Geographic Information Systems Certificate

The Department of Geology and Environmental Science offers a Certificate in Geographic Information Systems (GIS). GIS is a computer-based system that allows you to display virtually any type of information that can appear on a map.  As long as you have precise geographic coordinates, you can plot census data, geologic data, species data, historical data, economic data, and any other sort of information you can find onto maps that may highlight topography, geographic features, bedrock or surficial geology, ecologic setting, satellite imagery, etc.  GIS makes it easy to discover and display relationships between multiple types of information stemming from a range of sources.  GIS is thus a powerful tool for analyzing and understanding the past, present, and future of any given natural or human-made landscape.

GIS topics covered include the nature of geographic data, map projections, raster images, the basic elements of a GIS database, sources of data, and training in the Arc/Info software package.  Students also have the option of focusing on remote sensing, which focuses on how to convert raw data from satellites and air-born instruments to useful images that reveal new information about the geology and ecology of the Earth's surface.  Remote sensing topics include image analysis and processing, field validation of satellite and airborne datasets, GPS training, and the use of software packages such as ENVI, Erdas Imagine, ERMapper, and Trimble's Pathfinder Office.

GIS has become increasingly important in many areas of science, government, and industry.  Students who know GIS are at a distinct advantage when looking for jobs in geology, environmental science, city and regional planning, and engineering. This certificate is designed to provide students with the knowledge and skills needed for immediate success in GIS-related jobs.


Only University of Pittsburgh undergraduates pursuing a degree are eligible to enroll in this certificate program. 16 total credits are required to complete this certificate program, which is normally spread over four terms (two academic years).  It is therefore suggested that undergraduates begin no later than their junior year. A grade of C or better is required in all courses for successful completion of the certificate.
You may declare your intent to complete the GIS Certificate by filling out the appropriate form in the Arts and Sciences Advising Center (201 Thackeray) or Student Records (140 Thackeray).  During the pandemic you can fill out the form on-line.

You are required to take both core courses (6 credits), two elective courses (6-8 credits), and GEOL 1901 Independent Study (4 credits).  NOTE:  For students who declare this certificate after Fall 2020, a maximum of 8 credits may count for both your undergraduate major and the GIS Certificate.  In practice, this generally means that two classes (6 to 8 credits) can count for both your major and the certificate.  The remaining 8 to 10 credits of certificate classes must be over-and-above the core and elective classes for your major.  

Core Courses (6 credits)

Elective Courses (6 credits)

Two elective courses may be chosen which have special relevance to the student's major or employment goals. Appropriate courses will be available from many different departments. Courses not on the following list may be selected contingent on approval by the certificate advisor.



GEOL 1901 Independent Study (4 credits)

The independent study for the GIS/Remote Sensing Certificate is a major project intended to allow students to reinforce and polish their GIS and/or remote sensing skills.  Students may either generate their own projects in consultation with one or more faculty members, or they can adopt a project generated by a faculty member.  Each project should attempt to answer a particular question, and these projects should involve the integration of 3 to 5 GIS map layers or at least 2 different remote sensing datasets.  After defining the scope, students should plan on spending at least five hours each week working on the project and having meetings every 2 weeks with the sponsoring faculty member.  The purpose of these meetings is to ensure that adequate progress is being made and that the final product will meet the needs of the project sponsor.  Sufficient work must be performed to earn four independent study or directed research credits. Faculty from any department may serve as the advisor, but students are encouraged to work with faculty in their primary area of interest. Projects must use GIS and/or RS as a major tool, and result in a published report/map/CD-ROM that describes the results of the research.  Click here for complete details on what you should hand in.

A copy of your project should be turned in to your faculty advisor and (in order to receive a grade) and either Dr. Harbert (for projects that are mainly GIS) or Dr. Ramsey (for projects that are mainly remote sensing).