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USC Dornsife Spatial Sciences Institute

Curriculum

The curriculum is designed to blend conceptual knowledge with hands-on experience using modern GIS software and techniques. Core theoretical concepts are provided via course notes and assigned readings. Written assignments give students the opportunity to analyze and apply the concepts and theory learned from readings. Practical exercises will mainly use ArcGIS Pro, which students access via virtual desktops and servers.

The coursework for our master’s programs is designed to be completed within 24 months, and our GIS certificates can be completed in as little as eight months.

Master’s in Geographic Information Science and Technology (28 units)

Few other GIS master’s programs in the country offer the same balance of broadly applicable knowledge with the opportunity to gain the technical skills to elevate a GIS career. With our GIST master’s degree, you can tailor your coursework through an extensive selection of electives, and you’ll also have opportunities to develop your own GIS projects on real-world issues that you care about.

Learning Objectives

Graduates of the program will be able to:

  • Design and implement well-formed database models using appropriate design techniques and relational database software.
  • Design and implement strategies for capturing or sourcing geospatial data and accompanying metadata for one or more GIS projects.
  • Conduct work tasks in such a way that they achieve at least three of the following:
    • Explain complicated geographic patterns and relationships using the theoretical concepts that form the basis of both commonplace and advanced methods of spatial analysis.
    • Generate geographical information by processing digital remotely sensed data and critically evaluating its use for special one-of-a-kind applications.
    • Design and develop cartographic and other kinds of visualizations for a multimedia, internet-enabled world.
    • Program small-scale, one-of-a-kind GIS-based applications using the Python and/or Java programming languages.
    • Identify and describe the role of people and technology in organizing, planning, monitoring and controlling GIS projects.
  • Critically evaluate the potential impact of data quality on spatial analysis and decision-making outcomes.
  • Plan, design and execute a series of advanced science and/or policy relevant GIS-based projects.

Depending on the selection of track or electives, graduates will also gain competency in core skills relevant to more specific areas of interest. For example, students of the GIS application development track will also be able to program one-of-a-kind GIS applications using Python and/or Java.


Track 1: Spatial Data Management

The volume and variety of geospatial data that can be used to describe objects, events and phenomena that have a location on the surface of the Earth has grown exponentially over the past two decades. This track equips students with the skills to acquire, manage and share all forms of geospatial data (GPS tracking, photography, satellite imagery, sensor networks and social media messages) and the accompanying metadata using a variety of proprietary and open source database management systems and tools.

SEMESTER 1

SSCI 581: Concepts for Spatial Thinking (4 units)

This course examines the unique characteristics and importance of spatial information as they relate to the evolving science, technology and applications of geographic information systems. It provides the foundation for understanding and applying other concepts and technologies throughout the spatial sciences programs.

SSCI 587: Spatial Data Acquisition (4 units)

This course examines the role of global positioning systems, maps, geocoding and other kinds of sensors as geospatial data sources. Students will also participate in a field data acquisition excursion on Catalina Island, in which they will have opportunities to meet their peers as well as network with leading GIS scientists and other experts.

Recommended preparation: SSCI 581

SEMESTER 2

SSCI 582: Spatial Databases (4 units)

Students will learn how to design and implement geospatial databases. The course also provides hands-on experience with relational, object-oriented and other types of geospatial databases so that students gain practical knowledge of the structure and management of geospatial data.

Recommended preparation: SSCI 581

SSCI 585: Geospatial Technology Project Management (4 units)

This course examines the concepts, principles and use of project management tools, with a focus on the common people-centric issues encountered running GIS projects. Topics covered include the geospatial project lifecycle, budgets, risk management, team building and ongoing trends that may influence geospatial project management (e.g. increasing usage of open source software).

Recommended preparation: SSCI 581

SEMESTER 3

SSCI 588: Remote Sensing for GIS (4 units)

This course examines the principles and technology of remote sensing and role of remote sensing data in GIS applications. Students will learn to implement and evaluate digital image processing methodologies. This course also explores common uses of remote sensing data in human security and environmental sciences.

Recommended preparation: SSCI 581

Choice of Elective

SSCI 575: Spatial Data Science (4 units)

Principles, analytical methods and technologies, including spatial algorithms, to extract insights from spatial data and employ predictive modeling.

SSCI 576: Remote Sensing Applications and Emerging Technologies (4 units)

This course explores how remote sensing systems provide geospatial information that is relevant, accurate, timely, accessible, cost-effective and available in an appropriate format. Students learn the principles of remote sensing and the technical characteristics and constraints of Earth observation missions. They generate geographical information by processing digital remotely sensed data and critically evaluate its use for human security and environmental applications.

SSCI 591: Web and Mobile GIS (4 units)

This course provides essential and practical knowledge developing web-hosted GIS applications. Students will gain experience using a variety of tools commonly used for GIS application development, including Google Maps, ArcGIS and several open source technologies.

Recommended preparation: SSCI 581

SEMESTER 4

SSCI 594a: Master’s Thesis (2 units)

Credit on acceptance of thesis. Graded CR/NC.

SEMESTER 5

SSCI 594b: Master’s Thesis (2 units)

Credit on acceptance of thesis. Graded CR/NC.


Track 2: Spatial Computing

The explosive growth in the use of programming languages and applications to automate geospatial tasks and produce optimized views of geospatial information will transform the ways in which geospatial professionals and others interact with geospatial information in future years. This track equips students with the skills required to use programming languages and applications — such as JavaScript, Jupyter Notebooks, Python and APIs — to build custom geospatial tools and products across a large variety of disciplines and application domains.

SEMESTER 1

SSCI 581: Concepts for Spatial Thinking (4 units)

This course examines the unique characteristics and importance of spatial information as they relate to the evolving science, technology and applications of geographic information systems. It provides the foundation for understanding and applying other concepts and technologies throughout the spatial sciences programs.

SSCI 587: Spatial Data Acquisition (4 units)

This course examines the role of global positioning systems, maps, geocoding and other kinds of sensors as geospatial data sources. Students will also participate in a field data acquisition excursion on Catalina Island, in which they will have opportunities to meet their peers as well as network with leading GIS scientists and other experts.

Recommended preparation: SSCI 581

SEMESTER 2

SSCI 582: Spatial Databases (4 units)

Students will learn how to design and implement geospatial databases. The course also provides hands-on experience with relational, object-oriented and other types of geospatial databases so that students gain practical knowledge of the structure and management of geospatial data.

Recommended preparation: SSCI 581

SSCI 586: Spatial Programming and Customization (4 units)

This course provides the knowledge and skills for developing customized GIS applications. Students will gain hands-on experience designing, coding and implementing GIS-based software. The course focuses on leveraging programming languages commonly used in GIS software, including Python.

Recommended preparation: SSCI 582

SEMESTER 3

SSCI 591: Web and Mobile GIS (4 units)

This course provides essential and practical knowledge developing web-hosted GIS applications. Students will gain experience using a variety of tools commonly used for GIS application development, including Google Maps, ArcGIS and several open source technologies.

Recommended preparation: SSCI 581

Choice of Elective

SSCI 576: Remote Sensing Applications and Emerging Technologies (4 units)

This course explores how remote sensing systems provide geospatial information that is relevant, accurate, timely, accessible, cost-effective and available in an appropriate format. Students learn the principles of remote sensing and the technical characteristics and constraints of Earth observation missions. They generate geographical information by processing digital remotely sensed data and critically evaluate its use for human security and environmental applications.

SSCI 588: Remote Sensing for GIS (4 units)

This course examines the principles and technology of remote sensing and role of remote sensing data in GIS applications. Students will learn to implement and evaluate digital image processing methodologies. This course also explores common uses of remote sensing data in human security and environmental sciences.

Recommended preparation: SSCI 581

SSCI 589: Cartography and Visualization (4 units)

Cartography and Visualization: Principles of visual perception, spatial cognition and cartographic design and their contributions to the maps, animations, virtual reality and multimedia displays produced with modern GIS.

SEMESTER 4

SSCI 594a: Master’s Thesis (2 units)

Credit on acceptance of thesis. Graded CR/NC.

SEMESTER 5

SSCI 594b: Master’s Thesis (2 units)

Credit on acceptance of thesis. Graded CR/NC.


Track 3: Spatial Analytics

Geographic information systems have been used to build maps, graphs and statistics that shed light on the complex relationships which characterize coupled human-environment systems for more than 50 years and the need for this geospatial intelligence continues to grow as the global population grows and our world becomes more connected. This track equips students with the skills required to choose and implement the spatial analysis and modeling approaches that can be used to turn spatiotemporal data into actionable information for clarifying opportunities and solving problems across a large number and variety of disciplines and application domains.

SEMESTER 1

SSCI 581: Concepts for Spatial Thinking (4 units)

This course examines the unique characteristics and importance of spatial information as they relate to the evolving science, technology and applications of geographic information systems. It provides the foundation for understanding and applying other concepts and technologies throughout the spatial sciences programs.

SSCI 587: Spatial Data Acquisition (4 units)

This course examines the role of global positioning systems, maps, geocoding and other kinds of sensors as geospatial data sources. Students will also participate in a field data acquisition excursion on Catalina Island, in which they will have opportunities to meet their peers as well as network with leading GIS scientists and other experts.

Recommended preparation: SSCI 581

SEMESTER 2

SSCI 583: Spatial Analysis and Modeling (4 units)

This course provides the knowledge and skills necessary to investigate the spatial patterns which result from social and physical processes operating at or near the Earth’s surface. The focus is on providing an understanding of the theories and context of spatial analysis, preparing students to identify the best analytical tool for a given problem and produce valid, defensible spatial analysis output.

Recommended preparation: SSCI 581

SSCI 589: Cartography and Visualization (4 units)

Cartography and Visualization: Principles of visual perception, spatial cognition and cartographic design and their contributions to the maps, animations, virtual reality and multimedia displays produced with modern GIS.

SEMESTER 3

SSCI 574: Spatial Econometrics (4 units)

Theoretical foundations, methods, techniques and software systems for spatial econometrics, including the effects of spatial dependence and spatial heterogeneity.

(Recommended prerequisite: SSCI 583 - Spatial Analysis and Modeling; Special permission may be required for registration.)

Choice of Elective

SSCI 575: Spatial Data Science (4 units)

Principles, analytical methods and technologies, including spatial algorithms, to extract insights from spatial data and employ predictive modeling.

SSCI 586: Spatial Programming and Customization (4 units)

This course provides the knowledge and skills for developing customized GIS applications. Students will gain hands-on experience designing, coding and implementing GIS-based software. The course focuses on leveraging programming languages commonly used in GIS software, including Python.

Recommended preparation: SSCI 582

SSCI 588: Remote Sensing for GIS (4 units)

This course examines the principles and technology of remote sensing and role of remote sensing data in GIS applications. Students will learn to implement and evaluate digital image processing methodologies. This course also explores common uses of remote sensing data in human security and environmental sciences.

Recommended preparation: SSCI 581

SEMESTER 4

SSCI 594a: Master’s Thesis (2 units)

Credit on acceptance of thesis. Graded CR/NC.

SEMESTER 5

SSCI 594b: Master’s Thesis (2 units)

Credit on acceptance of thesis. Graded CR/NC.

Master’s in Human Security and Geospatial Intelligence (34 units)

The USC Master of Science in Human Security and Geospatial Intelligence degree provides students with an understanding of where human security has both stability and instability. This degree connects collaborative and interrelated sciences and disciplines and provides a set of viable tools for graduate-level planning and leadership on future human security and geospatial intelligence (GEOINT) work within the U.S. DoD, U.S. State Department, related U.S. support/non-governmental agencies and within comparable international organizations.

Learning Objectives

Graduates of the program will be able to:

  • Lead and manage new initiatives within the rapidly evolving GEOINT landscape
  • Apply innovation to influence the successful generation, adoption and deployment of new ideas
  • Evaluate and solve for how disruptive technologies might affect GIS organizations in the future
  • Design and implement strategies for sourcing and managing spatial data for use in geospatial initiatives and applications
  • Leverage GIS and related software to develop innovative insights using spatial data
  • Master the theory and protocols of radar interpretation, infrared and multispectral imagery, full motion video, legacy maps, digital geospatial datasets and social media feeds
  • Shape the results of geospatial information management groups and organizations.

“I was interested in the capstone course as part of the HSGI program as opposed to the thesis option for the GIST program, because I wanted to work on a team and get hands-on experience problem solving. I was also lucky enough to know the people on my capstone team from my time in Catalina and from other classes.”

– Jillian Combs M.S. HSGI, Class of 2019


Sample Course Plan (subject to course scheduling)

SEMESTER 1

SSCI 581: Concepts for Spatial Thinking (4 units)

This course examines the unique characteristics and importance of spatial information as they relate to the evolving science, technology and applications of geographic information systems. It provides the foundation for understanding and applying other concepts and technologies throughout the spatial sciences programs.

SSCI 587: Spatial Data Acquisition (4 units)

This course examines the role of global positioning systems, maps, geocoding and other kinds of sensors as geospatial data sources. Students will also participate in a field data acquisition excursion on Catalina Island, in which they will have opportunities to meet their peers as well as network with leading GIS scientists and other experts.

Recommended preparation: SSCI 581

SEMESTER 2

SSCI 577: Human Security and Disaster Management (4 units)

The relationship between human security (population growth, urbanization, conflict) and disasters, both man-made and natural, where complex emergencies are impactful to human populations.

SSCI 578: The Practice of Geospatial Leadership (4 units)

This course closely examines the way GIS provides value within an organizational context. Students will also learn the qualities and skills leaders need to help their teams form new ideas and how to drive their organizations toward success.

Recommended preparation: SSCI 581

SEMESTER 3

SSCI 579: Geospatial Intelligence Tradecraft (4 units)

This course explores the practical application of geospatial intelligence, highlighting specific examples of its use in military operations, national security, international relief work and disaster management. Students will gain a comprehensive understanding of the many and varied types of threats that impact human security and how geospatial technologies and methodologies can be used in each type of scenario.

Recommended preparation: SSCI 581

SSCI 585: Geospatial Technology Project Management (4 units)

This course examines the concepts, principles and use of project management tools, with a focus on the common people-centric issues encountered running GIS projects. Topics covered include the geospatial project lifecycle, budgets, risk management, team building and ongoing trends that may influence geospatial project management (e.g. increasing usage of open source software).

Recommended preparation: SSCI 581

SEMESTER 4

SSCI 588: Remote Sensing for GIS (4 units)

This course examines the principles and technology of remote sensing and role of remote sensing data in GIS applications. Students will learn to implement and evaluate digital image processing methodologies. This course also explores common uses of remote sensing data in human security and environmental sciences.

Recommended preparation: SSCI 581

Choice of Elective

SSCI 576: Remote Sensing Applications and Emerging Technologies (4 units)

This course explores how remote sensing systems provide geospatial information that is relevant, accurate, timely, accessible, cost-effective and available in an appropriate format. Students learn the principles of remote sensing and the technical characteristics and constraints of Earth observation missions. They generate geographical information by processing digital remotely sensed data and critically evaluate its use for human security and environmental applications.

SSCI 586: Spatial Programming and Customization (4 units)

This course provides the knowledge and skills for developing customized GIS applications. Students will gain hands-on experience designing, coding and implementing GIS-based software. The course focuses on leveraging programming languages commonly used in GIS software, including Python.

Recommended preparation: SSCI 582

SSCI 589: Cartography and Visualization (4 units)

Cartography and Visualization: Principles of visual perception, spatial cognition and cartographic design and their contributions to the maps, animations, virtual reality and multimedia displays produced with modern GIS.

SEMESTER 5

Capstone Course (2 units)

SSCI 595: Applied Geospatial Intelligence Problem Solving (2 units)

This course provides a hands-on opportunity in which students apply the knowledge and GEOINT skills to make an informed human security recommendation. In the capstone course, students will work with one of USC's GEOINT partners to solve a real-world GEOINT challenge.

Pre-requisites:
SSCI 577; SSCI 588; SSCI 579; SSCI 581;
SSCI 585 (can also be taken as a co-requisite)

M.S. in Spatial Data Science (32 units)

The USC Master of Science in Spatial Data Science provides students with an understanding of the data science field, the role of the analyst and/or data scientist and the domains where spatial data science skills can be applied to critical projects and goals. This program uniquely features courses from both the Viterbi School of Engineering and the USC Spatial Sciences Institute.

Despite its focus on the valuable specialized technical aspects of spatial data science, this program doesn’t neglect the teaching of interpersonal skills. Students are given assignments with opportunities for public speaking, collaboration with peers and the creation of portfolio-ready projects. Students also have the opportunity to gain experience during their studies and can apply to be part-time researchers on funded SSI faculty research projects.

GISP Certification Prep

This program helps prepare students for the geographic information systems professional (GISP) portfolio and exam requirements. To sit for the exam, individuals must create a portfolio and accumulate a certain number of points, which can be earned through academic coursework and professional activities such as conferences. This master’s program provides students with many opportunities to earn points, but students will have to acquire additional points beyond the program.

Learning Objectives

The USC master’s in spatial data science program provides students with the knowledge and skills to understand:

  • The significant technical and societal challenges created by large location-based data environments, including architecture, security, integrity, management and scalability
  • How spatial data can be acquired and used to support various forms of analysis, modeling and geo-visualization in large data environments
  • How artificial intelligence, machine learning and data mining can augment typical geographic information science (GIS) concepts and workflows to intelligently mine data, providing enterprise-centric solutions for a variety of societal challenges and issues across all sectors.

Year 1

SEMESTER 1

DSCI 549: Introduction to Computational Thinking and Data Science (4 units)

Introduction to data analysis techniques and associated computing concepts for non-programmers. Topics include foundations for data analysis, visualization, parallel processing, metadata, provenance and data stewardship.

SSCI 581: Concepts of Spatial Thinking (4 units)

The unique characteristics and importance of spatial information as they relate to the evolving science, technology and applications of geographic information systems.

SEMESTER 2

DSCI 510: Principles of Programming for Data Science (4 units)

Programming in Python for retrieving, searching and analyzing data from the web. Programming in Java. Learning to manipulate large data sets.

SSCI 586: Spatial Programming and Customization (4 units)

Designing, coding and implementing GIS-based software and models using the Python programming language. Recommended preparation: SSCI 581.

Year 2

SEMESTER 3

DSCI 550: Data Science at Scale (4 units)

Fundamentals of big data informatics techniques. Data lifecycle, the data scientist, machine learning, data mining, NoSQL databases, tools for storage/processing/analytics of large data set clusters, in-data techniques. Recommended preparation: basic understanding of engineering and/or technology principles; basic programming skills; background in probability, statistics, linear algebra and machine learning.

SSCI 575: Spatial Data Science (4 units)

Introduction to the spatial data scientific approach to issues and a holistic generalizable analysis pipeline.

SEMESTER 4

Data Science Elective Courses: (Choose one course for 4 units)

CSCI 587: Geospatial Information Management (4 units)

Techniques to efficiently store, manipulate, index and query geospatial information in support of real-world geographical and decision-making applications. Note: SSCI 582 meets the CSCI 585 prerequisite for CSCI 587 and must be taken before it.

DSCI 551: Foundations of Data Management (4 units)

Function and design of modern storage systems, including cloud; data management techniques; data modeling; network-attached storage, clusters and data centers; relational databases; the map-reduce paradigm. Recommended preparation: DSCI 550 taken previously or concurrently; understanding of operating systems, networks and databases; experience with probability, statistics and programming.

DSCI 552: Machine Learning for Data Science (4 units)

Practical applications of machine learning techniques to real-world problems. Uses in data mining and recommendation systems and for building adaptive user interfaces. Recommended preparation: DSCI 550 and DSCI 551 taken previously or concurrently, knowledge of statistics and linear algebra, programming experience.

DSCI 553: Foundations and Applications of Data Mining (4 units)

Data mining and machine learning algorithms for analyzing very large data sets. Emphasis on MapReduce. Case studies. Recommended Preparation: DSCI 550, DSCI 551 and DSCI 552. Knowledge of probability, linear algebra, basic programming and machine learning.

DSCI 554: Information Visualization (4 units)

Graphical depictions of data for communication, analysis and decision support. Cognitive processing and perception of visual data and visualizations. Designing effective visualizations. Implementing interactive visualizations.

DSCI 555: Interaction Design and Usability Testing (4 units)

Understand and apply user interface theory and techniques to design, build and test responsive applications that run on mobile devices and/or desktops. Recommended preparation: knowledge of data management, machine learning, data mining and data visualization.

DSCI 560: Data Informatics Professional Practicum (4 units)

Project- and presentation-based capstone to degree. Student teams work on external customer data analytic challenges. Real client data and implementable solutions for delivery to actual stakeholders. Recommended preparation: Knowledge of data management, machine learning, data mining and data visualization.

Spatial Elective Courses: (Choose one course for 4 units)

SSCI 582: Spatial Databases (4 units)

Design, implementation and interrogation of relational, object-oriented and other types of geospatial databases. Recommended preparation: SSCI 581.

SSCI 583: Spatial Analysis (4 units)

Design, implementation and interrogation of relational, object-oriented and other types of geospatial databases. Recommended preparation: SSCI 583.

SSCI 591: Web and Mobile GIS (4 units)

Design and implementation of locally served and cloud-based geospatial web applications. Construction of web maps, mashups and volunteered geographic information interfaces. Recommended preparation: SSCI 581.

Requirements for graduation, course offerings, course availability and any other elements of the degree are subject to change. Students should consult an academic advisor prior to registering for classes.

M.S. in Spatial Economics and Data Analysis (32 units)

The USC Master of Science in Spatial Economics and Data Analysis combines economics, data science and spatial science and then applies their principles to current societal challenges. Students benefit from cross-departmental course options and accessible faculty in both the Department of Economics and the Spatial Sciences Institute.

Despite its focus on valuable specialized technical skills, this program doesn’t neglect the teaching of professional skills. Students are given assignments with opportunities for public speaking, collaboration with peers and the creation of portfolio-ready projects.

GISP Certification Prep

This program helps prepare students for the geographic information systems professional (GISP) portfolio and exam requirements. To sit for the exam, individuals must create a portfolio and accumulate a certain number of points, which can be earned through academic coursework and professional activities such as conferences. This master’s program provides students with many opportunities to earn points, but students will have to acquire additional points beyond the program.

Learning Objectives

Graduates of the USC master’s in spatial economics and data analysis program will complete the program with:

  • An in-depth understanding of the fundamentals of spatial economics
  • The ability to apply spatial analysis and modeling approaches to identify new business opportunities and urban policy solutions
  • Valuable research experience in analyzing spatial “big data”
  • Professional development within the field of spatial analysis

Year 1

SEMESTER 1

ECON 500: Microeconomic Analysis and Policy (4 units)

Theories of the household and the firm, product and factor markets, perfect and imperfect competition, welfare criteria.

SSCI 581: Concepts of Spatial Thinking (4 units)

The unique characteristics and importance of spatial information as they relate to the evolving science, technology and applications of geographic information systems.

SEMESTER 2

ECON 513: Practice of Econometrics (4 units)

Application of econometric tools using standard econometric software packages for microcomputers. Empirical applications to selected economic problems of estimation and inference.

SSCI 583: Spatial Analysis (4 units)

Design, implementation and interrogation of relational, object-oriented and other types of geospatial databases. Recommended preparation: SSCI 583.

Year 2

SEMESTER 3

ECON 570: Big Data Econometrics (4 units)

Provides an introduction to the theory and practice of causal econometrics in modern settings of large-scale data.

SSCI 574: Spatial Econometrics (4 units)

Theoretical foundations, methods, techniques and software systems for spatial econometrics and investigating the effects of both spatial dependence and spatial heterogeneity.

SEMESTER 4

Choice of One ECON Elective:

ECON 506: Field Experiments (4 units)

Learn to design, analyze and interpret field experiments and understand their practical significance to applied economics, business and policy.

ECON 584: Economic Consulting and Applied Econometrics (4 units)

Economic methods to analyze issues of intellectual property, environmental damage, trademark infringement, brand value and consumer demand, using an applied econometric approach. Prerequisite: ECON 513.

ECON 587: Urban Economics (4 units)

The role of designing incentives to reduce negative urban externalities as well as the interplay between spatial big data and testing urban economics hypotheses. Recommended preparation: Statistics or Econometrics.

Choice of One SSCI Elective:

SSCI 575: Spatial Data Science (4 units)

Introduce the spatial data scientific approach to issues and present a holistic generalizable analysis pipeline. Recommended preparation: SSCI 581.

SSCI 582: Spatial Databases (4 units)

Design, implementation and interrogation of relational, object-oriented and other types of geospatial databases. Recommended preparation: SSCI 581.

SSCI 589: Cartography and Visualization (4 units)

Principles of visual perception, spatial cognition and cartographic design and their contributions to the maps, animations, virtual reality and multimedia displays produced with modern GIS.

M.A. in Global Security Studies

The M.A. in Global Security Studies program combines spatial sciences, global security and international relations coursework to allow students to develop a master’s-level foundation in the human impacts of sociopolitical and environmental crises. The M.A. GSEC course sequence is grounded in real-world relevance: students will participate in case study analysis, a required eight-week practicum and an internship in order to gain first-hand experience with the challenges they may encounter in future positions.

Requirements for graduation, course offerings, course availability, track offerings and any other degree requirements are subject to change.

Students should consult with an academic advisor in the Spatial Sciences Institute prior to registering for any classes.

GISP Certification Prep

This program helps prepare students for the geographic information systems professional (GISP) portfolio and exam requirements. To sit for the exam, individuals must create a portfolio and accumulate a certain number of points, which can be earned through academic coursework and professional activities such as conferences. This master’s program provides students with many opportunities to earn points, but students will have to acquire additional points beyond the program.

Learning Objectives

Upon completing the M.A. in Global Security Studies program, students will have developed the ability to:

  • Effectively apply major theoretical approaches of global governance, conflict resolution and human security to specific policy areas such as national intelligence, transnational crime, environmental security, humanitarian intervention and global human rights
  • Critically evaluate the impact of natural and human-caused threats to global populations through the use of testimonies, spatial analysis and geospatial visualization methodologies
  • Understand the work of a key organization in the global security community through an internship experience
  • Develop the briefing and presentation skills necessary for professionals leading policy change

Year 1

FALL SEMESTER

In the SSCI course sequence, students gain experience in cutting-edge geospatial analytical methodologies and technologies that support policy research, analysis and recommendations.

GSEC 501: Foundations of Global Security (4 units)

A survey of theories and challenges relating to international relation and security studies broadly defined from WWI to present conflicts, including human, environmental and economic concepts.

SSCI 581: Concepts of Spatial Thinking (4 units)

The unique characteristics and importance of spatial information as they relate to the evolving science, technology and applications of geographic information systems.

Year 1

SPRING SEMESTER

GSEC 510: Security and Global Governance (4 units)

Major theoretical approaches to the study of war; focus is on recent issues in security studies.

SSCI 577: Human Security and Disaster Management (4 units)

The relationship between human security (population growth, urbanization, conflict) and disasters, both human-caused and natural, where complex emergencies are impactful to human populations.

Year 1

SUMMER SEMESTER

During the summer semester bridging the first and second year of the program, students participate in a practicum that includes a problems-based learning policy (PBL) exercise, which includes an eight-week full-time internship. The internship options are identified by the program faculty, staff and students with a broad array of contacts in the global securities community. During the practicum, students will identify a policy issue of interest and will begin framing recommendations for addressing that policy issue.

GSEC 597: Global Security Practicum (8 units)

Immersion in an off-site internship coupled with a problem-based learning component in policy implementation under faculty direction.

Year 2

FALL SEMESTER

In the second-year fall semester, students build upon the policy foundation and skills mastered in their first-year courses and the summer practicum experience and delve more deeply into principles and applications of global securities policies and practices.

GSEC 511: Transnational Crime and Global Illicit Networks (4 units)

Introduction to and overview of transnational organized crime; its effects on international security, political, social and economic development of countries around the world.

GSEC 512: National Intelligence and Global Security (4 units)

Exploration of how intelligence affects global security and the formation and implementation of foreign and security policy.

Year 2

SPRING SEMESTER

As students complete their spatial sciences sequence in the second-year spring semester, they also prepare and present a policy report on their identified policy issue in the final global security studies course, GSEC 530. This policy report will include a comprehensive review of related existing literature and current research and will offer possible policy prescriptions aimed at mitigating the impact of the problem explored.

GSEC 530: Human Impact of Genocide and Mass Violence (4 units)

Analysis of the consequences of genocide and mass violence on human security and individual wellbeing and an exploration of processes to address mass atrocities.

SSCI 588: Remote Sensing for GIS (4 units)

Principles of remote sensing, satellite systems and role of remote sensing data in GIS applications.

Graduate Certificate in Geographic Information Science and Technology (16 units)

The Graduate Certificate in GIST provides the foundational knowledge for professional advancement utilizing fundamental geographic information science principles and the latest GIS, GPS and remote sensing platforms and applications.

Learning Objectives

Graduates of this program will be able to:

  • Design and implement well-formed database models using appropriate design techniques and relational database software
  • Design and implement strategies for capturing or sourcing geospatial data and accompanying metadata for one or more GIS projects
  • Conduct work tasks in such a way that they achieve at least one of the following:
    • Explain complicated geographic patterns and relationships using the theoretical concepts that form the basis of both commonplace and advanced methods of spatial analysis.
    • Generate geographical information by processing digital remotely sensed data and critically evaluating its use for special one-of-a-kind applications.
    • Design and develop cartographic and other kinds of visualizations for a multimedia, internet-enabled world.
    • Program small-scale, one-of-a-kind GIS-based applications using the Python and/or Java programming languages.
    • Identify and describe the role of people and technology in organizing, planning, monitoring and controlling GIS projects.
  • Critically evaluate the potential impact of data quality on spatial analysis and decision-making outcomes

Students will also gain skills in at least one other area, depending on choice of elective. Electives cover topics ranging from GIS software development to spatial modeling.

SEMESTER 1

SSCI 581: Concepts for Spatial Thinking (4 units)

This course examines the unique characteristics and importance of spatial information as they relate to the evolving science, technology and applications of geographic information systems. It provides the foundation for understanding and applying other concepts and technologies throughout the spatial sciences programs.

SSCI 587: Spatial Data Acquisition (4 units)

This course examines the role of global positioning systems, maps, geocoding and other kinds of sensors as geospatial data sources. Students will also participate in a field data acquisition excursion on Catalina Island, in which they will have opportunities to meet their peers as well as network with leading GIS scientists and other experts.

Recommended preparation: SSCI 581

SEMESTER 2

Elective Courses (8 units) — Choose Two:

SSCI 574: Spatial Econometrics (4 units)

Theoretical foundations, methods, techniques and software systems for spatial econometrics, including the effects of spatial dependence and spatial heterogeneity.

(Recommended prerequisite: SSCI 583 - Spatial Analysis and Modeling; Special permission may be required for registration.)

SSCI 582: Spatial Databases (4 units)

Students will learn how to design and implement geospatial databases. The course also provides hands-on experience with relational, object-oriented and other types of geospatial databases so that students gain practical knowledge of the structure and management of geospatial data.

Recommended preparation: SSCI 581

SSCI 583: Spatial Analysis and Modeling (4 units)

This course provides the knowledge and skills necessary to investigate the spatial patterns which result from social and physical processes operating at or near the Earth’s surface. The focus is on providing an understanding of the theories and context of spatial analysis, preparing students to identify the best analytical tool for a given problem and produce valid, defensible spatial analysis output.

Recommended preparation: SSCI 581

SSCI 585: Geospatial Technology Project Management (4 units)

This course examines the concepts, principles and use of project management tools, with a focus on the common people-centric issues encountered running GIS projects. Topics covered include the geospatial project lifecycle, budgets, risk management, team building and ongoing trends that may influence geospatial project management (e.g. increasing usage of open source software).

Recommended preparation: SSCI 581

SSCI 586: Spatial Programming and Customization (4 units)

This course provides the knowledge and skills for developing customized GIS applications. Students will gain hands-on experience designing, coding and implementing GIS-based software. The course focuses on leveraging programming languages commonly used in GIS software, including Python.

Recommended preparation: SSCI 582

SSCI 588: Remote Sensing for GIS (4 units)

This course examines the principles and technology of remote sensing and role of remote sensing data in GIS applications. Students will learn to implement and evaluate digital image processing methodologies. This course also explores common uses of remote sensing data in human security and environmental sciences.

Recommended preparation: SSCI 581

SSCI 589: Cartography and Visualization (4 units)

Cartography and Visualization: Principles of visual perception, spatial cognition and cartographic design and their contributions to the maps, animations, virtual reality and multimedia displays produced with modern GIS.

SSCI 591: Web and Mobile GIS (4 units)

This course provides essential and practical knowledge developing web-hosted GIS applications. Students will gain experience using a variety of tools commonly used for GIS application development, including Google Maps, ArcGIS and several open source technologies.

Recommended preparation: SSCI 581

Graduate Certificate in Geospatial Intelligence (16 units)

Accredited by the U.S. Geospatial Intelligence Foundation (USGIF), this program helps develop your readiness for careers in disaster management, human security, international relief and many other fields. USGIF accreditation signifies that the USC GEOINT graduate certificate meets the high academic standards to ensure it develops students with the necessary knowledge and skills to succeed in the professional GEOINT workforce.

Learning Objectives

Graduates of this program will be able to:

  • Develop further critical thinking, collaboration and communication skills
  • Understand surveillance, targeting and navigation needs
  • Design and implement strategies for capturing or sourcing geospatial data and any accompanying metadata
  • Critically evaluate potential impacts of data quality on spatial analysis and decision making
  • Master the theory and protocols of radar interpretation, infrared and multispectral imagery, full motion video, legacy maps, digital geospatial datasets and social media feeds
  • Prepare and present intelligence reports tailored to a variety of human security applications

Sample Course Plan (subject to course scheduling)

SEMESTER 1

SSCI 581: Concepts for Spatial Thinking (4 units)

This course examines the unique characteristics and importance of spatial information as they relate to the evolving science, technology and applications of geographic information systems. It provides the foundation for understanding and applying other concepts and technologies throughout the spatial sciences programs.

SSCI 577: Human Security and Disaster Management (4 units)

The relationship between human security (population growth, urbanization, conflict) and disasters, both man-made and natural, where complex emergencies are impactful to human populations.

SEMESTER 2

Choice of Elective

SSCI 576: Remote Sensing Applications and Emerging Technologies (4 units)

This course explores how remote sensing systems provide geospatial information that is relevant, accurate, timely, accessible, cost-effective and available in an appropriate format. Students learn the principles of remote sensing and the technical characteristics and constraints of Earth observation missions. They generate geographical information by processing digital remotely sensed data and critically evaluate its use for human security and environmental applications.

SSCI 585: Geospatial Technology Project Management (4 units)

This course examines the concepts, principles and use of project management tools, with a focus on the common people-centric issues encountered running GIS projects. Topics covered include the geospatial project lifecycle, budgets, risk management, team building and ongoing trends that may influence geospatial project management (e.g. increasing usage of open source software).

Recommended preparation: SSCI 581

SSCI 588: Remote Sensing for GIS (4 units)

This course examines the principles and technology of remote sensing and role of remote sensing data in GIS applications. Students will learn to implement and evaluate digital image processing methodologies. This course also explores common uses of remote sensing data in human security and environmental sciences.

Recommended preparation: SSCI 581

Capstone Course

SSCI 579: Geospatial Intelligence Tradecraft (4 units)

This course explores the practical application of geospatial intelligence, highlighting specific examples of its use in military operations, national security, international relief work and disaster management. Students will gain a comprehensive understanding of the many and varied types of threats that impact human security and how geospatial technologies and methodologies can be used in each type of scenario.

Recommended preparation: SSCI 581

Graduate Certificate in Geospatial Leadership (16 units)

The Geospatial Leadership Certificate program is designed to expand the geospatial knowledge and leadership skills of GIS managers or those who aspire to leadership positions. The capstone course allows you to build a personal leadership plan to position yourself to make high-level and strategic decisions in the geospatial field.

Learning Objectives

Graduates of this program will be able to:

  • Identify the various ways that GIS promotes well-being
  • Shape the results of geospatial information management groups and organizations
  • Apply innovation to influence the successful generation, adoption and deployment of new ideas
  • Evaluate and solve for how disruptive technologies might affect GIS organizations in the future
  • Share your vision for how the GIS field is likely to grow and evolve during the next five to 10 years

CORE COURSES

SSCI 578: The Practice of Geospatial Leadership (4 units)

This course closely examines the way GIS provides value within an organizational context. Students will also learn the qualities and skills leaders need to help their teams form new ideas and how to drive their organizations toward success.

Recommended preparation: SSCI 581

SSCI 585: Geospatial Technology Project Management (4 units)

This course examines the concepts, principles and use of project management tools, with a focus on the common people-centric issues encountered running GIS projects. Topics covered include the geospatial project lifecycle, budgets, risk management, team building and ongoing trends that may influence geospatial project management (e.g. increasing usage of open source software).

Recommended preparation: SSCI 581

ELECTIVES (choose two)

SSCI 574: Spatial Econometrics (4 units)

Theoretical foundations, methods, techniques and software systems for spatial econometrics, including the effects of spatial dependence and spatial heterogeneity.

(Recommended prerequisite: SSCI 583 - Spatial Analysis and Modeling; Special permission may be required for registration.)

SSCI 575: Spatial Data Science (4 units)

Principles, analytical methods and technologies, including spatial algorithms, to extract insights from spatial data and employ predictive modeling.

SSCI 576: Remote Sensing Applications and Emerging Technologies (4 units)

This course explores how remote sensing systems provide geospatial information that is relevant, accurate, timely, accessible, cost-effective and available in an appropriate format. Students learn the principles of remote sensing and the technical characteristics and constraints of Earth observation missions. They generate geographical information by processing digital remotely sensed data and critically evaluate its use for human security and environmental applications.

SSCI 582: Spatial Databases (4 units)

Students will learn how to design and implement geospatial databases. The course also provides hands-on experience with relational, object-oriented and other types of geospatial databases so that students gain practical knowledge of the structure and management of geospatial data.

Recommended preparation: SSCI 581

SSCI 583: Spatial Analysis and Modeling (4 units)

This course provides the knowledge and skills necessary to investigate the spatial patterns which result from social and physical processes operating at or near the Earth’s surface. The focus is on providing an understanding of the theories and context of spatial analysis, preparing students to identify the best analytical tool for a given problem and produce valid, defensible spatial analysis output.

Recommended preparation: SSCI 581

SSCI 586: Spatial Programming and Customization (4 units)

This course provides the knowledge and skills for developing customized GIS applications. Students will gain hands-on experience designing, coding and implementing GIS-based software. The course focuses on leveraging programming languages commonly used in GIS software, including Python.

Recommended preparation: SSCI 582

SSCI 591: Web and Mobile GIS (4 units)

This course provides essential and practical knowledge developing web-hosted GIS applications. Students will gain experience using a variety of tools commonly used for GIS application development, including Google Maps, ArcGIS and several open source technologies.

Recommended preparation: SSCI 581

Graduate Certificate in Remote Sensing for Earth Observation (16 units)

The Graduate Certificate in Remote Sensing for Earth Observation (RSEO) program connects students with the most advanced tools and methods for gathering, managing and analyzing spatial information. The curriculum is designed to help professionals start or advance in a career in working with remote sensing data.

Learning Objectives

Graduates of this program will be able to:

  • Use spatial thinking and concepts with geospatial methodologies and technologies to generate, collect and acquire spatial data in preparation for geospatial analysis, visualization and application.
  • Explain the principles of remote sensing and the technical characteristics and constraints of other spatial data collection missions.
  • Critically evaluate some of the opportunities and available methods for integrating both remotely sensed data and non-traditional spatial data into GIS.
  • Design and conduct a GIS-based project for real-world decision-making.

SEMESTER 1

SSCI 581: Concepts for Spatial Thinking (4 units)

This course examines the unique characteristics and importance of spatial information as they relate to the evolving science, technology and applications of geographic information systems. It provides the foundation for understanding and applying other concepts and technologies throughout the spatial sciences programs.

SSCI 588: Remote Sensing for GIS (4 units)

This course examines the principles and technology of remote sensing and role of remote sensing data in GIS applications. Students will learn to implement and evaluate digital image processing methodologies. This course also explores common uses of remote sensing data in human security and environmental sciences.

Recommended preparation: SSCI 581

SEMESTER 2

SSCI 576: Remote Sensing Applications and Emerging Technologies (4 units)

This course explores how remote sensing systems provide geospatial information that is relevant, accurate, timely, accessible, cost-effective and available in an appropriate format. Students learn the principles of remote sensing and the technical characteristics and constraints of Earth observation missions. They generate geographical information by processing digital remotely sensed data and critically evaluate its use for human security and environmental applications.

Choice of Elective

SSCI 575: Spatial Data Science (4 units)

Principles, analytical methods and technologies, including spatial algorithms, to extract insights from spatial data and employ predictive modeling.

SSCI 587: Spatial Data Acquisition (4 units)

This course examines the role of global positioning systems, maps, geocoding and other kinds of sensors as geospatial data sources. Students will also participate in a field data acquisition excursion on Catalina Island, in which they will have opportunities to meet their peers as well as network with leading GIS scientists and other experts.

Recommended preparation: SSCI 581

SSCI 591: Web and Mobile GIS (4 units)

This course provides essential and practical knowledge developing web-hosted GIS applications. Students will gain experience using a variety of tools commonly used for GIS application development, including Google Maps, ArcGIS and several open source technologies.

Recommended preparation: SSCI 581


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