Oregon State University

College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences

Geography and Geospatial Science

Jamon

Geography is the study of Earth's environments, landscapes, peoples, and places. It includes natural science (physical geography), social science (human geography), and geospatial science (GIScience). Geographers collect, analyze, and display spatial information, and apply the concepts and theory of geography to explore social and environmental questions.

Geography at OSU focuses on topics including water, climate and society; hazards and resources; and human-environment relations with an international perspective aimed at enhancing global awareness. Geography and Geospatial Sciences students begin their studies with basic introductory courses in physical and human geography and geospatial science. These are followed by courses that demonstrate the power of geography to integrate human-environment interactions in space, such as disaster management; land use planning for sustainable communities; and water, climate, and society. Students also take an introductory field course. At the upper-division level, students take required physical geography (climatology or biogeography) and geospatial science (GIS, geovisualization, and remote sensing). Then they choose among a set of electives drawn from four categories: geospatial science; international studies; water resources; and hazards, resources, and planning. The final year includes an advanced field course; an internship, research project, or undergraduate thesis; and a capstone course that examines the social, political, and ethical dimensions of geospatial science.

Degree Requirements

Career Opportunities

Career opportunities are bright because OSU geography and geospatial science graduates are well prepared in issues concerning natural resources, the physical environment, land use planning and the latest computer mapping and analysis techniques. Such graduates fill planning and resource management positions in federal, state, city, and county agencies. Others work as specialists in cartography, remote sensing, or geographic information systems.

Recent OSU graduates are employed by:

  • U.S. Department of Interior
  • Oregon Department of Environmental Quality
  • U.S. Forest Service
  • Remote sensing firms
  • Bureau of Land Management
  • U.S. National Park Service
  • Consulting firms
  • U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
  • Washington Department of Ecology
  • Oregon GIS Service Center
  • Forest industry firms
  • Mapping firms
  • Peace Corps

How do I know if I want to be a geographer?

If you answer yes to a majority of these questions, you may have a bright future in geography.

From the Association of American Geographers web site.

  1. Are you curious about places? If so, geography channels this interest into a rigorous study of the makeup of places and what makes them tick.
  2. Do you like to study maps? The geographer's first inclination is to put information on a map in order to see how it looks spatially.
  3. Do you prefer the window seats on airplanes? Geography tries to explain the constantly changing patterns of human activity and natural phenomena on the landscape.
  4. Are you interested in foreign areas? Many geographers specialize in a particular part of the world such as Latin America, Europe, Asia or Africa.
  5. Do you like to work outside? Many geographers obtain their basic data from field investigation in environments that range from wilderness areas to cities.
  6. Are you a problem solver? As scientists, geographers are naturally curious about how the world is arranged. They ask lots of questions about why things are located the way they are and then they try to answer those questions.
  7. Are you good at seeing connections among seemingly unrelated processes? One of geography's strengths is its ability to integrate ideas about human behavior, social institutions and the natural environment.
  8. Can you adapt to rapid technological change? Geography has been buffeted by monumental changes in technology. Geographic Information Systems (GIS) has revolutionized the way geographers collect, store, analyze and present spatial information.
  9. Do you try to see the big picture? Geographers look at how places interact with each other and how they are influenced by larger more global forces. Geographers think big!
  10. Are you interested in connections between people and the environment? Geographers see the world as the human habitat, one that we have transformed and that has transformed us.

Where will a degree in geography lead?

What do geographers do? Geographers work in a wide variety of jobs using their diverse skills. Perhaps the current highest demand for specific geographic skills is in the field of geographic information science (GIScience). In 2004, the U.S. Department of Labor called geotechnology (encompassed by GIScience) one of the three leading areas of science along with nanotechnology and biotechnology where job growth will be high in the next decade as new applications for the technology are developed and new users adopt the tools of GIS, remote sensing, digital image processing and cartography.

Undergraduates who develop a set of skills in techniques such as GIS, remote sensing and computer-assisted mapping find job opportunities in federal, state and local government agencies in such diverse areas as land and resource management, population (Census Bureau), economic forecasting, agriculture, forestry, tourism, transportation, public health and emergency response. The private and non-profit sectors also have a high demand for college graduates with GIS skills as shown in current job listings in The GIS Jobs Clearinghouse. Due to the high demand for graduates with GIS/remote sensing skills, the starting salaries are often quite attractive. Depending on their focus as an undergraduate, geography graduates offer employers combinations of skills beyond GIScience. Employment fields that particularly open opportunities for geographers involve the environment, human-nature relations and people-space relations such as:

  • environmental geography and human-nature relations (environmental protection; natural resource management including watersheds, forests, grasslands, coastlines, marine areas and inland waters; land use planning; national and state park administration; agriculture; and natural hazards mitigation including fire, flood, earthquake, volcano, tsunami and drought); and
  • human and regional geography (tourism; recreation; urban and regional planning; international trade; transportation; marketing; cultural preservation and interpretation; aid and relief; international development; diplomacy; migration; national defense and security; and real estate).

Geography graduates enter the job market with a broad background in the natural and social sciences. To strengthen their preparation for a career area, advisors in the OSU Geography Program may suggest coursework in fields such as foreign language, computer science, statistics, anthropology, economics or chemistry.

What about graduate school? Many geography majors continue their education at the master's or Ph.D. levels. OSU undergraduate majors have successfully gone on to complete graduate degrees in geography and allied fields both in the United States and abroad. Graduate geography degrees are offered in a wide variety of universities, each offering different specializations depending on the faculty, facilities and related programs. More information about Oregon State's graduate geography degree can be found on the Graduate Program page of this website.