The task is to assess the risks involved in building a one-acre park close to the Los Angeles River in a densely populated low-income neighborhood with lots of children.

Welcome to Classroom 2.0, presided over by Dave Skiles. Teaching, sure, but also listening, guiding, collaborating, and letting the students find their way in GIS 165. That’s the Geographic Information Systems class titled Project Management.

A master teacher

Dave is the master teacher, literally. His most recent honor is the 2015 Distinguished Geospatial Educator Award from the National Geospatial Technology Center of Excellence (GeoTech). In 2014, the State Board for Community Colleges and Occupational Education honored Dave as the Master Teacher at Front Range Community College.

GeoTech’s award recognizes Dave’s “thoughtful commitment to education, long-range planning, and close partnerships with government, business, and education in the community.”

Among those partnerships is Dave’s efforts to bring dual-enrollment GIS classes to students at Skyline High School in Longmont and Berthoud High School in Berthoud. At the other end of the high-school-to community-college-to-university continuum, Dave has worked with the Colorado State University Natural Resources Engineering faculty to transfer GIS skills developed and credits earned at FRCC.

Excellent teachers lead excellent programs

FRCC’s GIS certificate program received a Special Achievement in GIS Award in 2014 from ESRI, the leading manufacturer of GIS software and solutions in the world. FRCC was the sole awardee in the Universities and Community Colleges category in the United States.

The program was lauded for teaching to the professional competency standards of the U.S. Department of Labor Geospatial Technical Competency Model, for focusing on commercial applications serving students who have bachelor’s, master’s, and Ph.D. degrees who want to add GIS to their resumes, and for being a “signature attraction” to prospective students of any age, with or without a college degree, because the GIS employment outlook is strong.

Real-world experience brought to the classroom

Dave, who has a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering, a master’s in management, and certification as a GIS Professional, has more than 25 years of commercial GIS experience. Look no further than the redevelopment of Denver’s former Stapleton International Airport into a housing community to see Dave’s work. He created a GIS land-use, decision-support system—later dubbed Smart Places.

“It was a pioneering opportunity because decision-support systems did not exist in GIS before then,” Dave says. “I built a prototype that helped all of these stakeholders figure out how to convert eight square miles of airport into residences for 20,000 people, considering many factors.” That experience led Dave into his next role building web-based enterprise GIS systems for John F. Kennedy and Los Angeles international airports.

Sharing knowledge and experience

By the early 2000s, Dave was looking to give back. “I explored the idea of teaching because I discovered there was a need to teach others what I had learned. I wanted to help other people see the possibilities,” he says. In 2005, he joined FRCC.

All his experience leads to a stimulating classroom environment. A student wrote of Dave, “He has shown a remarkable ability to connect with students of all ages and backgrounds. His excitement and knowledge are contagious.”

True today in GIS 165. One key element of project management is risk assessment.

The students discuss how safety will be one of the risks in building their park. The students also discuss hours of operation, access to the river, proximity of freeways, how to slow down traffic on neighborhood streets, and legal liabilities – all from a standpoint of assessing risk.

Then Dave brings real-world advice to the discussion.

“Will you be more successful with your project proposal if you include some risk management in it? The answer is Yes,” Dave says. “In my 25 years of managing GIS projects, risk became a commercial essential. I didn’t work anywhere it wasn’t a major guideline.”

Students help students

Dave likes to be challenged by his students, who bring academic, work, and life experiences to the classroom.

“That stimulus helps other students learn,” Dave says. “It’s Classroom 2.0.”

Technology, and gumption, too

Knowledge of the technology of the GIS software is part of what students need to be successful, but students also need to be able to communicate and have confidence in their abilities.

“With the technology, they have to have that ingredient to survive,” Days says. “But they also need gumption, they need courage to do it, or courage to make a mistake.”

So Dave instills critical thinking into his classes. Don’t look for multiple-choice quizzes with Dave. You will have to analyze an issue and provide an effective response. You won’t recite facts, you will provide interpretation.

Joy of teaching

“When you have a student in three courses, that’s a year of conversation,” Dave says. “We get to know each other, share work experiences. That’s an inspiration.”

He remembers his first student in 2006. “He had lost his job, and he needed a new creative direction,” Dave says. “He’s now a GIS analyst for a fire department, and he’s lived happily ever after.”


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