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World Campus reaches all seven continents|
Student in Antarctica learns online
By Karen L. Trimbath
| Paul Thur is no different from other Penn State World Campus students. He pursues his online studies toward a certificate in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) at times that are most convenient to his busy schedule. What sets Thur apart, though, is that he works as a heavy equipment operator with the U.S. Antarctic Program in Antarctica, making him the first World Campus student located on this southernmost continent.|
Thurs enrollment marks a milestone for the World Campus. Launched in 1998, the World Campus now has 6,000 enrollments from all 50 states, 43 countries and every continentAfrica, Antarctica, Asia, Australia, Europe, North America and South America. Currently, students can choose to study from among 150 courses in 28 certificate and degree programs. More courses and programs are in development.
We are thrilled to welcome our first student from Antarctica to the Penn State World Campus, Dr. Gary E. Miller, associate vice president for Distance Education and executive director of the World Campus, said. Paul Thur illustrates the possibilities of anytime, anywhere learning. It truly does not matter where someone lives. A Penn State education is accessible anywhere in the world. We are continuing to expand the number of courses and degree programs that are available through the World Campus.
Studying geographic information systems through the World Campus appealed to Thur, because he could study while continuing to work at a job that he loves. Someday though, he dreams of working with computers. The online noncredit Geographic Information Systems program is designed for students like Thur. The program enables students to become skillful and knowledgeable users of geographic information systems, wherever they may live.
A geographic information system is software that creates maps by combining layers of information stored in databases. Such maps provide trained users with better information about a place and have become indispensable tools for governance, for commerce and for environmental and social science.
I want to change the direction of my career, Thur said.
Last summer, I took some classes in AutoCAD and liked it. So I figured that learning how to present data on a map would be something that I could do well.
His instructor, David DiBiase, senior faculty coordinator of the Certificate Program in GIS, said Thur epitomizes the successful online student.
Hes goal-oriented, completes assignments on schedule, keeps up with discussions and helps classmates when he can, DiBiase added. And his occasional weather reports take a little bit of the sting out of winter here in Pennsylvania.
Penn State is considered a major center of GIS education and research. From developing databases that make GIS work to producing displays of geographic data, the University is a longstanding leader in this field.
The certificate program consists of four 10-week courses offered four times a year. Students begin by exploring the fundamental concepts of geographic information science, while also developing the skills they need to become effective online learners. Other activities include learning to use the latest versions of spatial analysis software, working to solve real-world environmental problems and understanding practical methods and techniques that help organizations create, maintain and manage their geospatial systems requirements.
Thur learned about the World Campus certificate while surfing the Web. Although hed never taken an online course before, he decided to sign up, a decision that he hasnt regretted.
It really is a well-structured class. Our instructor David DiBiase makes it very easy to keep to a schedule, Thur added. The main appeal of it is that I can take the classes and be learning a new career while Im here making money.
A native of Buffalo, N.Y., Thur has seen many address changes over the years. The one place that draws him back is the Antarctic. He keeps returning, because he loves the adventure and the friends hes made there.
He lives and works at McMurdo Station, which is 800 miles north of the South Pole. Currently, hes set to stay all winteror summer, because its the southern hemisphereuntil the station closes.
Thur spends his days compacting snow to turn it into white ice hard enough to land an aircraft on. Hes helping to build the Pegasus white ice pavement runway located on the Ross Ice Shelf. The new runway will be used by military aircraft once the sea ice runway becomes unusable in mid-December.
The World Campus makes it possible for Thur to study anytime, anywhere. He fits in his studies around his busy schedule. In the mornings before setting out to work, he reads his class bulletin board. After work, he reads course work materials and downloads lessons.
One plus of the program is the constant communication between classmates and faculty, Thur said. Questions are posted on the class bulletin board and are promptly answered by instructors and classmates. Thur also said hes gotten to know several classmates through e-mail and the bulletin board.
Once he completes the certificate, he hopes to use his knowledge to organize data collected by the U.S. Antarctic Program into an orderly database with GIS.
More information on the World Campus certificate program in Geographic Information Systems is online at http://www.worldcampus.psu.edu/pub/gis/afs_prog_desc.shtml.