GIS Certificate Program provides the tools for launching a business

click on a location to start adding stories

Dean Olsen left an advertising career to start a business called LifeMapping, which offers a cloud-based, interactive mapping tool. LifeMapping will help people organize and then share their life histories by pinning stories, photos, and music to the times and places where they happened.

Dean Olsen
Dean Olsen: ‘My professors, staff members, and fellow students have been unfailingly encouraging and helpful in my quest.’

To make LifeMapping a reality, Olsen needed advanced skills in managing spatial data. He enrolled in the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s Geographic Information Systems Certificate (GIS) Program, attracted by the Department of Geography’s strong reputation.

“It’s the best geography and cartography program in the U.S., perhaps the world,” Olsen says.


The Geographic Information Systems Certificate Program fills a growing demand for geospatial science skills in such fields as economics, conservation, and public health. The graduate-level program provides a mix of GIS theory and practical experience, covering data capture, analysis, modeling, and cartographic representation.

Students can complete the program in a year or attend part-time. It includes an internship that offers hands-on experience and lays the groundwork for getting a job.

‘A good investment’

As Olsen prepares to take LifeMapping to market, the program has provided the support he needs.

“My professors, staff members, and fellow students have been unfailingly encouraging and helpful in my quest,” he says.

Olsen has also tapped into the vast UW–Madison alumni network.

“I’ve had great insight and help from a network of UW Geography alums,” he says, “particularly our large group at the New York Times doing some great information visualization work.”

Financing his degree was a challenge, but Olsen doesn’t regret his decision. As he puts it: “I think I made a good investment.”

Olsen took an unconventional path to the Department of Geography, struggling with alcohol addiction and homelessness. To learn more about his dramatic life story, see the video above or contact him at dean@deanwolsen.com. Learn more about UW–Madison’s Geographic Information Systems programs.

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