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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 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 (North America, Africa, Appalachia, 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?

  • Hands-on learning is a hallmark of the program. Students are required to take part in a field experience that may include any of the following: overseas study, research, internship, or service learning.
  • Study abroad opportunities within the college can take you to far-flung regions of the world to learn about the influence of place, local issues in sustainability, and human-environment interactions — New Zealand, Mozambique, Panama, Costa Rica, and Ireland, to name a few.
  • A variety of labs are available for faculty/student collaboration and research, including the Human Dimensions Analysis Laboratory as well as the Center for Environmental Analytics and Remote Sensing (CEARS) Lab, which houses numerous computer workstations. CEARS also 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.
  • Two biogeography labs also offer advanced facilities for the study of recent and long-term environmental history and vegetation change.
  • Students can pursue a minor in geographic information science or might consider one of the Pathways minors such as biodiversity conservation, ecological cities, pathways to sustainability, or blue planet. The addition of a minor will give you in-depth expertise in one of these fields so you can pursue a passion and stand out in the job market.
  • Students and faculty are involved in bringing geographic knowledge and perspectives to individuals of all ages in the local community and in Virginia. Collaborative endeavors have included outreach efforts to elementary schools, the Virginia Science Festival, and the Blacksburg Children’s Museum.
  • Student clubs and organizations such as the Geographic Society at Virginia Tech provide an opportunity to connect with others with similar interests 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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