GIS Certificate

The Certificate in GIS Sciences & Technologies is a complement to any existing major at the University of Montana-Missoula or as an addition to a bachelor’s degree obtained at another university. The purpose of the Certificate is to ensure the knowledge, understanding, and training necessary to acquire, process, analyze, and properly display digital geographic data.

Map with GIS Certificate logo

Step 1: Enrollment & Advising


The Certificate in Geographic Information Science and Technologies is designed as a complement to our undergraduate and graduate programs. All students already admitted to the University of Montana can register and take GIS classes if they meet the course prerequisites. Post baccalaureate students that hold a bachelor's from UM or any other university can apply for admission on the Post-Baccalaureate Admission website.


Once admitted to the University of Montana, enrollment in the GIS Certificate program is the next step. We ask all students with a goal of completing the certificate to enroll below. The enrollment information helps us keep students informed with emails concerning important deadlines, new class offerings, scholarship opportunities, etc.


The last step is to make an appointment for advising with one of the faculty coordinators on the Contacts page. Advisors can answer questions about the program and help you create a GIS course plan that best suits your academic and career goals. We recommend scheduling three meetings while in the program: One to make the initial academic plan, one in the middle to check progress, and one to file an Application for Certificate at the end.

Step 2: Complete Required Courses

To earn a Certificate in GIS Sciences and Technologies, students must either be working towards or have completed an undergraduate degree. Students must also complete a minimum of 18 semester credit hours, including 9 to 10 core GIS course credits and 8 to 9 advanced GIS elective credits. Students must achieve at least an overall grade point average of 3.0 for courses within the program. The certificate will only be awarded upon the successful completion of all requirements and the attainment of an undergraduate degree.

Core GIS Courses

All students must choose three courses, one from each section

  1. FORS 250: Introduction to GIS for Forest Management (Fall/Spring, 3 credits, U) -OR- GPHY 284: Introduction to GIS and Cartography (Fall/Spring, 3 credits, U) 
  2. FORS 351: Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing (Spring, 3 credits, U) -OR- GPHY 487/9: Remote Sensing and Raster GIS (Fall, 3 credits with 1 credit lab, UG) 
  3. FORS 350: Forestry Applications of GIS (Spring, 3 credits, U) -OR- GPHY 488: Applications of GIS (Spring, 3 credits, U). 

Advanced GIS Elective Courses

Although elective courses are organized by topical specialty, no specialization is necessary. An introductory GIS course, such as FORS 250 or GPHY 284, is a prerequisite to the advanced GIS courses. Additional and experimental courses are offered intermittently; please see faculty or website for current semester offerings. 

Raster GIS, Remote Sensing, and Image Analysis

  • GPHY 587/9: Digital Image Analysis & Modeling (Odd Falls, 3 credits with 1 credit lab, G)

Data Management and Programming

  • FORS 505: Sampling Methods (Spring, 3 credits, UG)
  • CSCI 150: Intro to Computer Science(Fall/Spring, 3 credits, U)
  • CSCI 444: Data Visualization (Fall, 3 credits, UG)

Applied GIS

  • GPHY 385: Field Techniques (Fall and some Spring, 3 credits, U)
  • GPHY 481: Advanced Cartographic Design (Fall, 3 credits, UG)
  • GPHY 482/9: Spatial Analysis and GIS (Varies, 3 credits with 1 credit lab, UG)
  • FORS 503: Predictive Distribution Modeling (Odd Spring, 3 credits, G)
  • WBIO 562: Wildlife Habitat Modeling (Odd Fall, 3 credits, G)
  • GPHY 564: Planning Design (Even Spring, 3 credits, G)

Note: University of Montana policy states that courses designated with G can only be taken by graduate students. They can also be taken by undergraduate students who have senior standing, an accumulative GPA of 3.0 or higher, and with consent of the instructor. U courses are for undergraduate credit. UG courses will have additional coursework for graduate students.

Step 3: Apply for Certificate


Once GIS coursework is nearly completed, students must submit an Application for Certificate on or before the below dates. Note that the application needs to be filed the semester before you plan to graduate:

  • Spring completion - 1st Monday of October
  • Summer completion - 1st Monday of February
  • Autumn completion - 1st Monday of March

(Note: Late applications may result in a delay of graduation)

Required Forms

Download this Application for GIS Certificate and fill in all the required fields. Include all your previous GIS classes, and any courses you plan to take in the up-coming semester. Check that your courses add up to at least the 20 credits required and that you have achieved a minimum 3.0 GPA in the program. Once the application is complete, make an advising appointment with a GIS Faculty Coordinator to perform a degree check.

(Note: If future semester classes have to be changed after the application is filed, they must be reported on a Change of Application for Degree form available from GrizCentral)

Final Advising

The GIS advisor will go over your Application for Certificate to ensure it is complete. If the student has had previous advising, this should be a simple process. Problems arise when students have never been advised and are missing some requirement for the certificate. Please avoid this situation by meeting with a GIS Faculty Coordinator early in your program. The completed application will be signed, copied, and returned to the student.

Application Submission

To become a candidate for the GIS Certificate, the student must file the signed application form at the Registration Counter in GrizCentral. There is a $30 application fee charged at the counter. Please bring appropriate forms of payment. After an administrative review, you will be mailed your official University of Montana – Certificate of GIS Science and Technologies.


Map showing Missoula and UM

Why GIS?

The Geospatial Revolution is Here!

Whether we realize it or not, our generation has become the largest geo-location data source the world has ever known. Every Tweet, Foursquare check-in, Facebook post, etc. is geo-tagged with your exact location. Couple this with GPS enabled gadgets from cars, to phones, to watches and more, we are a society that is never “lost”.  All this data is collected, organized and analyzed by GIS professionals for governments, non-profits, and private businesses. Complimentary to the social side of GIS, there are exciting advances in satellite remote sensing for scientific research. A global network of satellites is now capable of measuring the entire planet every 24 hours. Everything from global temperatures and soil moisture, to gravity and CO2 output is being measured at resolutions once thought to be impossible. The sheer volume of this data promises to keep GIS scientists busy for decades to come.

Almost every NGO, municipality, government agency and business employs GIS to help solve their daily challenges. So whether your interests lie in natural resource management, planning, research, or a myriad of other disciplines, GIS skills are very marketable.

What is GIS?

Geographic information science (GISci) refers to the theory and methods of capturing, storing, analyzing and communicating digital information about physical and socioeconomic phenomena distributed on or near the Earth's surface. This includes the utilization of geographic information systems (GIS), global positioning systems (GPS), remote sensing (RS) and other geographic information technologies.

GIS software is used as a tool to organize and study relationships between various geo-spatial datasets. This geo-spatial data can be digitized from analog sources such as surveys and historic documents, or created on the ground with GPS receivers. In many cases, our digital devices are creating and sharing this data automatically. Remotely sensed data are geo-referenced imagery taken from airborne or satellite platforms. Google Earth is perhaps the most visible use of this data. While the surge of geo-spatial technology is a recent development, it is not a new discipline. GIS is closely related to and has its roots in the art and science of cartography.


The local and national job markets for geographic information professionals are very strong and are not expected to weaken in the foreseeable future. The U.S. Department of Labor has recently identified geospatial analysis as one of the three leading areas of employment in the coming years.

US Department of Labor Quick Facts: Cartographers and Photogrammetrists

2012 Median Pay

$57,440 per year, $27.62 per hour

Entry-Level Education

Bachelor’s degree

Number of Jobs, 2012


Job Outlook, 2012-22

20% (Faster than average)

Bureau of Labor Statistics

These labor statistics only tell part of the story. A cursory search on the website shows that many occupations are now requiring GIS experience including Architects, Engineers, Foresters, Geographers, Geoscientists, Planners and more. 

Is GIS For You?

Geographic information and analysis are increasingly a component of most public and private sectors. Even if you specialize in a specific discipline, a background in geographic information and related technologies provide you with the capacity to communicate through geography. Some careers offer the opportunity to be fully engaged with geographic information on a day-to-day basis, while others only demand rudimentary skills. Many positions that require the employee to be in the field will also want a basic understanding of GIS for data processing in the off-season. A quick search of the Internet, a discussion with professionals in your discipline, or perusal of appropriate job announcements, will highlight the set of GIS skills necessary to be successful and competitive.

Trained GIS professionals are in demand and UM GIS Certificate holders enjoy consistent placement in fulfilling careers.

Strong Tradition

The University of Montana has led the mountain west in GIS education for over three decades. Faculty are not only recognized nationally for their innovative approaches to teaching technology, they are also experts on the cutting edge of geo-spatial research. Students learn in state of the art labs with the latest software and are fostered by close working relationships with professors. Classroom theory is put to practice with laboratory projects. Students are encouraged to gain real-world experience through service learning assignments and internships in the local community.


The University of Montana has a long history in geo-spatial education. Starting in 1957, Dr. Jacquelyn Beyer taught as the first cartographer in the newly founded Geography department. Dr. Paul Wilson taught traditional hand drafted cartography through the sixties, seventies and into the eighties. By the early 90’s, the digital workflows in cartography were replacing analog methods. Again, Dr. Wilson managed the conversion to GIS, leading the charge until his retirement in 2010. During his tenure, several GIS faculty were added to the department, creating a diverse program for students. Simultaneously, the College of Forestry and Conservation was building a GIS program for forestry. In 2007, the two colleges combined forces to create the Certificate in GIS Science & Technologies. In 2011, the University hired the first intra-college lecturer to coordinate the certificate program, as well as teach GIS and cartography classes. With the addition of another GIS faculty position in 2013, the program continues to grow and meet increasing demand.

Computer Labs

Students taking GIS courses at UM have several geo-spatial computer labs to work in. All have state-of-the-art software and the fastest hardware. The University strives to keep all labs current with the latest software versions so students are familiar with the actual programs they are likely to use in their careers.

Geography's Geospatial Research and Teaching (GReaT) Laboratories opened for use in fall 2008. The GReaT Labs are comprised of a 24-seat teaching classroom (Stone Hall 218) and a 15-seat student-use lab (Stone Hall 219). A comprehensive selection of GIS software is available, including ArcGIS, ENVI, Erdas, Idrisi, PCIGeomatica, TransCAD, Feature Analyst, LiDAR Analyst, MapViewer, Surfer, Grapher, Trimble products, and more. They also feature Adobe Creative Cloud software for cartography classes. Please see a faculty member for information on what packages are available in which labs. Additional resources such as servers and printers are also available within the labs.

The Forestry department operates two labs (Stone Hall 106 & 107) with a full suite of GIS and statistics programs. The Social Science Research Laboratory (SSRL) in the Social Science Building includes GIS Software and other resources. Finally, the Cobell Institute for Land and Culture has a new (2014) GIS lab in the Payne Family Native American Center. Check with the individual departments for lab access.