Spatial data science and technology

Undergraduate degrees: BA or BS
Undergraduate minor

Understanding Our Digital Earth

Spatial data is integrated in our everyday lives. From geotagging to geocaching to finding a place to enjoy some coffee, we are all integrated in a complex web of movement, place, and discovery. How is this paradigm shift in how we use technology impacting our everyday lives? How is society adapting? And how can this data be used to better the human condition?

Students in Spatial Data Science and Technology (SDST) will study the development and use of geospatial data and technologies, the analysis and visualization of geospatial data, and how to employ these skills in a fast growing industry. How have technologies been developed and utilized that adapt to real-time circumstances, such as the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti or the Arab Spring? How can individual stories from migrants to Europe help illuminate the conditions people are fleeing in their home countries? In what innovative ways can city planners gather, interpret, and present data to help create more equitable urban environments? To answer these questions (and many more) you will learn the theory and practice of cutting-edge spatial technologies.

SDST is not a program about making maps—it’s about asking relevant questions, harnessing data, and understanding the appropriate way to use it. It’s not just about learning how to use software programs, but about how you can contribute to a new generation of digital technologies that represent a high-growth industry—one that is revolutionizing business, non-profit, and government worlds alike. At the UO, faculty members use spatial technologies to focus on remote sensing of river systems, climate change analysis, web-mapping, cartography, spatial cognition, spatial decision-making, and social equity.

How is the major structured?

As a spatial data science and technology major, you’ll gain in-demand skills in critical thinking, digital and visual representation, and communication across perspectives. The curriculum is designed to be flexible, allowing students to choose from different courses to best suit their interests, including geographic information science (GIS), remote sensing, and cutting-edge approaches that focus on utilizing sensors and web-mapping platforms.

As an SDST major, you will meet with the SDST advisor to develop an appropriate curriculum pathway, based on your goals and interests. Existing template pathways are based on our students who have gotten jobs as GIS Analysists at Apple, cartographers at National Geographic, and river restoration ecologists at the Bureau of Reclamation. These are only a sliver of the possibilities, however, and your personalized curriculum pathway will be designed to best suit your goals.

Points of Interest

  • Students in the InfoGraphics lab helped publish the Atlas of Yellowstone in 2012 and are working on the innovative Atlas of Wildlife Migration. They have also worked on the UOregon mobile app, which is used by hundreds of students and visitors every day, and the iBike Eugene mobile app, developed with the City of Eugene’s Public Works Maintenance Division.
  • The Humanitarian Mapping student group meets to do real-world mapping for projects such as malaria control in Kenya or sea-level rise mitigation in Bangladesh, with all experience levels invited to participate.
  • Students have the opportunity to volunteer for the annual National Geography Awareness Week event, where on-campus activities highlight the potential of spatial perspectives in our lives.
  • Tea Talks are held several times a term, 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.
  • Geographic Information Science provides an introduction on how to ask spatial questions and answer them with the powerful tools of Geographic Information Systems. Advanced classes in this sequence focus on programming, 3D and network modeling, and web-based GIS.
  • The World and Big Data explores the technical, social, and economic applications of data in our lives, looking at how business and government use data and how it impacts us.
  • Spatial Analysis provides an understanding of how spatial data can be visualized and utilized to answer pressing societal and environmental questions.
  • Location-Aware Systems introduces students to the fundamentals of how location-based services are integrated into daily life and the challenges they pose, such as user privacy.

See more courses in spatial data science and technology

Immerse Yourself

Students have the opportunity to apply their knowledge and skills while earning academic credit with internship positions organized through the department. Help map disease outbreaks in Bangladesh, migration routes of refugees in Greece, or the spread of insect infestations in the forests of China. Using the skills you learn in class, you can enact real positive change in communities across the world.

SDST students can apply to work in the InfoGraphics Lab or Campus GIS, gaining hands-on learning experience. The focus of the InfoGraphics Lab’s work is the integration of GIS and graphic design tools with cartographic design. Campus GIS provides a wide range of services and products dealing with spatial data on the UO campus, including security for the Olympic Trials and other high-profile events, to refining maps that the public uses to interface with students and the public every day.  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 in the Spatial Computation, Cognition and Complexity Lab (SC3) and on other Geography faculty research projects that utilize spatial data.

The Student Experience

At the UO InfoGraphics Lab, Dylan Molnar worked on bikeway maps, maps for the University of Oregon’s Tribal Reference Guide, the Atlas of Wildlife Migration: Wyoming’s Ungulates, and more. Through the Students of Color Opportunities for Research Enrichment (SCORE) program, he taught peers about energy conservation, allowing him to not only learn, but also gain a better understanding of himself. As GIS Technician for UO Campus Ops, he created emergency documentation for the not-so-secret system of underground tunnels that operates beneath the buildings and walkways on campus. Thanks to his creative and varied contributions on campus, he landed a GIS internship role at the City of San Francisco’s Recreation and Park Department upon graduation.

A published author and a speaker of four languages, Rachel Lauren Anderson is ready to change the world. Her study abroad program allowed her to study social and political transformation in an isiZulu-speaking region of South Africa. Back at home, she kept plenty busy—serving on the steering committee for the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs, acting as VP for her fraternity, and mentoring youth at Peace Jam in Eugene. After spending a summer as an intern for the National Geographic Society, Anderson returned 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 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. He loves seeing students come in who have barely used Google Maps—and when they leave, they're designing interactive maps on websites. He always encourages students to think about how to combine geography and technology and to create brand new ideas.

Associate Professor Mark Fonstad has loved working in the outdoors and learning about the Earth ever since his father conducted grographic research as a child. 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's now mapping river habitat and flood places in northeastern Oregon as well as helping develop a satellite radar system that will measure all the surface water on the planet.

Career Opportunities

Spatial data science and technology has many applications in the world outisde of the university. You might decide to conduct research, 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, and politics. Through the SDST program, 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). For a sample listing of available jobs, visit the Jobs for Geographers webpage.

Department of Geography