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Geographic Information Science &
Technology Graduate Programs

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Fuel Scientific Discovery – Drive Innovation

The Geographic Information Science and Technology (GIST) online graduate programs expose students to a core, geographic-innovation science foundation plus real-world GIS applications from leading educators.

The GIST graduate programs are offered by the USC Spatial Sciences Institute (SSI), headquartered within the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. Established in 2010, the SSI promotes spatial thinking, analysis, modeling and visualization across USC. Through interdisciplinary research and collaboration, faculty, staff and students work to increase the scope and hasten the pace of spatial thinking as a core-learning objective.

Thanks to a faculty of leading GIS experts, plus regular and significant investment in information technology, USC GIST graduates are uniquely equipped to keep apace of an increasingly diverse and dynamic field. They are distinguishable from graduates of other programs in how they think about and use GIS principles and the technology they use to implement those principles, redefining spatial thinking for the 21st century.

Why Choose USC?

  • 20 Months – This accelerated program allows you to graduate quickly to focus on your career
  • Ranking – The 2014 Edition of U.S. News & World Report ranks USC among the top colleges in the country
  • Online – Continue working and learn on your own time
  • Accredited – USC is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC), and is a proud member of the UNIGIS International Network.
  • Field Excursion – Students attend a one-week field excursion to the USC Wrigley Marine Science Center on Catalina Island

Why Choose the USC GIST Graduate Online Degree Programs

In this information session, our panelists talk about the required courses for USC Dornsife’s online graduate programs in Geographic Information Science and Technology in an on-screen presentation with audio commentary.

The Data of Space

The GIST graduate programs incorporate multiple curricular pathways tailored to the increasingly diverse backgrounds, occupations and applications that rely on geospatial technologies. Classes cover the various ways in which space (geography) is used to acquire, represent, organize, analyze, model and visualize information, and equip students with core science education and tailored practical applications that they can use in their professional and research careers. GIST graduates have the advanced knowledge and techniques to develop their own GIS applications, rather than merely being schooled in the use of software.

Hands-on Experience

Students are afforded an unrivaled opportunity to work intensively with faculty and fellow students in designing and conducting their own geospatial data collection projects during a one-week field excursion to the USC Wrigley Marine Science Center on Catalina Island. There are three primary learning outcomes during this weeklong trip; learn and understand GIS hardware and software and gain confidence and experience conducting a research project—methodologies, limitations, assumptions, findings and conclusions. Students get professional training in the use of some of the most advanced GPS mapping tools available today, use the data they acquire for their own research project, and discuss with faculty and peers how this knowledge might be applied to other geospatial applications.


Dr. John P. Wilson, the faculty and students offer their views about the field excursion to Catalina Island.

Unrivaled Resources

Graduate students enrolled in the GIST online graduate programs have access to a wide variety of academic, technical and human resources. These resources include, but are not limited to: an extensive array of proprietary GIS and other programming-level software streamed live (online), a significant collection of current and classic professional articles and book chapters: direct Internet access to USC’s impressive library holdings and E-resources, and opportunities to participate in GIST events such as webinars, field trips, M.S. thesis defenses, and related Spatial Sciences Institute professional events and networking activities.

Hardware and Software

Coupling academic excellence with significant information technology investment means students have access to the best data, tools and research, and learn from the most skilled professors, equipping them to cope with increasing data complexity and more sophisticated applications.

The curriculum exposes students to fundamental science and skills to understand and use:

  • Esri ArcGIS Desktop and Server
  • ArcGIS Online
  • Microsoft SQL Server
  • GeoDA, R, and SAS
  • Idrisi
  • Python
  • Trimble Pathfinder Office and Terrasync
  • Microsoft Visual Studio Professional

In this information session, GIST faculty members introduce themselves, their areas of focus, and the classes they teach in the program.

An All-Ph.D. Faculty

The Spatial Sciences Institute faculty is one of its richest sources of academic distinction. They are drawn from a wide range of academic disciplines, including Geographic Information Science, Geology, Geography and Computer Science. Each faculty member has a Ph.D. in their respective field, and is constantly evaluating the field of GIS to offer the most cutting edge and foundational courses. They employ state-of-the art platforms for research and teaching to engage scholars, students, and researchers across and beyond USC to advance pedagogical methods and fundamental spatial science research.

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Who Should Choose the Master
Geographic Information Science & Technology

Earth Sciences Geology Geography Biology Environmental Studies
Health & Human Services Public Health Managed Care Hospital & Health Systems
Natural Resources Climate Change Agriculture Forestry Water Resources Marine & Coastal Archeology
Transportation & Infrastructure Highways Railways Logistics Public Transportation Ports & Maritime
Government Economic Development Land Administration Public Works Surveying Urban Planning
Public Safety Disaster Management Fire, Rescue & EMS Homeland Security Law Enforcement Wildfire Management
Education Schools (K-12) Universities & Colleges Libraries Museums Cultural Heritage

Global challenges like climate change, sustainability, and urbanization demand precise and nuanced interpretation of how individuals and societies connect to their respective geographies. If you work in one of the areas listed above, an understanding of the spatial context of social and economic phenomena is vital to your personal and professional missions. You can use GIS and spatial intelligence to help make the world a better place; creating responsible, sustainable and scalable solutions. Viewing life through a spatial lens translates to meaningful benefits for the individual and for society.

The USC Dornsife GIST graduate programs build the fundamental skills necessary for long-term success by training beyond simple competency in the latest technology. The programs promote the adoption and effective use of spatial thinking, which helps you view geography relative to its history and future potential. The Spatial Sciences Institute takes the position that spatial should be cross cutting and nimble, and trains students to think globally. Since the programs are among a few that are directly linked to an active GIS research enterprise—the GIS Research Laboratory, there is a continuous cross-fertilization between research and education.

The GIST programs provide a common spatial language that connects data to geography, and people to place. Advanced spatial training leads to better decision making and improved communication, and provides a new way to look at the world around us. The GIST graduate programs are for those who want to improve the world—and improve life for all its inhabitants.

GIS technology and spatial intelligence play equally important roles in a global economy. Economic conditions are forcing businesses to re-consider their operations and driving innovation for continued profitability…or in some cases, continuing viability. Location data drives business strategy; it improves operational performance, manages costs, reduces complexity, increases market understanding, and serves customers.

Banking, real estate, retail, insurance, media and logistics—these industries and more use location intelligence to make smarter business decisions and improve the bottom line. Business assets, like employees, customers, facilities, and supply chains, all exist in “Place.” GIS technology helps the business professional measure “Place,” and spatial thinking helps him or her analyze and understand.

Business professionals want to participate in the USC Dornsife GIST graduate programs because they offer the innovative training necessary for continued business success and growth. Today’s entrepreneurs and innovators want to know how to incorporate location intelligence in their business model. Yesterday’s “key” to successful business—Location, Location, Location—is today’s “What does the data show?”

GIST students learn how fundamental geo-processing tools and systems—such as Geographic Information Systems, Global Positioning Systems, Image Processing Systems, and Location-Based Services—collect the data. More importantly, they are equipped with the skills to understand the data and its relationship to the business process.

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Why a Graduate Degree in Geographic Information
Science & Technology (GIST)

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The New Frontier of Academia

Scholars have argued that spatial science is the future and that it will be an essential underpinning of social science (and science) methodology in the 21st century, because our ability to address major challenges requires an understanding of the spatial context of social and economic phenomena rather than broad sweeping generalizations.

The Geographic Information Science and Technology online graduate programs serve as the lynchpin to this curricular pathway of spatial thinking, backed by the faculty, research, and technological and geospatial data resources of the Spatial Sciences Institute. The programs reflect a broader vision of spatial literacy for all students. Among the top universities in the world, none can boast of a similar cross-cutting, spatial intelligence competency.

GIS for the 21st Century

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, “geospatial technologies” is among the three most important high-growth industries in the 21st century, alongside nanotechnology and biotechnology. For timely and meaningful impact, public and private organizations need professionals with a workingman’s knowledge and few will consider an undergraduate degree sufficient. They need human assets that can roll up their sleeves and put the organization on the path they need.

The M.S. and the Graduate Certificate in GIST take spatial thinking and GIS applications to the next level. Participants of the GIST graduate programs become the professionals who “get” GIS, all it represents and can accomplish. More importantly, USC GIST graduates can be more precise and nuanced than graduates of other GIS programs. That value comes from the faculty’s deep understanding of spatial theory; instead of just learning today’s technology, students are learning skills and knowledge of the science that will allow them to move forward, apace of technology, throughout their careers.

Spatial: A Cross-Cutting Enterprise

Major global challenges—climate, human health and sustainability, urbanization and cultural homogenization, to name a few—are explicitly spatial issues. Furthermore, the very technology that has facilitated globalization has also put spatial tools into the hands of multitudes of new users, making everyone with access to a computer or smart phone a consumer and producer of geospatial information.

The rapid growth of geographic information science (GIS) from its roots in computer science, geography, mathematics, and surveying coupled with the growth and spread of the Internet promise to transform the numbers of ways in which geographic information is used in the years ahead. USC anticipated these changes and positioned spatial sciences as a nimble, cross-cutting enterprise that spans research and teaching throughout the university.

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The M.S. in GIST online program offers the opportunity to specialize your skills in remote sensing and project management, spatial modeling and visualization, or web and mobile GIS with the following available track options:

Track 1: Spatial Data Acquisition and Integration
Track 2: Spatial Data Analysis and Visualization
Track 3: Spatial Application Development
Track 4: Spatial Thinking