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In 1988, the U.S. National Science Foundation established the National Center for Geographic Information and Analysis (NCGIA), a consortium of three institutions: the University of California at Santa Barbara, the State University of New York at Buffalo, and the University of Maine. The primary mission of the NCGIA was to conduct basic research, but the organization was also asked, from time to time, to provide services or coordination for members of the broader Geographic Information Science community. In 1990, the NCGIA board of directors recommended that a more broadly-based organization be established to promote and support the field, especially the needs of researchers. NCGIA responded in 1991 by establishing an ad hoc steering committee consisting of 16 individuals from as many institutions, representing about seven different academic disciplines. After a series of meetings at professional conferences, sufficient momentum was gathered to establish a national conference on the issue in Boulder, Colorado in 1994.
The University Consortium for Geographic Information Science emerged from this, and was officially incorporated as a non-profit organization in Washington, D.C. on August 3, 1995.