USC Dornsife Spatial Sciences Institute

Q&A with USC M.S. in Human Security and Geospatial Intelligence Student Elin Henningsson

elin henningsson
Our online Master of Science in Human Security and Geospatial Intelligence program offers a unique opportunity to better understand how governments, military and humanitarian organizations mitigate damage from threats ranging from natural disasters to terrorist attacks. Our inaugural class has brought together individuals with a wide range of expertise and backgrounds.

Related Content: Q&A with Human Security and Geospatial Intelligence Student Eli Ibanga

We recently spoke with one of our inaugural students in the program, Elin Henningsson. Elin started as a GIS intern in 2015 with the City of Walnut Creek, California. She has continued in her GIS career, advancing to the role of Senior GIS Specialist with the Southern California Gas Company, and plans to use the skills she gains in USC’s M.S. in Human Security and Geospatial Intelligence program to pursue opportunities in her areas of interest, protecting humans from natural disasters and remote sensing.

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What is your professional background?

As an undergrad I studied Urban Studies and Environmental Studies. I have been working for the Southern California Gas Company (SoCal Gas) for the past three years, using GIS within the utility sphere. I have worked on three different projects for SoCal Gas as a GIS Researcher, GIS Construction Drafter, and a Sr. GIS Specialist. Each of these positions has contributed to my knowledge of the gas industry and informs my processes in my current position. In my current position I use this knowledge to approve construction drawings into our database, ensuring proper attribution and connectivity.

What have been some of your favorite experiences in your career so far?

As a student in the [M.S. in Human Security and Geospatial Intelligence (HSGI)] program, I was accepted into the Esri Student Assistant Program.

This program allows students to attend an Esri conference free of charge by volunteering some of their time during the conference to aid in coordination of the event. This was a great networking opportunity among professional individuals attending the event, other students in the program, and with the Esri hiring manager.

What are your primary professional goals?

I am looking to transition into disaster management oriented environmental projects through my current company or the federal government. I am also considering further education in the next few years through a Ph.D., I would very much like to both teach classes and work in applied geospatial research at the peak of my career.

What most interests you about the human security and geospatial intelligence industries?

I am most interested in the remote sensing focus, and in protecting human populations from natural disasters.

Why did you choose to pursue an M.S. in Human Security and Geospatial Intelligence degree?

I chose to pursue a master’s degree because I was unfulfilled by the work I was doing at the time and thought that furthering my educational experience would help me in transitioning into a more fulfilling career. I chose a master’s degree in human security and geospatial intelligence because of the ability to use geospatial technology to focus on environmental threats, and to protect human populations from those threats.

Why did you choose USC for your online M.S. in Human Security and Geospatial Intelligence degree?

I initially chose USC because of the Graduate Certificate in Geospatial Intelligence. I planned to complete this and then transition into the GIST master’s program.

Luckily, the human security and geospatial intelligence master’s program was created right after I completed the certificate, so I was able to continue on this track, which more specifically fits my interests.

How has your experience in the program been so far?

It has been good. Throughout the course of this program I have also been introduced to a variety of other professional and resume building opportunities that I was not aware of before beginning the program, such as the Esri Student Assistant opportunities at conferences, and other internships, etc.

What has been the most interesting for you to learn or work on in the program? What are you looking forward to?

In the Geospatial Intelligence Tradecraft course we were given a real-world assignment with the directive to create a disaster mitigation plan for Hurricane Maria. This was a very relevant assignment to the moment in time in which it was assigned, as well as aligning with my own interests, and applying academia to the real world.

Is there a particular course you are most looking forward to?

I was very much looking forward to the Remote Sensing course, which I have now taken. Next, I am most looking forward to the SSCI 577 course in Disaster Management since that is my direct area of interest.

How are you applying what you’ve learned so far?

Utility companies face destruction to their facilities during natural disasters, such as fires and landslides, which also pose risks to human health and safety (think no access to utility services, gas leaks, etc.). I see room at my current company to integrate remote sensing for disaster detection strategies in order to prevent damage to our pipes before they are compromised.

Additionally, this program has opened up opportunities for applying classroom knowledge to the real world through student internships and other professional opportunities such as the Esri Student Assistant program already mentioned.

How are you planning to use your M.S. in Human Security and Geospatial Intelligence degree in your profession?

I am hoping to use this degree to contribute to natural disaster preparation, response, recovery, and mitigation, at my current employer or at a government entity such as NGA, FEMA, USGS, or NOAA. My interest in working with natural disasters stems from a combination of my interest in contributing to the common good and having a fulfilling career, as well as my interest and educational experience with the natural world.

What advice or comments would you like to share with students who are considering this program?

I think it is very important when entering into a master’s program to have a strong grasp of your personal goals and interests. Just as important as having a clear plan however, is being open to unforeseen opportunities, and having the flexibility to adjust your path to attaining your goals.

Additionally, I would like to say, as a civilian without any former military experience, I know a degree called “M.S. in Human Security and Geospatial Intelligence” can sound intimidating, but there is space in this industry for many different areas of expertise. “Intelligence” does not only include military reconnaissance, or political surveillance: it most simply means to collect information and apply it to a problem.

This includes environmental problems, which are slowly becoming more widely acknowledged, and contribute to a growing industry surrounding environmental responsibility.

If you have any questions about the M.S. in HSGI program, you can reach an enrollment advisor and request a free brochure.

About USC’s GIS Graduate Programs

The University of Southern California offers a comprehensive selection of GIS programs, including GIS master’s degrees and GIS graduate certificates. Click on the programs below to learn about our leading geographic information science education.

GIS Master’s Degrees

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