Geography: What to Expect
Are you fascinated with the world around you and interested in different people and places? Geography may be the perfect major for you. The Department of Geography at USC offers Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science degrees along with outstanding facilities, challenging courses, and exceptional faculty. The department has a national and international reputation as one of the leading centers for Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and Remote Sensing instruction. As a Geography major you will take courses in computer cartography, GIS, and air photo interpretation/remote sensing. You will also have ample opportunities to study the earth’s physical features and processes and how this physical environment is modified by human activities. You may also choose to take courses that include the real-world collection, analysis, interpretation and presentation of geographic data as a means of preparing students for eventual careers in geography. You can choose to complete an internship as well to gain additional hands-on experience in a field that interests you. You will choose one of four tracks to focus on: Physical/Environmental Geography, Human/Economic Geography, Geographic Information Science, and General Geography.
You will gain unique skills as a Geography major at USC. Your skill set will vary based on the track in the program you wish to pursue. Students with a concentration in Geographic Information Sciences will develop proficiency in the use and application of technological tools including GIS, GPS, remote sensing, and geographical analysis. Students who choose the Physical/Environmental Geography concentration can gain experience in the collection and analysis of physical and environmental data and the application of such data to understanding and solving pressing environmental issues. Students with a Human/Economic Geography concentration can demonstrate a critical understanding of the geographic interconnectedness of places and peoples within a globalized world, and conduct research on the interrelated factors that converge in place to shape problems of, and possibilities for justice and equality. Finally students opting for a General Geography concentration design a plan of study combining courses from across the curriculum to develop a variety of skills that fit their individual career goals.
The following courses fulfill some of the course requirements for a Bachelor of Arts or a Bachelor of Science with a major in Geography. Please note that additional course requirements vary depending on the concentration you choose to pursue.
- Landform Geography
- Weather and Climate
- Peoples, Places, and Environments
- Seminar in Geography
On average, there is a 20 to 1 student-faculty ration in major-specific courses. A detailed list of degree requirements can be found in the Undergraduate Bulletin.
Enhancing your Experience
Study Abroad allows you to earn academic credits toward your USC degree while seeing the world! Geography majors often choose to study abroad to enhance their academic experience. You can study a variety of topics overseas including resource management, ecotourism, environmental conservation and education, development, and geographic information sciences. Popular destinations include the United Kingdom, Central and South America, the Caribbean, New Zealand, and Africa. You may also choose to intern, volunteer, or conduct research abroad. You are encouraged to visit the Study Abroad Web site for more information on opportunities to broaden and extend your knowledge and perspectives.
Student Organizations can be instrumental in helping you adjust to life on campus and network within your field. The University of South Carolina has a family of nearly 300 student organizations. As a Geography major, you may wish to join the Geography Club where you can attend field trips and regional professional meetings. You may also wish to get involved in the Association of American Geographers (AAG), an international nonprofit scientific and education society that contributes to the advancement of theory, methods, and practice of geography. Students have attended and presented at the Southeast regional meeting of the AAG. Getting involved in an organization that interests you can help you network, meet new friends, and develop leadership skills. You can also seek out volunteer opportunities that relate to your major. Find a student organization on campus that interests you!
Graduate School is one of many possibilities following graduation. Graduates with a major in geography from USC have gone to graduate schools around the world. Graduates pursue degrees in a variety of areas depending on their individual interests.
Departmental Scholarships may be awarded to outstanding entering freshmen or current students. You can compete for several scholarships offered each year by the Department of Geography including the Bennett S. Masaschi Memorial Scholarship. This $1,000 scholarship was established by John and Susan Masaschi in honor of their son, Bennett, who was a Geography major at USC. The Department of Geography offers additional scholarships each year.
Internship and Research Opportunities
Internships can be an important asset to your overall educational experience. Internship experiences often help you confirm your career interests, give you hands-on experience in a professional setting, help build your resume, reinforce what you’ve learned in class and can often lead to full-time employment. Likewise, pursuing professional research opportunities as an undergraduate student can also help enrich your academic experience while at the University. As an undergraduate student, you can work closely with faculty research mentors and explore a discipline that interests you. Both internship and research opportunities help you build a competitive edge in the job market.
Geography majors at the University have had a wide range of exciting and unique internship opportunities. Students have interned at federal, state, and local government agencies including the National Park Service, South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, South Carolina State Climatologist’s Office and the South Carolina Department of Transportation. Geography majors have also been involved in a variety of research projects. Undergraduates regularly work with the USC Hazards and Vulnerability Research Institute and the South Carolina Geographic Alliance.
Geography major Dara Angelo was able to gain valuable hands-on experience with the Hazards and Vulnerability Research Institute. Responsibilities included data entry and organizing and managing the institutes working library. “Being able to work in the Hazards Lab allowed me to work in close contact with really talented people doing some very exciting hands-on experience, and even though I was only doing data entry, it felt great to be a part of it,” Dara said. Dara developed skills she will be able to take with her after graduation, specifically time management and teamwork skills. “Most of the work here involves working on a team, and it is important to learn how to do research with other people.” The University of South Carolina helped prepare Dara for her research opportunity. She had the opportunity to conduct research in the labs and interact with professors and others working in the lab. Dara encourages current students to get involved in a research or internship experience while at USC. “It may seem like school and an internship would be too much, but it only enhances your college experience and is a great resume booster, especially if you are looking to go graduate school.”
Graduates with a major in geography have a variety of career options available. Many graduates pursue careers in areas such as environmental management, education, disaster response, city and county planning, and community development. Graduates may also choose careers as cartographers, remote sensing specialists, geographic information systems specialists, environmental consultants, park rangers, hazardous waste planners, urban and community planners, transportation planners, area specialists, travel agents, market and location researchers, real estate agents, coastal zone managers, hydrologists, climatologists, and many more!
Imagine a job where you get the opportunity visit and enjoy National Parks across the country! Tracy Swartout, a 1995 graduate and geography major, spent seven years in Washington working for the National Park Service (NPS) before heading back to Columbia, S.C. to take on the role as Superintendent of Congaree National Park. While working for the National Park Service, Tracy experienced countless unique opportunities including snorkeling at a secluded beach on St. John in the Virgin Island National Park, climbing atop the NOAA lighthouse on Alcatraz Island in Golden Gate National Recreation Area, picking banana slugs from her clothes while hiking through the Hoh Rainforest at Olympic National Park, and spending several frozen nights camping on the Appalachian National Scenic Trail in Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. As the Superintendent of Congaree National Park, Tracy is involved in a wide variety of operational issues and long-range planning. Tracy has many exciting components to her job. “The most exciting part of the my current job with the National Park Services is being able to play a small part in the stewardship of our nation’s treasured resources – the National Parks,” she said. “Whether it is interacting with a visitor who is here at the park for the first time, working with a landowner who wants their property to become a part of the park, or meeting with another NPS Superintendent to discuss impacts of climate change on park operations, it is all exciting to me.”
Tracy spent her time at USC preparing for her career by choosing courses she was interested in taking, such as courses on U.S. National Parks, South Carolina Geography, Coastal Zone Management, Statistics, and Physical Geography. “The University of South Carolina has a nationally-recognized Geography program,” she said. “This program gave me great preparation for my career with the National Park Service.” In addition to her courses, her activities both on and off campus as a student proved beneficial. She took on two part time jobs working as a research assistant in the Cognitive Cartography lab in the Geography Department and working at the South Carolina House of Representatives as a page and then as a legislative aide. She attended lectures by guest speakers, colloquia in the geography department, joined the Association of American Geographers and traveled to academic conferences, served as the President of the USC Geography club, served as a representative on the USC Geography Bowl team that won the Southeast Regional Geography Bowl and the World Geography Bowl, and volunteered her time in the community. “I would drive or bike to campus early in the morning and basically stay on or near campus all day,” she said. “I dedicated myself to staying away from home until the late afternoon so that I could take advantage of whatever happened to be going on at USC. I was a sponge for everything on campus that interested me.” Tracy encourages current students to do as she did and get involved. “Get involved and stay involved. Get to know your professors, as people. Find a mentor. If you can, join academic conferences and attend them. If you meet people who have interesting jobs, find out how they got there.”
About the Department of Geography
The Department of Geography at the University of South Carolina has a national and international reputation as one of the leading centers for Geographic Information Systems and Remote Sensing instruction. The department boasts faculty members with a wide variety of expertise within the field. Faculty members include Carolina Distinguished Professors, various university and discipline-wide teaching honors recipients, Fulbright Fellows, and former presidents of the main national geographic professional society, the Association of American Geographers. The department also has three modern, fully equipped computer labs that are used in geographic technique courses as well as research labs dedicated to the study of climatology, geomorphology, coastal processes, and biogeography. The Department of Geography is also home to the USC Hazards and Vulnerability Research Institute and the South Carolina Center for Excellence in Geographic Education. The Department of Geography is in the College of Arts and Sciences.
Points of Pride
- Recent graduate Denise Dunovant received a Fulbright Fellowship to study livelihoods in Africa, a National Geographic Young Explorers Grant for fieldwork in Uganda, and a National Science Foundation fellowship to pursue graduate work at Oxford and Sussex. Dr. Caroline Nagel also recently received a Fulbright Fellowship to pursue her research in the Middle East.
- Dr. Ed Carr was awarded a Science and Technology Policy Fellowship from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). The AAAS fellowship allows him to coordinate and provide guidance on climate change adaptation policy for the Bureau for Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance with the United States Agency for International Development.
- Geography faculty continue to bring in large amounts of external funding that provide opportunities for undergraduates to become involved in research through the USC Hazards and Vulnerability Research Institute, the USC Center for GIS and Remote Sensing, and the USC Climate Research Lab. Many undergraduates have also been successful in developing and writing grants to support projects that have been funded through the Magellan Scholars program in the Office of Undergraduate Research and other outlets.
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