Proposal for GIS Certificate Revision at Harold Washington College

Developed by Mike Ribant


This website is intended to move forward the discussion of revamping the current GIS Certificate program at Harold Washington College. The current program suffers from low enrollment, unsuitable course composition, low public recognition, and excessive contact hours, the combination of which has pressured the program financially. As noted below, the U.S. government has identified Geography and GIS and one of the fastest growing job types in the country. The changes proposed herein will help ameliorate current program conditions and better prepare our students for the workforce.

The current GIS program requires 21 semester units and 27 contact hours while only offering two GIS courses. The proposed program would require 18 units and only 18 contact hours. Under the proposed changes, the GIS curriculum would be beefed up significantly, while courses that are irrelevant to employers and students alike have been eliminated. Under the proposed curriculum changes, students can still finish in one year, but with six GIS courses under their belts rather than the two offered currently. Most importantly, a proposed Capstone GIS course has been added to the program, which is intended to help market individual students to employers by showcasing their GIS and Web Mapping skills in their own personal website.


GIS is a collection of computers, software applications, and personnel used to capture, store, transform, manage, map, analyze, and display spatial information. GIS is thus the platform for mapping, analyzing and solving a wide variety of complex problems in a wide variety of fields. The purpose of Harold Washington College’s GIS program is to prepare students for careers in this expanding technological field.

The GIS Certificate program at Harold Washington College (HWC) introduces the student to concepts in geography, cartography, remote sensing, web mapping and database management. This innovative program offers students an entry point to the Geographic Information Systems (GIS) profession. It allows the students to continue in multiple career options in a variety of sectors requiring GIS technologies and spatial-critical-thinking skills. The GIS concentration classes are based on hands on activities, using ArcGIS, ERDAS IMAGINE, and other software, providing the students with fundamental training in techniques, skills, tools, and knowledge in the geospatial field.

Career Possibilities

Geographic Information Science (GIS) is a high growth industry and is everywhere. The Bureau of Labor Statistics has categorized Geography and GIS-related jobs jobs as an emerging industry and one that should experience higher than average employment growth over the upcoming years. Upon successful completion of the certificate program, students will have the skills required to pursue entry-level geospatial technology positions, specifically in Geographic Information Systems (GIS), or they could qualify to transfer directly to a four-year program at a university for a bachelor’s degree.


Six courses, 18 credit hours


GIS 201 - FUNDAMENTALS OF VECTOR GIS (3 credit hours). An introduction to the theoretical and applied fundamentals of GIS with examples of applications in various fields. The theoretical component provides an understanding of GIS methods and enables better geographic modeling decisions, while also providing the theoretical knowledge to migrate to different GIS software packages, including open source. The practical component involves the use of the desktop GIS software package ArcGIS. Students will use GIS software to capture, store, query, analyze and display spatially referenced data. All students must complete a final project in which they investigate a GIS application in depth.


GIS 202 - CARTOGRAPHIC DESIGN & GIS (3 credit hours). Cartography is the knowledge associated with the art, science, and technology of maps and effective cartographic design allows the map maker to clearly communicate with the map reader. This course introduces fundamental cartographic concepts in the context of geographic information systems (GIS). Learning in this course focuses on cartographic principles of map design and production using ArcGIS software, as well as graphic editors for raster and vector data. Cartographic tools and concepts such as map layout, symbology, labeling, scale, projections and color theory are emphasized through a series of labs, which the student will then use to create a final project. The course also introduces the fundamental concepts of primary GIS data creation and introduces techniques for collection, classification, and management of geographical data.


GIS 203 - RASTER GIS & REMOTE SENSING (3 credit hours). This course builds upon the principles and concepts of GIS I but need not be taken in sequence. The course focuses on using raster-based information such as images or photographs, how to acquire of such data, and and how to process and merge raster data with vector data. The second half of the course introduces remote sensing, he science of deriving information about the earth’s surface from images acquired at a distance. This course introduces the principles and concepts of remote sensing and digital image processing as it relates to Geographic Information Systems (GIS). Fundamentals of remote sensing, aerial photography and satellite imagery are taught. A variety of digital image processing techniques are presented to analyze various remote sensing platforms.


GIS 204 - GIS APPLICATIONS & SPATIAL ANALYSIS (3 credit hours). This course teaches the application of GIS methods and techniques in solving practical problems. The course includes the theory and methods involved in spatial analysis, GIS modeling, spatial interpolation, and geostatistical analysis. Generic processes for applying GIS techniques in problem solving is introduced, and several case studies of GIS applications in environmental and social domains will be analyzed for both vector and raster data. In the raster realm, this course focuses on the principles and usage of surface modeling in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) projects as students will conduct surface interpolations (splining, IDW, and kriging) as well as raster grid overlay operations using different software tools.


GIS 205 - GIS MODELING, SCRIPTING & WEB GIS (3 credit hours). This first half of this course focuses on GIS automation tasks using Geoprocessing tools, ModelBuilder, and the Python scripting language. Automation can make GIS work faster and more accurate, and automation knowledge is a highly desired skill in GIS analysts. The basics of using the ArcGIS ModelBuilder component are discussed, including exporting models to Python. This course will also introduce students to Python scripting and how Python is used with Esri's ArcGIS software. The second half of the course introduces students to a wide variety of web mapping tools, from proprietary sources such as ESRI’s ArcGIS Online and Google Maps API, to open source JavaScript libraries such as Leaflet API, and on to enhanced mapping tools like Mapbox and CartoDB. Through a series of labs, students will gain experience making interactive web maps, so that end users on the web can engage the underlying data.


GIS 206 – GIS CAPSTONE (3 credit hours). The GIS capstone course consists of an individual guided research project and website, integrating the knowledge and skills learned in the five GIS courses. The course will take the student from project proposal and research design to implementation, results, and analysis. Students will use the techniques learned within ESRI ArcGIS software, the open-source QGIS software, and Web GIS tools to complete their projects and build a website promoting their work. The course will be completed as independent study, with the ultimate goal of yielding a personal web site showcasing the student’s GIS work that can be used for future job searches and/or college applications.

Interactive Map

            INTERACTIVE MAP: GIS Certificate Programs at Northeastern Illinois Community Colleges

MARKET:   City Colleges of Chicago serves the largest population of any Illinois Community College district. It is also home to the largest number of GIS professionals, as measured by percentage membership in the Illinois GIS Association, of any other CC district. See the interactive map above and the table below to explore more data regarding GIS certificates offered by other Illinois Community College districts.

                                                                                Population Served by Community College District:                                                                      Percent of Illinois GIS Association Members Living in Community College District:


Sortable Table

Community Colleges in Northeastern Illinois

School GIS CERTIFICATE? CertUnits POP2010 ILGISA Membership % Head Count 2015 Head Count % Change: 2011-15 FTE 2015 FTE % Change: 2011-15
School GIS CERTIFICATE? CertUnits POP2010 ILGISA Membership % Head Count 2015 Head Count % Change: 2011-15 FTE 2015 FTE % Change: 2011-15
College of Lake County No 0 684276 0.046 16086 -13.5254 8365 -15.6669
City Colleges of Chicago ??? 18 2717880 0.155 53906 -14.1146 32396 -18.6439
Oakton Community College No 0 493232 0.023 10747 -9.95392 5667 -11.2034
South Suburban College No 0 280869 0.009 5191 -33.6868 2736 -35.426
Prairie State College No 0 222510 0.003 4584 -22.7372 2743 -22.5141
Joliet Junior College No 0 656015 0.03 15888 -2.99774 8663 -10.6999
Moraine Valley College Yes 25 434452 0.008 15293 -17.9032 9066 -15.0806
Triton College No 0 265589 0.006 11350 -21.5889 5669 -28.6469
Morton College No 0 231225 0.006 4752 -2.72262 2609 -7.48227
College of DuPage Yes 18 1009717 0.139 29108 7.65987 15952 6.3254
Harper College Yes 21 551249 0.026 14760 -7.00605 8093 -13.1559
Waubonsee College Yes 27 389498 0.04 10099 -3.46047 5211 -9.46838
Elgin Community College No 0 430751 0.029 10638 -10.9269 6003 -11.0798
McHenry County College No 0 291513 0.022 6743 -9.01363 3874 -6.6506
Kishwaukee College No 0 113146 0.018 3686 -14.5176 2340 -18.637


Students may enter the program in either fall or spring










  • Finish
    1 Year!


 Instructor:   Mike Ribant

 Instructor Email:

 Instructor Office Hours:   Thursdays, 4:30 - 5:30pm

Mike Ribant    M.A.; A.B.D., is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Geography at Northern Illinois University, where he has taught geography and was named Outstanding Graduate Student. For the past several years, Ribant has taught classes in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and geography at various colleges in the Chicagoland area including Northeastern Illinois University, Northern Illinois University, Harper College, Triton College and City Colleges of Chicago. These classes include Introduction to GIS, Advanced GIS, Interactive Cartography, Remote Sensing, Vector GIS and Raster GIS. Ribant also developed a course for Chicago State University under a grant contract entitled GIS for Homeland Security and won the poster competition at a recent Illinois GIS Association (ILGISA) conference. He currently teaches at Harper College and Harold Washington College in downtown Chicago. His research interests are in the areas of urban geography, GIS, web mapping, spatial analysis, transportation geography, public finance and geovisualization. A native Detroiter, his dissertation research aims to better understand America’s post-industrial, shrinking cities and examines various operationalized and postulated methods for ”right-sizing“ them. Prior to entering graduate school in 2007, Ribant owned a retail coffee chain in downtown San Diego. An avid fly-fishing enthusiast, Ribant is the editor of two books about fishing: The U.S. Bass Atlas and The U.S. Trout Atlas.


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