP operating system; Microsoft Office 2007 with 3 gigabytes of memory; 80 gigabytes of hard drive; and a DVD & CD burner and reader. 

The GIS lab is the center of computing and technology application for forestry, surveying, digital cartography, spatial analysis, and global positioning systems (GPS).  Located in UMFK’s Cyr Hall, the lab is adjacent to the Forestry laboratory, which houses state-of-the-art technology and software including workstations with large, graphic monitors; a digitizing station; a large format, color plotter; and an instructor's workstation wired for sound and projection.  

The facility also is equipped with a bank of GPS receivers that are used for scheduled classes and student projects. The software currently being used includes ArcView 3.2; ArcGIS; Idrisi; Trimble Pathfinder; Forest Vegetation Simulator; and other utility software. 

The program utilizes the latest in GIS software, running the ArcGIS family of software that provides full access to ArcView, ArcINFO, and ArcEditor.  ArcGIS provides 3-D and image analysis capabilities and Idrisi software also may be used for analysis of satellite imagery and raster GIS. 

The UMFK GIS program was formally established in the late 1990s as a GIS concentration in Computer Applications.  It soon was followed by a GIS specialization in Environmental Studies.  A dedicated GIS laboratory was established in 2000 to support both programs, as well as to provide training for regional professionals and municipal officials.   

Short courses and workshops in GIS and Global Positioning Systems (GPS) for regional professionals (licensed foresters, engineers and surveyors) and municipal officials have been offered annually at UMFK since 2004.   

UMFK faculty and students have been involved over the past decade in community-based projects, which include: mapping of the Fort Kent golf course; the Maine Winter Sports facility; the Heritage Trail map; and the Fort Kent Town Garage restoration project, among others.   

A significant number of UMFK students have worked on internships to develop parcel databases for six Aroostook County towns, working through the Northern Maine Development Commission (NMDC).   

Currently, UMFK students are working with UMFK alumnus Steve Young, of Habitat Planning, on a St. John Valley Community Forest Project he is conducting.  Another NMDC internship opportunity will begin next month to provide mapping of water and wastewater infrastructure for the Town of St. Agatha.   

UMFK graduates with backgrounds in GIS and GPS have excellent career opportunities. Graduates of the forest, environmental studies, and computer applications programs are working as GIS professionals in Maine as well as in the Yukon, Kentucky and Washington D.C.  

Students of GIS also find starting positions with government agencies or private firms.  UMFK graduates currently work for governmental agencies and private companies such Northern Maine Development Commission, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the James Sewell Company of Old Town, and for land management companies throughout the state. 

GIS is a rapidly developing segment of the economy and is the largest area of growth in electronic commerce.  It provides an analytical or investigative tool for professions, such as business management, criminal justice, forestry, wildlife biology, and the environmental sciences, among others.