Geography explores questions regarding environment and place. Environment includes the entire natural world and its relationship to human activities. Place recognizes the wide range of variation in environments, natural and built, across the earth’s surface, that make each location unique. What are the explanations for a particular climatic, biotic and soil association? Why is a certain kind of human activity located at a certain place? What natural resources control where a particular kind of manufacturing should be located? Why are there so many differences in cultural landscapes around the world. How does spatial distance affect economic decisions. What are the internal and external characteristics and qualities of a place or landscape? How do atmospheric processes in the tropics influence the climate of the United States? Why are things located where they are?
These questions are not unique to geography, but geography is unique in trying to integrate environment and place.
Geography also features a special set of methods and techniques for analyzing data that are spread out over the surface of the earth. Georeferenced data require special techniques for graphical representation and for analysis. Mapping, spatial statistics, and database analysis all come together in the general area of Geographic Information Systems (GIS), which is a major and growing source of employment.
A Program for the Last Two Years of College
Geography requires breadth of understanding. We like our students to understand a wide variety of topics that relate to how human and physical processes produce unique places, as well as learning useful techniques, such as mapping and geographic information systems for understanding those places. As a result of our emphasis on breadth, we do not have long chains of courses that must be taken in a sequence. It is therefore possible to do the Geography major in two years, with mostly introductory courses in the first year and advanced courses in the second year.
Only a limited number of positions bear the name “Geographer.” However, geography prepares an individual for a wide list of careers. A large number of private consulting firms working on environmental impact statements find the geographer’s integrative capabilities useful. Firms dealing with transportation and marketing, especially the location of plants and stores, also employ geographers. Increasingly, businesses are seeing the value of GIS in analyzing the spatial aspects of their operations and markets.
In government, geographers are employed in all levels, particularly with environmental, planning, and natural resource agencies. Geographic concepts are part of the science and social science curricula at the Secondary Education level. Geography is also taught in most colleges, from university to community college, although such positions usually require graduate degrees. Graduate work is a goal pursued by about a third of our majors.
Computer programming, GIS, and cartographic skills are particularly important job skills for a geographer, in addition to a solid background in thinking about spatial problems.