Geography

Geography student in front of a mountain

Undergraduate degrees: BA or BS
Undergraduate minor

Mapping New Perspectives

Home to a number of breathtaking geographic landforms, from the Cascade Range to the McKenzie and Rogue rivers, Oregon is the ideal place to study geography. But geography is more than mountains and rivers and maps. It’s about how cultures and societies are affected by their natural surroundings and how people can enact change in the world. Geography is a way of looking at the world and the ways we fit into it.

As a geography major you’ll come to understand how national and physical boundaries affect power and inequality; the significance of resource abundance and resource shortagefor different people in different places; why particular regions contribute more to environmental issues than others; how climate change affects plants, animals, and water resources; how place defines who we are, how we act, and the choices we make; and much more. You’ll also learn how to use cutting edge spatial technologies that are in high demand in today’s economy, which are being used by business, governments and non-profits around the world. Asking these questions and using these methods, you’ll learn where positive change is taking place and how to be a part of it.

Geography is an approach of collecting, analyzing, and presenting an endless supply of data pertaining to both the human and physical worlds around us. Geographers specialize in understanding the dynamics between humans and the environment, and how that information can be used in the real world. At the UO, faculty members approach subjects from physical, cultural, social, and political perspectives, allowing you to sample a wide variety of perspectives.

How is the major structured?

As a geography major, you’ll gain in-demand skills in critical analysis, a global perspective, and communication across perspectives. The curriculum is designed to expose you to both the breadth of geography to allow you to gain the tools of the discipline, and then allow you to focus in on your areas of interest. The major also includes professionalization to provide students with ways to apply their skills beyond the classroom and prepare them for a career in geography. 
Students can focus in one of the following six concentrations:

  • In the Environmental Systems concentration, students will focus on issues of climate change, resource management, resource ecology, invasive species and other environmental dynamics.  
  • The Environment, Economy & Sustainability concentration allows students to focus specifically on sociocultural and economic drivers of human-environment relations, with courses that focus on food systems, water policy, international development, human-induced climate change, and more. 
  • In the Culture, Politics, and Place concentration students focus on issues of urban development, economic and social drivers of globalization, tourism, politics and the impacts of borders, social justice, and other social issues. 
  • The new Water Science & Policy concentration builds upon several faculty members’ expertise in both the physical and socio-economic and cultural drivers of water use, including practices that lead to erosion, the political economy of droughts, to looming conflicts over water world-wide.
  • Students chose Geographic Information Science to understand the vast array of tools that geographer use to analyze data. From Geographic Information Systems, to remote sensing, programming, project design, and other forms of spatial analysis, these in-demand skills complement other focus areas in the major. 
  • Geographic Education has become an important issue as it becomes more apparent that many Americans lack basic geographical knowledge and concepts. As more geography is taught in K-12 through the Advanced Placement Program, there is a growing demand for Geography teachers. This concentration will help prepare students for teaching geography. 

Points of Interest

  • Students in the InfoGraphics lab helped publish the Atlas of Yellowstone in 2012 and worked to create the UOregon mobile app, which is used by hundreds of students and visitors every day.
  • Geography Club takes field trips to learn about our local environment and organizes events to promote geography on campus and in local schools. 
  • Students have the opportunity to volunteer for the annual National Geography Awareness Week event, where on-campus activities highlight the potential of geography in our lives.
  • Tea Talks are held every week, where visiting geographers come to share their knowledge with students and faculty.
  • Traveling the world is one of the best ways to study the Earth and study abroad is one of the best ways for students to travel. Learn how you can take advantage of this life changing opportunity. 

Sample Courses

  • Our Digital Earth explores the emergence of geospatial data and technologies that are pervasive in our everyday lives and how they are shaping society. 
  • Global Food Systems examines the economic, sociocultural, and environmental dynamics of    food systems from local to global. Looks at links between food production and consumption and our own place within this system. 
  • Fire and Natural Disturbances sparks students’ interests in wildfire and other landscape disturbance processes. Historical and current patterns of the use and management of fire are also analyzed.
  • The World and Big Data explores the technical, social, and economic applications of data in our lives, from how business and government uses data to how it impacts us.
  • Urban Geography introduces urbanization throughout the world and the structure of urban settlements; cities as regional centers, physical places, and homes for people; and geographic problems in major urban environments.
  • Advanced Geographic Information Systems (GIS) delves into socioeconomic analysis with geographic information systems (GIS) and the U.S. census, network modeling, 3-D models of natural and urban landscapes, web-based GIS, and programming.
  • See more courses in geography.

Immerse Yourself

Students have the opportunity to apply their knowledge and skills while earning academic credit with internship positions organized through the department. Live off the grid in Australia researching sustainable living and environmental sustainability. Help organize and care for a subsistence garden in Mongolia. Work with locals in South Africa to maintain sustainable democracy. Educate tourists and locals on the humane treatment of elephants at the Elephant Nature Park in Thailand. Using the skills you learn in class, you can enact real positive change in real communities across the world.

Cartography and GIScience students can apply to work in the InfoGraphics Lab, gaining hands-on learning experience. The focus of the lab’s work is the integration of GIS and graphic design tools with cartographic design. Faculty members and students work together on projects for campus offices and government agencies such as atlas design and production, agency reporting and mapping support, multimedia and dynamic presentation design, and campus publications.

Other research opportunities include working with the Environmental Change Research Group, Geography Education lab, Paleoecology and Biogeography lab, and the Spatial and Map Cognition Research lab. 

The Student Experience

At the UO InfoGraphics Lab, Dylan Molnar, BS ’16, worked on the Atlas of Wildlife Migration: Wyoming’s Ungulates, bikeway maps, maps for the University of Oregon’s Tribal Reference Guide and more. Teaching peers about energy conservation through the $CORE program and taking a class offered at the state penitentiary allowed him to not only learn, but also gain a better understanding of himself. As GIS Technician for UO Campus Ops, he produced emergency documents and got acquainted with the underground tunnel system. He was able to challenge himself while developing invaluable skills such as research techniques, analysis, critical thinking enabling him to slide into a GIS internship role at the City of San Francisco’s Recreation and Park Department upon graduation.

Published, a speaker of four languages, and pursuing a double major in Geography with a focus on Geographic Information Science and International Relations, Rachel Lauren Anderson is set to graduate in 2017 and change the world! Anderson recently completed a semester in isiZulu, South Africa, where she studied social and political transformation. If you look at her experience–serving on the steering committee for the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs, acting as VP for her fraternity, providing leadership at an English language camp in Slovakia and in the UO Carnegie Global Oregon Program on International Ethics, mentoring youth at Peace Jam in Eugene–it’s no wonder she chose that field of study. After spending the summer of 2016 as an intern for the National Geographic Society, Anderson returns to campus to share her knowledge with students attending the American English Institute as a tutoring mentor, conversation partner and teaching assistant.

Featured Faculty

Assistant Professor Christopher Bone has a wealth of knowledge to share about GIScience at the UO. He teaches a variety of classes including Our Digital Earth, in which students collect data on campus about the best places to nap, the best coffee shops, and the best places to print assignments. Bone’s research focuses on ecosystem disturbances such as bark beetle infestation. He was happy to help reconstruct the entire GIScience curriculum in 2012. “I see students come in who have barely used Google Maps and when they leave they are designing interactive maps on websites.” Bone encourages students to think about where the world is going in respect to geography and technology and how to combine those things to create new ideas.

Associate Professor Mark Fonstad came to the UO to contribute to what he considered a state-of-the-art geography program. Since watching his father conduct geographic research as a child, Fonstad has loved working in the outdoors and learning about the Earth. From specializing in cartography and remote sensing technology to teaching a variety of interactive courses to editing a prestigious journal, he has enjoyed every minute at the UO. He is now mapping river habitat and flood planes in northeastern Oregon as well as helping develop a satellite radar system that will measure all the surface water on the planet.

Career Opportunities

Geography has many applications in the world outside of the university. You might decide to conduct research or become a teacher or do both. You could apply your mapping skills to a career in architecture, city planning, forest service, environmental activism, and more. The knowledge you gain in this major is valuable in the travel industry, real-estate, community development, education, planning, business, environmental management, as well as in politics. Through geography, you develop the ability to think critically, communicate across perspectives, understand human-environment dynamics, and ask questions about global and local issues (and everything in between). Geography touches upon so many different fields it is sure to lead you to places you never would have imagined. For a sample listing of available jobs, visit the Jobs for Geographers webpage.  

Department of Geography