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Undergraduate Catalog 2012

Geography and Environmental Systems


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Eugene P. Parker

Associate Professors

Mathew Baker
Erle Ellis
Jeffrey B. Halverson
Christopher M. Swan

Clinical Associate Professor

Sari J. Bennett

Assistant Professors

Dawn Biehler
Margaret Holland
David Lansing
Robert Neff
Junmei Tang

Senior Lecturer

Thomas D. Rabenhorst

Associate Staff

Joseph School

Adjunct Faculty

Scott Jeffrey
Michael R. Ratcliffe

Affiliate Assistant Professors [JCET]

Petya Entcheva Campbell
Karl Fred Huemmrich
Amita Metha
Ali Tokay

Affiliate Research Faculty

Peter Groffman
Steward T. A. Pickett
Richard V. Pouyat

Professor Emerius

Roger N. Dubois
Robert J. Earickson
Keith Harries


Suzanne Braunschweig
Erwin Villiger

Affiliate Faculty

Karin E. Readel
Juying Warner


Andrew Miller

Courses in this program are listed under GES .

For updated and current information, visit our department Web site:

The discipline of geography traditionally encompasses the study of spatial patterns in both the natural and cultural environment. The dynamic and interdisciplinary character of the field is becoming increasingly relevant for a range of societal and environmental problems, including those related to urban and suburban economic development, poverty and crime, human health, water resources and water quality, land and soil resources, biodiversity, habitat loss and climate change. The department’s name, Geography and Environmental Systems, highlights the importance of interactions between natural environmental systems and social, political and economic systems. A rigorous background including courses in the natural sciences, mathematics and social sciences is also essential to the development of analytical skills and is, therefore, a required element of our degree programs. The undergraduate curriculum and the research agenda of the department’s faculty provide multiple opportunities for students to acquire both breadth and depth in their training and to engage in the study of problems whose importance is becoming more and more evident.

For students interested in environmental problems, natural resources and environmental conservation, a study of the impact of human activities on environmental systems includes elements of both physical and human geography. Physical geography investigates such matters as the development of landforms; patterns of climate, soils and vegetation; and interactions among these features of the physical environment. Human geography examines topics including the distribution of economic development, transportation, crime and urbanization; political, cultural and social geography; and spatial distributions of disease and health care.

Techniques and tools of spatial analysis that are widely used by geographers include cartography, remote sensing and geographic information systems, all of which involve extensive application of computer technology. The department’s program is designed to prepare students for any of three principal post-graduation activities: graduate school, a career in business or government or a career in education. The department offers both bachelor of arts and bachelor of science degrees; majors are expected to complete the prescribed number of credits of course work within the department, as well as work in complementary disciplines. In addition, students in their junior and senior years are encouraged to gain practical experience through internships.

The department offers two additional degree programs, a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Science, and a Bachelor of Arts in Environmental Studies along with a minor in Environmental Science. For more information specific to those degrees, see Environmental Science and Environmental Studies. Please note, students majoring in Geography can not pursue a second major (or minor) in the areas of Environmental Science or Studies since these degrees are awarded from the same department. The department also offers a minor in Geography and certificate programs in Geographic Information Science (GIScience) and Teaching. The GIS certificate is available to both majors and non-majors. The Teaching certificate requires a student to major in one of the Department's four academic areas.

Along with the four undergraduate programs offered by the department there is an option for a Five-year B.S./M.S. Degree Pathway Program for qualified students. Undergraduate students interested in this program should consult with their GES faculty advisor as early in their academic career as possible.

Career and Academic Paths

Graduates may find employment with companies seeking expertise in geographic information systems and remote sensing, cartography, planning, facility location, distribution and transportation problems, and environmental consulting and analysis. Public-sector employment opportunities include city and county planning and zoning agencies, the Census Bureau, teaching (including environmental education), law enforcement agencies, the U.S. Geological Survey, the Maryland Geological Survey, the Environmental Protection Agency, state environmental and natural resources management agencies, transportation planning, the Commerce Department, State Department, Peace Corps and CIA. Private-sector opportunities are generally available with GIS and Environmental consulting companies along with firms specializing in areas related to the environment.   Additional opportunities are sometimes available with non-profit organizations. UMBC students who choose to seek advanced degrees after completing the bachelor’s degree may choose from a range of programs in geography or in other disciplines, such as public policy, urban planning, earth and environmental sciences, and environmental engineering. Graduate programs attended by our students include those at University of California, Santa Barbara; Pennsylvania State University; Cal Tech; University of Georgia; The Johns Hopkins University; University of Arizona; University of Michigan; Duke and Louisiana State University.

Academic Advising

Students who decide to major in geography will meet regularly with a faculty advisor to determine what combination of courses, selected from within Geography and Environmental Systems and from other disciplines, are best suited to meeting their goals. Those who plan to attend graduate school also are strongly encouraged to gain proficiency in statistical techniques. Students should consult with faculty advisors to ensure that their academic background includes appropriate prerequisites if they are interested in pursuing graduate degrees in other disciplines.

Major Programs

The department offers two major programs, a bachelor of arts (B.A.) and a bachelor of science (B.S.). The B.A. requires a minimum of 48 credits, including 44 credits in geography and environmental systems courses.  The BS degree requires a minimum of 63 credits, including 41 credits in geography and environmental systems courses.

Both degree programs require all students to complete the following 14 credits of core courses:

  • GES 102 Human Geography
  • GES 110 Physical Geography
  • GES 286 Exploring the Environment: A Geo-Spatial Perspective
  • GES 386 Introduction to Geographic Information Systems


In addition to the core courses identified above, a minimum of 30 additional credits in other departmental electives is required. Distribution requirements are as follows:

Four human geography courses, chosen from the sequences GES 320-369, 420-469 and sections of selected topics courses (GES 302 or 400) that are designated by department faculty as meeting the distribution requirement. At least one of these four courses must be at the 400 level.

Two upper-division physical geography electives chosen from the following sequences:

GES 305-319, 405-419 or sections of special topics courses (GES 302 or 400) designated by department faculty as meeting the distribution requirement

Four additional GES electives, three of the courses must be at the 300 level or above, and at least one of which must be a 400-level course.

Internship and independent study do not count toward the minimum number of credits required for the B.A. degree.

All students, upon declaring the geography major, will be expected to take GES 286 and a statistics course the first semester each course is offered, following satisfaction of any prerequisites.

Other courses

All students must complete an outside statistics course to be selected from among the following:

  • STAT 121, 350, 351 or 355.
  • For GFR students a 300 level writing or a WI course is required.
    (Note: all GEP students are required to take a WI course).

No course in which the student has earned a grade lower than C; shall count toward the major requirements. No course taken on a P/F basis shall count toward the major.


In addition to the core courses identified above, a minimum of 27 additional credits in other departmental electives is required.

Distribution requirements for these are as follows:

  • Four physical geography/ environmental science courses, chosen from the sequences:
  • GES 111 or GES 120, GES 305-319, 405-419 and sections of selected topics courses (GES 302 or 400) that are designated by department faculty as meeting the distribution requirement.

At least one of these four courses must be a 400-level course; no more than one of the four may be a 100-level course.

Note: Either GES 111: Principles of Geology OR GES 120: Environmental Science and Conservation may be taken for credit toward the degree requirements, but not both.

PLUS Two upper-division human geography electives chosen from the following sequences:

  • GES 320-369, 420-469
  • sections of special topics courses (GES 302 or 400) designated by department faculty as meeting the distribution requirement.

PLUS three additional electives at the 300 or 400 level, at least one of which must be a 400-level course.

Internship and independent study do not count toward the 41 credits within the department that are required for the B.S. degree.

Other courses

Six courses representing a minimum of 22 credits in mathematics and natural sciences, to be selected in consultation with the student’s faculty adviser, as follows:

  • MATH 151
  • and STAT 350, 351 OR 355

Two of the following:

  • BIOL 141
  • CHEM 101
  • PHYS 111
  • PHYS 121

One additional course to complete a year of study in either biology, chemistry, physics, or math and statistics, to be selected from the following list:

  • BIOL 142
  • CHEM 102
  • PHYS 112 OR 122
  • MATH 152, 221 OR 225
  • STAT 414

Note: GES 308 (Ecology) may be substituted for BIOL 142.

One additional elective from the above list, or a computer programming course, or another math / science course with approval of adviser.

A grade of C; or better is required in each course needed to fulfill the B.S. requirements. No course taken on a P/F basis shall count toward the major.

Five-year B.S./M.S. Pathway Degree

To gain entrance into this program a student must see their advisor for guidance. The advisor will verify that the student's academic progress is sufficiently advanced to allow successful completion of the requisite graduate-level courses while also completing the requirements for the Bachelor's degree in their senior year. Given advisor consent and approval by the GES graduate program director, students in their Junior year secure permission to join the pathway, allowing them to take up to three graduate-level courses, including GES 601/602, during their senior year. This permission requires a form filled out by the student and signed by the GPD that the student files with the UMBC Graduate School (Application form). In their Senior year, students then take the GRE and apply for admission to the GES MS program following the regular graduate admissions process. Remember, see your advisor to find out more.  

Minor Program

To earn a minor in geography in conjunction with a bachelor of arts or science degree in another discipline, students must complete a minimum of 18 credits, with a C; or higher required for minor course credit. No course taken on a P/F basis shall count toward the minor.

Required courses include:

  • GES 102 Human Geography
  • GES 110 Physical Geography

PLUS Any four upper-division courses in geography and environmental systems, excepting internships or independent study.

Departmental Honors

Students who maintain a cumulative grade point average of at least 3.25 and a grade point average of at least 3.5 in the major are eligible to graduate with departmental honors after successful completion of GES 499: Honors Thesis. UMBC requires a total of nine credits in departmental honors courses for all students wishing to graduate with honors. GES 499 accounts for three credits; the remaining six credits may be earned by completion of formally; designated honors courses or by arrangement with faculty to complete additional honors work in regular departmental courses. Eligibility to enroll in GES 499 requires senior standing, maintenance of the minimum grade point average through the end of the previous academic semester, completion of at least one 400-level course in a topic area related to the thesis research and permission of the student’s faculty advisor. GES 499 is to be completed in addition to other 400-level courses required for the B.S. or B.A. degree in geography.

Departmental Certificate

Certificate in Geographic Information Science (GIScience) - The Certificate in Geographic Information Science is designed for students who want to supplement their major with an additional certification recognizing their proficiency in GIS, RS and cartographic techniques.  A student must have a B or better average in the certificate courses, and no course with a grade lower than a C can count toward the certificate. No course substitutions are allowed for Program Requirements.  Students should consult with an academic advisor to effectively complete the certificate requirements.

Required Core Courses [25 credits]:
GES 286
GES 381
GES 383
GES 386
GES 486

Electives (choose two) [minimum 6 credits]
GES 405 Applied Landscape Ecology
GES 419 Watershed Analysis
GES 462 GIS and Human-Environmental Systems
GES 480 Advanced Cartographic Applications
GES 481 Remote Sensing of the Environment
GES 485 Field Research in Geography
GES 488 Spatial Data Analysis and GIS Applications
GES 483 Internship in GIS

Geography/Social Studies Secondary Teaching Certification Program The Department of Geography and Environmental Systems offers a program for majors who wish to become certified to teach geography/social studies at the secondary level. This program has been approved by the Maryland State Department of Education. Students must consult with a departmental advisor for information on the academic courses required for this program. For the most up to date certificate information please go to the department Web site:

Evening Option

Evening courses are offered occasionally, but generally, no more than one to three evening courses are offered in a single semester. Required core courses are almost always offered during daytime hours only.

Special Opportunities

The department’s cartography and geographic information systems (GIS) laboratories provide state-of-the-art facilities for students interested in analysis and presentation of spatial data. Faculty projects and special cooperative initiatives with government agencies provide opportunities for students to use these tools in answering vital research questions. Numerous internship opportunities are available for students who wish to pursue a practical work experience with local, state or federal government agencies; private corporations or non-profit organizations. Some, but not all, of these are paid internships. In addition, the department offers in-house internships for students enrolled in the cartography or geographic information science applications certificate programs. Advanced students also have the opportunity to work with faculty on a range of research projects in human geography, physical geography and environmental science. Several of our students also have won competitive awards to pursue their own independent research projects through the Provost’s Undergraduate Research Initiative.