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What is geography?

Geography is so much more than just the study of maps; geography majors study the world we live in from a spatial perspective, exploring why things are where they are. As a geography major, you’ll also get to use cutting-edge geospatial and satellite imaging technology to help solve problems relating to natural disasters, the spread of disease, urban sprawl, climate change, transportation issues, the global economy, and many others. This major also bridges the gap between the physical and social sciences through the study of human‐environment interactions. In other words, the study of geography is the study of how people affect the planet, and how the planet affects its people.

Learn more about this major and the Department of Geography.

What will I learn in this major?

Geography majors take fundamental courses in the areas of human geography, world regions, and physical geography, as well as courses in mapping and geospatial information systems (GIS). Students also choose from major courses in areas such as sustainability, water resources, global conflict, weather, environmental problems, medical geography, mountain geography, remote sensing, policy and planning, and the geography of local and world regions (Appalachia, North America, Africa, East Asia, the Arctic, and subarctic).  

All geography majors complete a field experience such as overseas study, research, an internship, or service learning.

Why study geography at Virginia Tech?

  • The department offers the university’s gateway courses to geospatial technology, so you can learn how to apply in-demand skills related to GIS and remote sensing to applications ranging from national security to natural resource utilization.
  • Study abroad opportunities can take you to places like Antarctica, New Zealand, Panama, and Ireland to learn about the influence of place, local issues in sustainability, and human-environment interactions.
  • Internships are highly recommended and are a great way to obtain experience and try out careers, like Molly McKnight’s experience using GIS to develop visualizations of potential renewable energy fields. Other internship locations include Esri, Johns Hopkins, Earth Networks, NASA, and NOAA.
  • You’ll learn from faculty like Korine Kolivras, who applies geospatial tools to study the spread of Lyme disease, and Tim Baird, who has studied the impacts of cell phones for Maasai women and is also the faculty principal for the Creativity and Innovation District Living-Learning Community.
  • A variety of labs are available for faculty/student collaboration and research, including the Center for Environmental Analytics and Remote Sensing (CEARS) Laboratory, which offers a high-end, large-format printer, a complete suite of image processing (ENVI, ERDAS Imagine) and associated software (IDL, Absoft Fortran, Matlab, Visual Studio, Python), statistical packages, a RIEGL laser scanner, roving GPS base stations, and an electric remotely piloted vehicle capable of carrying a 12.5 kg sensor payload.
  • Students and faculty are involved in bringing geographic knowledge and perspectives to individuals of all ages in local and regional communities. Collaborative endeavors have included outreach efforts to elementary schools, the Virginia Science Festival, and the Blacksburg Children’s Museum.
  • You might be interested in a minor in geographic information science or one of the integrated Pathways minors such as Appalachian cultures and environments, blue planet, data and decisions, pathways to sustainability, or peace studies and social justice. A minor will give you additional expertise, allow you to pursue a passion, and help you stand out in the job market.
  • Student organizations such as the Meteorology Club and the CNRE ambassadors provide opportunities to make connections and get involved on campus and in the community.

What can I do with a degree in geography?

Graduates in geography may enter the job market or pursue a graduate degree in the field. Career possibilities are listed below, and potential employers include companies using or developing GIS applications, NASA, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, FEMA, Google, Verizon, and civil engineering firms.

  • Cartographer — Produces maps by utilizing scientific, technological, and artistic information and elements to effectively communicate geospatial information.
  • Community/urban planner — Works to make cities and towns better places in which to live and work, creates zoning plans, and balances the needs of growing populations, businesses, and the environment.
  • Environmental manager — Utilizes expertise in physical geography, GIS, and remote sensing to protect and conserve natural resources and prepare environmental impact statements for governments and private industry.
  • Geography teacher — Teaches geography and/or environmental studies in secondary schools.
  • GIS analyst  Uses GIS programs to store, display, and analyze geospatial data for planning, decision-making, and solving a wide range of social, economic, and environmental problems.
  • GIS project manager — Provides project management, proposal writing, and consulting services, and supervises technical staff in GIS team projects.
  • Imagery analyst — Interprets and analyzes aerial photographs and digital satellite data to provide information for environmental and land-use applications.
  • Location expert — Provides businesses and governments with information concerning the best places to locate industries and services for increased efficiency and profitability.
  • Market researcher — Collects and analyzes spatial data on demographic patterns, consumer behavior, and regional sales characteristics to aid business planning.
  • Remote sensing analyst — Examines aerial and satellite imagery needed for specific applications and applies appropriate software to extract needed information, often for environmental protection, restoration programs, and natural resources management.
  • Software developer — Develops GIS software applications, does programming work, and manages databases for web-based, desktop, and mobile environments.
  • Transportation planner — Examines the needs of growing populations for new road and public transport systems, analyzes traffic data, and develops emergency routes.
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