Michigan Technological University’s School of Technology is undergoing a transformation. Established in 1972, at the outset it offered training certificates; then two-year associate’s degrees; then bachelor’s degrees.

Now comes its first graduate program — a master’s degree in integrated geospatial technology.

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Dean Jim Frendewey says of the program, which was approved by the state Thursday, “It fits in with what we are about and what we do.” He adds that this blend of theory, technology, and application is “a natural evolution.”

Simply put, geospatial means information linked to location. Global sustainable development depends on the availability and reliability of data about natural and built features and locations — rivers and towns, mountains and pipelines. This information can be used to plan the built environment or to respond to natural disasters; for instance, locating a cell phone tower, or, after an earthquake, comparing damage information and population information to help deliver emergency services and pinpoint zones of refuge.

“More and more people want to know where things are located,” Frendewey said. That includes industry, government, military, and the scientific community — the latter ranging from geologists to environmentalists to social scientists. Meeting those needs, he said, constitutes “a valuable undertaking.”

The program, which has an intensive online component, hinges on interdisciplinary collaborations among faculty on and off campus. The faculty lineup includes Research Scientist Colin Brooks and Codirector Robert Shuchman of the Michigan Tech Research Institute; Assistant Professor Michael Falkowski, Professor Ann Maclean and Professor Andrew Storer of Michigan Tech’s School of Forest Resources and Environmental Science; Assistant Professors Eugene Levin and Yushin Ahn of the School of Technology; industry leaders from the United States and Russia; and scholars at the University of Maine, Ohio State University, the Technical University of Israel and Moscow State University.

The acquisition and processing of geospatial data about the land make for an applied science. The technology includes surveying, geodetic science, photogrammetry (the practice of determining the geometric properties of objects from photographic images), cartography and mapping — all enriched with new, sophisticated technology in satellite systems, remote sensing capabilities, precision surveying instruments, computing, data networks, laser systems, radar, and sonar.

The master’s program will begin in the fall and is comprised of 25 classes. No new faculty will be needed on campus for the initiative.

Levin says Tech’s program is unique. There are universities that specialize in individual aspects of this inquiry, he says, but none that blend them all. “It’s not enough to have one small specialty anymore,” Levin said. Thus, the “integrated” component. “It’s a big enterprise now,” he added.

The program has already garnered “strong interest” as word gets out, in part by a paper about the initiative that Levin coauthored in 2010 in the journal, “Surveying and Land Information Science.” Fifteen prospective students from around the world have inquired about the opportunity. As well, Levin adds, “Our graduates are pushing us.”

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That’s because the career opportunities are “excellent.” Levin points out one Web site that indicates there are currently 10,000 jobs in the field.

Levin was hired to develop and implement this program, which proved to be a four-year labor.

Is it time to celebrate?

“Not yet,” he said. “It’s too early. We need more students, and we have to work more to make that happen. We will be gratified in two years when our students get their dream jobs.”

He has a postcard from a recent graduate who has a bachelor’s in surveying engineering: “I am down in Antarctica right now, about to install some GPS units to track the ice sheet. Houghton just wasn’t cold enough for me”–postmarked McMurdo Station.

“I don’t know how many people have mail from Antarctica,” Levin said. “When you get a message like this, you’re doing something that’s needed.”

The endeavor includes a graduate certificate. As well, Levin and Frendewey foresee a PhD in the field, and they anticipate adding another master’s program in medical informatics.

Frendewey says the program fits into the University’s strategic goal of enhancing the graduate program overall.

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Said Graduate School Dean Jacqueline Huntoon: “This program and its courses will complement many of the current graduate programs offered at Michigan Tech. It has been carefully designed with input from industry, and we are optimistic that it will prepare students to become leaders in this growing industry.”