Geography Advising Guide

Department of Earth Sciences

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What is Geography?

Most people think they have a good grasp on what “Geography” is thanks to their experience in Middle or High School when they learned the capitals of the 50 United States. However, this is hardly the case. Geography has evolved into a field that would be nearly unrecognizable to someone who took a class in the 1970s. By definition: Geographers study spatial and temporal patterns across the Earth at different scales. That is a very vague definition. Better put: Geographers study how things change over space and time. Geographers look to explain those patterns as they study people, society, ecosystems, the atmosphere, or volcanoes (to name just a few examples). The modern field of Geography casts a wide net across a number of fields and uses a multitude of methods to study these phenomena. A key concept in Geography is connectivity.

 

So many things on Earth are connected, even if it’s not immediately obvious. Consider a peach grove in the southeastern United States. There are hundreds of factors that contribute to its existence, location, and successes/failures – and Geographers play a starring role in nearly all of them. In the case of our peach grove, a Geographer could be a soil scientist, or a hydrologist, or a climatologist who helps the local grower optimize their grove’s output on a yearly basis. A Geographer can work as an environmentalist, who worked with the grower to establish the best varieties of peaches to cultivate, along with a list of pest pressures and environmentally friendly counter-measures. A Geographer can also observe from an economic or social standpoint wherein market efficiencies would be maximized as supply and demand from buyers wax and wane. Additionally, a Geographer could work as a data analyst to process data and produce visualizations and trend analyses for large firms that are considering buying into the peach industry. In our simple peach grove, we might have Geographers working in multiple fields simultaneously as all of these events are connected – directly or indirectly. A Geographer learns to “see the whole board” rather than just what is immediately in front of them.

 

There are three main branches of geography:  physical geography, human geography and technical geography.

Physical geography: Do you binge watch nature documentaries? Are you the kind of person who loves going out for hikes or canoe/kayak paddles? Does the idea of helping the environment sound like a calling? If you answered yes to any of those questions, then physical geography is your home! Physical Geographers study the interactions between Atmosphere, Hydrosphere, Lithosphere, Cryosphere, and Biosphere. They are all connected and when combined they create the physical environment around us. Understanding these connections allows us to explain nature’s functions and how humans can work with nature, rather than against it. If the concept of environmental science appeals to you, consider taking GEO 101 and GEO 102!

Human geography: Is social and economic inequality a major concern? Are you drawn to the idea of solving real world problems? Are you the kind of person who thinks the human race can improve the Earth? If you said yes to any of those questions, human geography is your home! Human Geographers seek to study how humans interact with each other and the environment. Human Geographers study economics, politics, tourism, behavioral patterns, and public health. Exploring these themes allow us to better understand how humans coexist within their environment. If the idea of studying human society interactions and changes across the globe, over time, consider taking GEO 114 and GEO 115!

Geographers generally fall into one of those two initial categories. The Geography program at the University of South Alabama encourages students to take classes in both categories so that they can discover which field they want to explore. Ultimately, a student who wants to concentrate on Physical Geography will focus on Physical Geography upper level classes while Human Geographers will focus on those upper level classes for their discipline. In the process of taking GEO classes at South, students get to decide which path they want to take. Along the way, a Geographers typically learns skills in the third primary field:

Technical Geography: Once geographers have mapped their path to graduation, we typically begin to learn skills in the technical part of our field. This is where you learn geovisualization skills. This includes making maps, interpreting satellite or aerial imagery, massive reading/processing substantial amounts of data. We call this GIS and Remote Sensing. This is the cutting edge of our field. GIS and Remote Sensing creates a number of intersection points with countless other fields. Geographers take their expertise in the Physical or Human Geography classes and apply them in an analytical setting where problem solving is key. This is an example using Geographic Information Systems software, something all GEO majors will learn to use before graduation. We want to develop a peach grove somewhere in Mobile County, AL. But where should it go? A GIS analyst can solve this problem in minutes.

 

Career Opportunities in Geography

A degree in geography can prepare you for a rewarding career in a variety of fields.  Many geographers pursue occupations in education, business, local state and federal agencies, and nonprofit organizations.  Although historically, geographers tended to remain in the education sector, with the evolution of GIS and remote sensing many geographers with Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees are now employed in a diverse economic environment. Generally speaking, people believe there are two options for a Geography major: Teacher or Jeopardy contestant. But this isn’t even close to the truth. A degree in Geography opens more doors than any outsider could ever imagine. We have found that the overwhelming majority of our graduates quickly find work within our field or move on to graduate school to further their skillset. These are the primary sectors of the economy that USA Geographers move towards:

  •  Private Industry: Because the Geography program allows students to build their program of study by selecting their own classes and plotting their future, there is a wide array of potential fields that a Geographer can consider. Graduates who spent more time working with physical geography classes can look towards environmental consulting firms and engineering groups. Graduates who gravitated towards human geography classes can look to social work and policy creation/implementation. Graduates who focused on both the physical and human-related classes can  find jobs in Geographic Information Science, businesses are looking to utilize the power of “Big Data” and “spatial analytics,” two fields that are currently reshaping the way the entire global economy functions.

  • Government: The USA Geography Program’s emphasis on addressing real-world problems is exceptional preparation for public sector employment, particularly at the local and state levels where policy innovation, implementation, and bottom-line responsibility reside. Problem solving skills from the program’s GIS courses will be of particular interest to this sector. Nearly 2 million civilians—1.8 percent of the U.S. workforce—are employed by the federal government, while state and local governments employ 19.8 million workers. 

  • Nonprofit: Roughly nine percent of the U.S. workforce (12 million individuals) is employed by an estimated 1.4 million nonprofit organizations, whose causes and values span the entire political spectrum. Nonprofits typically strive to create a better world. They offer opportunities for job seekers hoping to make a difference. A degree in Geography gives someone flexibility in their skillset and an understanding of environmental or social issues, which makes a Geographer an excellent choice for employers. Of particular note is the ability for physical geographers to work with conservation agencies, who are looking to hire employees with their exact toolset.

  • Education or Outreach: Education is certainly one sector a geographer could choose to enter. The education sector includes K through 12 institutions, colleges and universities that award at least a two-year degree, continuing education and informal education organizations, and higher education institutions. Outreach positions can be found with groups that are looking to obtain information about their organization or field. This could be a museum, a research group, an environmental conservancy, or a private business. This may require the employee to run a social media account or talk/work directly with the general public. These jobs are definitely for people who enjoy working with the public.

 

Salary Trends in Geography 

There are many opportunities for employment for someone with a Geography degree. We recommend going to this webpage to look at the wide spectrum of jobs that a GEO major may consider after graduation, and to look at potential salary trends. Included below is a salary trend graph from the US Department of Labor for a Geospatial Information Scientist, a common job in the field. Note, that while this may be the median income for the profession, the GIS field has room to build a diverse set of skills for flexibility and to climb the ladder of success as one gains experience and reputation in the field.

Median Annual Salary

(aag.org 2015)

Unlike more vocationally-oriented majors, such as majors in business, engineering, or the health professions, A&S majors tend to study a greater range of topics outside of their immediate major area. This greater breadth provides an interdisciplinary perspective that complements the more linear education in the student’s major area. 

As a result, A&S majors are compatible with a wide-range of career options. A large 2012 survey of employers found that 81% of employers will consider any degree, so most employers do not require a specific degree. So A&S majors typically find post-graduate employment at rates comparable to more vocationally-specific degrees, Furthermore, longitudinal studies which have followed college graduates over time have shown that Arts and Sciences graduates' rates of salary growth often exceed those of more vocationally-specific majors. For example, a 2010 longitudinal survey of college majors after graduation found that:

“Occupationally specific degrees are beneficial at the point of entry into the labor market but have the lowest growth in occupational status over time. Students earning credentials focusing on general skills, in contrast, begin in jobs with low occupational status but subsequently report the greatest growth.

Another longitudinal study concluded that:

"Employment across educational fields is almost identical for individuals aged 35-44, and beyond age 45, humanities graduates actually have higher rates of employment than those in other fields. After age 45, humanities and social science majors’ salaries overtake those of counterparts in other fields."

Finally, A&S majors have on average the highest rates of increase from starting to mid-career salary, with Math, Philosophy, International Studies, Physics, Political Science, Chemistry, and Journalism all scoring in the top 10 among all majors in rate of salary growth to mid-career.

 

High School Preparation

Most students in the United States are only exposed to geographic education in elementary or middle school. As a result, there is a widespread misconception that Geography is limited to boring memorization of locations of countries, states, capital cities, major physical landmarks, and export products. While this may have been true 50 years ago, the modern field of Geography has evolved immensely in recent decades. The truth is that modern geography is an exciting science producing research of great value to government interests, environmental groups, and private businesses. There are several ways to prepare for a degree in geography during high school.  Someone wanting to study Geography in college would look into taking social studies courses like AP Human Geography, World Geography, World History, as well as physical sciences courses like Biology and Chemistry. If there is an Earth Science or Environmental Science class available, a student should certainly consider taking that, as well.  

 

How to Major in Geography

A student with a major in geography must take a group of required core geography courses and elective geography courses for a total of 47 semester hours. Students must take six (6) upper division geography electives from all of the following categories: Human, Physical, Regional, and Technical. Geography 101 and 102 are prerequisites to all physical geography courses, and Geography 114 and 115 are prerequisites to all human geography courses listed below. Only two technical geography courses may be counted toward the Geography major.

Core
Course ID Title Prereq Hours Offered Taken/notes
GEO 101 Atmospheric Processes None 4 Every semester  
GEO 102 Landscape Processes None 4 Every semester  
GEO 114 Human Geography None 3 Every semester  
GEO 115 World Regional None 3 Every semester  
GEO 201 Geography Orientation None 1 Every Fall  
           
GEO 331 Computer Graphs & Maps Instructor permission 4 Every semester  
GEO 332 Remote Sensing I Instructor permission 4 Every semester  
GEO 435 Research Methods ST 210 3 Every Fall  
GEO 485W Seminar: Geographic Senior 3 Every Spring Beginning 2015-16
    Total Core Hours 32    
Upper division: need 6 upper division courses (min. 18 hrs) from all of the following categories
Human
GEO 312W World Economic GEO 114 and EH 102 3 Every Fall  
GEO 321W Nat'l Parks Conservation 101 or 102 or 114 or 115 3 Summer odd years  
GEO 365 Urban Geography GEO 114 3 Fall even years  
GEO 370 International Tourism 101 or 102 or 114 or 115 3 Spring even years  
GEO 407 Technological hazards     Not currently offered  
GEO 417 Health and Place Junior standing   Spring odd years  
Physical
GEO 310 Env. Earth Sciences GEO 102 or GY 111 3 Fall odd years  
GEO 341W Climatology GEO 101 3 Not currently offered  
GEO 405 Natural Hazards & Disasters GEO 102 or GY 111 3 Spring odd years  
GEO 410 Biogeography GEO 101 & 102 3 Every Fall  
GEO 411 Soils GEO 102 3 Fall even years  
GEO 412W Regional Physiography GEO 102 or GY 111 3 Spring even years  
GEO 443W Climatology  GEO 101 3 Every Spring  
           
Regional
GEO 313 US and Canada GEO 101, 102, 114 or 115 3    
GEO 314 Europe 101 or 102 or 114 or 115 3 Fall even years, Summer odd years  
GEO 315 Latin America GEO 114 or 115 3 Fall odd years  
GEO 317 Mountain Geography     Spring odd years  
GEO 320W Alabama EH 102 3 Fall even years  

Technical**

GIT 442* Remote Sensing II GEO 332, B grade 4 Every semester  
GIT 460* Intro. to GIS CIS 150 4 Every semester  
GIT 461* GIS apps: Environmental GEO 460, B grade 4 Every semester  
GIT 462* GIS apps: Social Science GEO 460, B grade 4 Every semester  
GIT 494 GIT Directed Study Special Permission  1-4    
**Only 2 technical courses can count toward major for 2010 catalog or later students. Other courses can count toward minor.
Variable topics
GEO 490 Special Topics Special permission 1-4    
GEO 492 Seminar Special permission 1-4    
GEO 494 Directed Research Special permission 1-4    
GEO 496 Internship Special permission 1-4    


Geography Minor 

A student must take at least 20 semester hours of Geography, including the following list:

  • GEO 101 Atmospheric Processes
  • GEO 101L Atmospheric Processes Lab
  • GEO 102 Landscape Processes
  • GEO 102L Landscape Processes Lab
  • GEO 114 Introduction to Human Geography

To complete the minor, a student must take at least three electives at the 300 or 400 level.

GIS Minor

 

A logical step for a Geography minor to take is to minor in GIS. By completing a GEO Major, a student would be 3 classes short of a GIST minor. A GIS minor is an excellent way to enter the GIS or Remote Sensing fields – fields that are rapidly growing and need well-trained professionals immediately after graduation. Non-GEO majors are also encouraged to look into a GIS Minor as there are countless connections between GIS and other fields. For example: a GIS Minor in tandem with a degree in a field that uses GIS (business or engineering) would make for a formidable candidate in the job market. A student must take at least 22 semester hours of Geographic Information Technology related classes. Students must take 3 core classes:

  • MET 420 Introduction to Computer Science (Python Programming) or Computer Apps in Earth Sciences
  • GIT 460 Introduction to GIT
  • GIT 461 Applications in GIT: Environment or 462 Applications in GIT: Business & Social Sciences

And three additional electives from the following list:

  • GY 301 Geomorphology
  • GEO 331 Computer Graphs and Maps
  • GEO 332 Remote Sensing I
  • MET 370 Satellite Meteorology
  • GIT 442 Remote Sensing II
  • GIT 462 Applications in GIT: Business & Social Sciences
  • GIT 461 Applications in GIT: Environment
  • GIT 494 Special Projects in GIT
  • GIT 496 Internship in GIT
  • GIT 490 Web Mapping and Server Management

*Only two classes can count towards both the Geography major and a GIST minor.

GIST Certificate

The GIS Certificate is a path for students to distinguish themselves from a typical GIS student. A student must take all of the following classes and maintain a 3.0 GPA in each class. No substitutions can be made for courses in the certificate. Students who obtain the certificate will be able to demonstrate that they went above and beyond the standard requirements for graduation in this field. They will have acquired a wide range of GIS/Remote Sensing skills and excelled in the classroom, making them a potentially strong candidate for any GIS/RS related job. If you have questions, please email Dr. Steven Schultze (schultze@southalabama.edu).

  • GEO 331 Computer Graphs and Maps
  • GEO 332 Remote Sensing I
  • GIT 442 Remote Sensing II
  • GIT 460 Introduction to GIT
  • GIT 461 Applications in GIT: Environment
  • GIT 462 Applications in GIT: Business & Social Sciences

 

Special Programs, Co-ops, Internships

In previous years we have had students obtain internships from dozens of sources. In fact, there are too many to list here, but these are a few of the places that have taken on multiple interns or hired their interns directly into positions. 

  •  City of Mobile
  • MAWSS
  • Mobile County GIS
  • Various regional utility companies
  • National Weather Service Offices
  • Mobile County Emergency Management
  • NOAA
  • NASA
  • SmartHome USA
  • Baldwin County Public School District
  • Various State of Alabama Government Departments (ADECA, ADCNR, etc)
  • Various departments on USA’s campus, including: Biology, Anthropology, Marine Science, Engineering, and the Business School
  • The USA GIS Center provides internship opportunities within our department
  • You can also inquire with any of our faculty members on any of their projects!

The policy of the Geography Internship Program is that all students are either paid or awarded credit for their work. In essence: there are no unpaid internships. While we cannot guarantee that every student will get an internship, we work hard to make sure that any student who wants one at least gets the opportunity to do some outside work before graduation.

We also highly encourage our students to apply to the University of South Alabama’s Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) Program wherein students can design their own research plan under the guidance of any of our faculty.

 

Geography Highlights 

 

Study Abroad Opportunities 

Studying abroad is an exciting and meaningful experience that will contribute to your academic and personal development.  Participating on a study abroad program can be one of the most profound decisions of your college life, and can lead to many new and interesting opportunities.  It can help develop your critical thinking skills, sense of independence, and confidence.  When you depart on your study abroad program, you will go with excitement, trepidation, and uncertainty about the world and your place in it.  When you return home, your deep connection and affection for your host culture will be overwhelming, and will only be matched by a newfound respect and appreciation for your home.

Study abroad is the opportunity for USA students to spend time in a different country while earning credit towards your degree through taking classes, interning, volunteering, and more.  There are many different types of study abroad available to you at USA. They include faculty-led programs, international exchange programs, and direct-enroll and affiliate programs. 

Students on faculty-led programs will travel as a group led by USA professors and take classes in various locations. All courses taken on these programs are USA courses and offer USA credits that will apply to your degree. International Exchange programs are partnerships with specific universities around the world with which USA has a special, reciprocal relationship. Students enroll directly at the host university, and students from the host university attend USA. USA affiliate programs allow students to enroll at a partner university or program through a third-party provider. GPA requirements vary by program.

You should think of the Study Abroad Office as a one-stop shop for information related to your study abroad experience. The Study Abroad (http://www.southalabama.edu/studyabroad/) team is excited to assist you as you navigate through the process of choosing a program, and will help you from the advising stage until you return from your program.  You can get started by coming to meet with an advisor during Walk-In Advising hours. During an advising session, you can gain general information about the many programs available, how the application process works at USA and general guidance on where to begin.

Be sure to visit the OIE Study Abroad website at http://www.southalabama.edu/studyabroad/ to begin your research.  The website contains information on how to get started, financing your program, and a comprehensive list of pre-approved study abroad programs and partners. While researching a passport or visa programs, consider the following: eligibility requirements, location, course offerings, and costs.  You should also meet with your faculty advisor for assistance in selecting a program based on courses related to your degree.

Studying abroad can be one of the highlights of your university career, giving you wonderful and challenging experiences that will allow you to grow both academically and professionally. Where will you study abroad?

 

Academic Plan

It can be helpful to following an academic plan.

To access a sample academic plan for this major, click here.  This is a SUGGESTED schedule and it is important to always meet with your advisor for additional help. 

For additional degree information please click here to visit the department website.

 

For More Information

For more information, please contact any of our faculty. 

If you have questions about human geography classes, email Dr. Frances Mujica (fcmujica@southalabama.edu)

If you want to know more about physical geography classes, email Dr. Carol Sawyer (sawyer@southalabama.edu)

If you want to know more about the GIS program, travel, or internship opportunities, email Dr. Steven Schultze (schultze@southalabama.edu

or (251) 460–7041 -- or stop by LSCB 383.

You can find us on campus at:

Department of Earth Sciences
Life Sciences Building (LSCB), Room 136
Mobile, AL 36688

Department website