More than just maps

Although a majority of students are familiar with majors such as business, engineering, education and biology, there are many majors offered at USF that students are equally unfamiliar with. Among the overlooked is a major in geography. This field, which encompasses so much more than just locations of regions and continents, is actually a prosperous area of study that is growing rapidly in the job market.

The department of geography at USF defines geography as the study of the human-environment relationship, either in a global or more regional context. Mark Hafen, the department of geography’s undergraduate adviser, explains geography as a “generalist’s” degree.

“The way I like to describe it (is) there are tree people and there are forest people. Tree people are interested in investigating details,” he said. “Forest people are interested in placing details together into a bigger picture. Geographers are mostly forest people. So geographers are well suited to many careers.”

According to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, there are a few different areas in the study of geography: Physical geography, in which geographers study the environmental processes and earth systems; human geography, which is the study of human settlements across the globe and how they are localized and organized, area studies; the examination of global systems and how they have created problems due to settlement and use by different groups of people; and cartography and geographic information science (GIS). This area of study is probably growing the fastest as far as the job market is concerned, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. It is defined as the science and techniques of using geospatial data and computer systems to make maps.

At USF, there are two tracks of study in geography. One is the environmental track, which focuses how humans have and continue to alter the environment. The other is the urban track, which focuses on the social and economic aspects of geography, for example, the growth and decline of inner cities and land usage by human beings.

Bob Brinkmann, the chair of the department of geography, encourages students who have an interest in the people and places around them to explore the field of geography.

“We draw students who have an interest in understanding urban settings and those who have a strong environmental ethic,” Brinkmann said. “We are often home to students who like to travel or wish to have a better understanding about the world. In addition, we have a number of students who major in geography in order to study some of the more technical aspects of the discipline within geographic information sciences.”

Hafen said the field of geography appeals to many people.

“Students who are interested in the way the world works and interconnects, either from the physical geographic side or the human and cultural side, would be interested in geography as a major,” Hafen said.

Recent geography graduates have landed jobs as GIS programmers and analysts, environmental scientists, urban planners and teachers in public schools, and some even work for the local government in planning or mapping departments, Hafen said. Some students who wish to pursue a higher degree can go on to graduate school and become meteorologists and climatologists.

“Many USF students do not realize that there is a strong market for geography majors,” Brinkmann said.

Demand in the job market for people with degrees in geography, especially those who have specialized in the technical aspects of the field, is constantly expanding.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Overall employment of surveyors, cartographers, photogrammetrists and surveying technicians is expected to grow about as fast as average for all occupations through the year 2014. Areas such as urban planning, emergency preparedness, and natural resource exploration and mapping should provide employment growth, particularly with regard to producing maps for the management of emergencies and updating maps with newly available technology.”

The department of geography at USF has approximately 100 undergraduate majors and about 40 graduate students in the master’s and doctorate programs. There is also a large graduate certificate program in GIS. The faculty and staff in the department are eager to let students know of the opportunities available in the field of geography.

Students in this major are also excited about their field of study.

“As geography major, I get to learn about everything I want to know,” said Jason Cox, a geography major. “I get to learn about business, politics, people and places. I feel that my education in the geography department has helped me to better understand the world that I live in. That is the main reason I chose geography as a major. I love cities and the day-to-day interactions within them.”

Cox recommends geography to anyone who has the slightest interest in it.

“Even if you don’t major in geography, I recommend taking it as a minor if you major in business, politics, sociology or any other major where you deal with people or their environments,” he said.

If students are curious about places, enjoy studying maps, like to solve problems or enjoy visiting foreign areas and learning about them, they may want to look into the geography major.

The department of geography also offers an organization called the Geography Club, which is open to all USF students interested in geography who want to learn more about it.