Plotting Pedagogy – Scott Jeffrey ’81, geography and environmental systems

By: Magazine Editor
Jun 21, 2009

The importance of community colleges in educating students in Maryland and elsewhere in the United States is often overlooked. So perhaps the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) and Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching were underscoring the key role played by community colleges when they named Scott Jeffrey ’81, geography and environmental systems, as Maryland’s 2008 U.S. Professor of the Year.

Jeffrey is an associate professor of geography at the Community College of Baltimore County (CCBC), where he is the director of the college’s Geospatial Applications Program. The program teaches students to analyze map data for a wide variety of organizations that range from everyday businesses to Homeland Security Administration.

Competition for the prize was stiff, with 300 nominees vying for awards in each of the fifty states plus Guam. The judging process is an intense, multi-step affair.

“I was shocked,” says Jeffrey, describing his initial reaction to the award. “I was really excited, but I was also shocked because I knew what I was up against.”

The term “geospatial applications,” he observes, “has evolved because of the growth of the industry over the last decade…. There was a lot of overlap in between Geographic Information Systems (GIS), remote sensing, and global positioning systems (GPS), so it became the geospatial field.”

Much of Jeffrey’s teaching in this hybrid discipline takes a practical cast, encouraging students to engage in direct work with local companies. After completing an introductory course in basic theories surrounding geospatial applications, the students’ remaining class work integrates traditional lectures with the completion of client-based projects that prepare them for real world situations.

Students in the geospatial applications program have completed tasks involving everything from poison distribution to vegetation mapping. “The whole concept, what really makes the students attractive when they graduate,” says Jeffrey, “is having done the on-the-ground work that you can show as a portfolio. It gives you credibility.”

The results have been tangible. “We’ve had a student’s map published in a national atlas,” Jeffrey recalls. “We’ve had students win regional conferences. Student maps have been presented at board meetings.”

Jeffrey also has maintained close connections with UMBC. Not only does he teach as an adjunct professor at the university, but he recently created an articulation agreement with UMBC that closely tracks a similar agreement made with Towson University in 2006. The agreement allows students to begin a geographic systems education at CCBC and then transfer these course skills to either university.

“There are no undergraduate institutions in the state of Maryland that offer the depth and breath of (GIS) courses that CCBC offers,” Jeffrey notes. “What ends up happening is that students that get out of my program, when they transfer to UMBC or Towson, they have far better GIS skills then someone who has started at UMBC or Towson in the geography program.”

UMBC will see its first group of CCBC transfer students in the coming academic year, and Jeffrey says that the students who have transferred to Towson have already found success. Yet he adds that the articulation agreement will help these students round out their skills sets.

“When students transfer to UMBC or Towson, they are going to have GIS skills that exceed students that are already in those programs,” he observes. “What they won’t have is the content coursework for the field. What they won’t have is the depth and breadth of the geography field.”

Jeffrey reflects fondly on his days at UMBC, and he proudly cites his experiences in the UMBC geography department and the research projects he worked on during his undergraduate education as his guide in creating the Geospatial Applications Program at CCBC.

“The ability of the faculty [at UMBC] to provide those experiences to me, I have built that philosophy into this program,” he says. “If this program is successful, it is because of that.”

— Matthew Morgal ’09

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