Penn State launches online master’s degree in spatial data science

The new program is the university's response to a growing call from industry for a better understanding of data that can inform questions surrounding policy, culture and social challenges like economic disparities and the current health crisis.
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Pennsylvania State University on Tuesday launched a new online master’s degree in spatial data science.

The program is designed to arm students with the skills necessary to interpret and leverage location data from devices like smartphones and tablets, according to Penn State, which is being used by a growing number of companies to gain insights into the choices consumers make and to solve global challenges like the COVID-19 pandemic.

There is an increasing understanding among companies that the location component of data is crucial to better understand consumers, said Anthony Robinson, an associate professor of geography at Penn State.

“[Location data] provides connotations about policy and culture, economic disparities, all types of things that are geographic in nature,” Robinson said in a press release.


For instance, he said, a government agencies are now turning to location data to create mapping dashboards that visualize hospital and COVID-19 testing data to share with the public, the media, lawmakers or other stakeholders.

Students will be able to take courses in programming, computer science and spatial data science, and can learn to customize map-making software as they visualize data and create new data tools to process information and develop solutions to existing and future challenges across industries.

“In the mapping sciences, we’ve gotten good with addressing problems that exist,” Robinson said. “Industry and research needs focus on what happens if we don’t already have an existing tool, so we’re trying to fill that gap. It’s clear that people who are capable of modifying and creating new map solutions are in very high demand.”

Students will also be able to customize their master’s degrees with a graduate certificate in geospatial programming and web map development, remote sensing, geospatial intelligence or geographic information systems.

The degree program will be available for Penn State’s spring 2021 semester, which begins in January.

Betsy Foresman

Written by Betsy Foresman

Betsy Foresman was an education reporter for EdScoop from 2018 through early 2021, where she wrote about the virtues and challenges of innovative technology solutions used in higher education and K-12 spaces. Foresman also covered local government IT for StateScoop, on occasion. Foresman graduated from Texas Christian University in 2018 — go Frogs! — with a BA in journalism and psychology. During her senior year, she worked as an intern at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., and moved back to the capital after completing her degree because, like Shrek, she feels most at home in the swamp. Foresman previously worked at Scoop News Group as an editorial fellow.

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