The Virginia Tech Board of Visitors approved a new bachelor of science in meteorology during its quarterly meeting on June 6. 

The new degree program, which will reside in the College of Natural Resources and Environment’s geography department, will prepare students for careers in meteorology and weather forecasting with a significant focus on geospatial information technology (which incorporates geographic information systems and remote sensing), and will unite data from both the natural and human environments.

“The new program is part of a much broader change going on in the College of Natural Resources and Environment,” Dean Paul Winistorfer said. “To meet the needs of today’s world and to prepare our students to be leaders in the natural resources and environmental arena, we are focusing our programs on the critical issues of sustainability, climate, and water. The new degree in meteorology will touch on our existing programs in forest growth, forest resources and environmental conservation, wildlife and fisheries conservation, and biomaterials.”

Geospatial information technology is the third fastest growing sector of the economy in the United States, and careers in the field are heavily concentrated in Virginia because of the prevalence of federal government agencies, defense industry contractors, and consulting firms that service government and industry.

Geography department head Bill Carstensen said, “This will be the first bachelor of science in meteorology in the commonwealth, and it is certainly timely with the weather extremes that have brought much hardship to many people in America and around the world this year. We further expect that the new program will help increase the diversity of our undergraduate student body through expanded recruiting efforts at historically black colleges and universities, community colleges, and high schools serving those underrepresented at Virginia Tech.”

The award-winning Virginia Interoperability Picture for Emergency Response (VIPER) system was developed in Virginia and serves as a national model for assistance during emergency situations, so Virginia Tech has a rare opportunity to craft an unrivaled meteorological program that takes advantage of state-of-the-art tools, technology, communications, and digital enhancement.

Virginia Tech’s geography department has offered a bachelor of arts and a master of science in geography with course and research options in geospatial information technology for 24 years, and a doctorate in geospatial and environmental analysis since 2006. In addition to building on this base, the new program will be leveraged by the university’s close proximity to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Weather Service Forecast Office at the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center in Blacksburg.

Students will learn to predict severe weather through education and meteorology, and, most importantly, to assess its impacts (floodwaters, soil loss, or avalanche danger) on landscape features and the human environment through geospatial science — a new area of research needed by the National Weather Service, with which Virginia Tech will partner to create new models.

This combination of skills will qualify graduates for employment with a host of federal and state agencies, and the new knowledge developed will help mitigate natural disasters in the future.

“The merger of weather forecasting with ground analysis and geospatial data mining are significant trends in our society, yet no academic programs in Virginia produce graduates who can speak both of these complex languages,” Carstensen explained. “This is essentially why we developed the new meteorology degree program.”

The meteorology degree proposal will now be forwarded to the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia for consideration of approval. The target implementation date is the spring semester 2012.

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