USC Dornsife Spatial Sciences Institute Logo
USC Logo

Student Experience

Studying GIST at USC

GIST graduate students at USC are key members of the university’s community of scholars who are poised to make their mark on the 21st century, contributing diverse viewpoints and fresh insights.

USC GIST Student Spotlights

Kacey Johnson Pham

Master of Science in Geographic Information
Science and Technology, Class of 2015

While I was enrolled in the program, I was chosen for an internship with the International Medical Corps, a global, nonprofit, humanitarian organization. Without my USC experience and connections, I would not have had this opportunity.

I started out gathering data sets relevant to emergency response around the world, and within six months I became a full-time employee. I learned how to set up servers to support complex databases, with the classes I was taking at USC supporting this effort. Through this experience, I watched an organization grow a GIS unit from the ground up. I saw every phase of development of the GIS team as well as the infrastructure.

Before interning at International Medical Corps, I volunteered at the George C. Page Museum of La Brea Discoveries in Los Angeles. Through that relationship, I began exploring the extensive and amazing La Brea Tar Pits fossil data, and began to imagine how it could be spatially analyzed and visualized. I am very fortunate now to have this as my thesis project, with the full support of the paleontologists at the museum (click here to learn more about the GIST Master’s Thesis).

The best part about my experience at USC is that through the help of GIST professors, I have a great job as a significant contributor to critical humanitarian mapping projects, while also having a paleontological and geological-based thesis project that is completely different. It is the best of both worlds for me — geoscience and helping to save lives.

Nate Novak

Master of Science in Geographic Information
Science and Technology, Class of 2016

While still completing my thesis I landed my dream job working at Orca Maritime Inc. in Imperial Beach, California.

I chose the USC Spatial Sciences Institute for my M.S. GIST degree due to the university’s superior academic reputation and strong involvement in the geospatial community. My job came about through networking at a local Geospatial San Diego LinkedIn event which showcased specialized GIS engineering research projects.

It was here that I met a marine science GIS professional, who after learning about my educational experiences invited me to take a tour of the Orca Maritime facility. Orca Maritime specializes in underwater imagery and data collection using autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs), remotely operated vehicles (ROVs), boat systems and human divers. They work directly with the U.S. Navy and United Nations to continually set the standard for AUV data collection and processing. Through the connections I made during the tour, I was offered an internship, which ultimately led to a full-time job offer — my dream job.

The spatial application development classes I took while studying GIS at USC qualified me for my new job. All of the spatial science and computing skills I have learned, in particular the ArcGIS Server and cloud-based database hosting skills in SSCI 591, are directly applicable to work being conducted today in real-time Navy operations.

Additionally, the expertise I earned from the USC GIS program heavily informed my thesis — which was named a 2016 UNIGIS Academic Excellence Prize winner.

Today I help find shipwrecks and lost airplanes, and explore deep ocean trenches that have never been explored. In essence, my specialized graduate degree at USC SSI has allowed me to do what I have always wanted, to study the ocean using cutting-edge technology and explore the unknown.

GIST Student Testimonials

“The Web GIS course really helped me professionally. The exposure to Web GIS, and specifically the developer APIs and SDKs, shortened the learning curve when I transitioned from GIS analyst to solutions engineer.”
 — Colin Mattison, M.S. in GIST

“A month before defending my thesis for the USC GIST program, I was offered the position of geographic analyst with Nokia’s HERE Maps in Los Angeles. A large part of my job is field data collection: finding sources for new and updated map content and ensuring their accurate, real-world representation within the database. In our multi-camera, GPS-receiving vehicles, I’m on a mini-road trip every week.”
 — Emily Frazier, M.S. in GIST

“As a senior systems engineer at Boeing Space and Intelligence Systems, I gained new and different perspectives on the capabilities of the GPS satellites we manufacture. Our one-week field study on Catalina Island was one of many opportunities in which I found synergies with my aerospace background.”
— Dennis Nakasone, GIST Graduate Certificate

“I got my dream job as the technical lead epidemiologist for research and mapping with the County of San Mateo Health System because of the USC GIST program, thanks especially to the cartography and spatial analysis courses and the ability to show my thesis project to the interview committee (click here to learn more about the GIST Master’s Thesis).”
 — Corina Chung, M.S. in GIST