Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Programs: Standout Professors & Departments

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University of Southern California - Dornsife Spatial Sciences Institute

The University of Southern California is a private research university in Los Angeles founded in 1880. USC is the birthplace of the Domain Name System for use on the internet, and the school was one of the earliest institutions to establish a node on ARPANET, an early internet network. Some other technologies invented at USC include antivirus software, image compression, and DNA computing.

The Dornsife Spatial Sciences Institute hosts a handful of innovative online graduate degrees in GIS, including master of science degrees in geographic information science, technology, human security, and geospatial intelligence. There are also a number of graduate certifications in GIST, geospatial leadership, and remote sensing for earth observation.

Dr. Steven Fleming is a professor of the practice of spatial sciences at the University of Southern California’s Dornsife Spatial Sciences Institute, where he researches and teaches the dynamic mapping of coastal regions; emerging terrestrial, airborne, and space-based image collection systems; the applications of geospatial technologies for national defense; and online, blended education/training using mobile devices. He served as the deputy head of the Department of Geography and Environmental Engineering at the United States Military Academy.

He holds PhD and MA degrees in geography from the University of Georgia, an MA in national security and strategic studies from the Naval War College, and a BS in computer science from the United States Military Academy at West Point.

Dr. Andrew Marx is an associate professor of the practice of spatial sciences at the University of Southern California’s Dornsife Spatial Sciences Institute, where he researches and teaches remote sensing analysis, public policy, digital image processing of satellite readings, unmanned aerial system imagery and algorithm development, spatial data analysis, and visualization of data in Python and IDL programming settings. He also teaches courses in spatial computing, spatial data acquisition, and GIS programming and customization. Previously, Dr. Marx was an assistant professor of geographic information systems at Claremont Graduate University’s Center for Information Systems and Technology and also acted as a foreign affairs analyst for the US Department of State.

He holds a PhD in geographical sciences from the University of Maryland, an MUP in urban planning from UC Berkeley, and a BS in humanities from the US Air Force Academy.

Dr. Jennifer Swift is an associate professor of spatial sciences at the University of Southern California’s Dornsife Spatial Sciences Institute. Dr. Swift’s research focuses on the ways that web and mobile GIS intersect. She has taught courses in geospatial modeling and customization, human populations and natural hazards, advanced cyberinfrastructure, the principles of geographic information science, concepts for spatial thinking, spatial databases, web GIS, and geospatial technology project management. She is also a certified GIS professional by the GISCI and has served as thesis advisor for dozens of GIS MS students. Previously, she was as an assistant professor of earthquake engineering at Bogaziçi University, Istanbul, Turkey.

She holds a PhD in geophysics from Bogaziçi University, Istanbul, an MSc in geology from the University of Northern Illinois, and a BS in geochemistry from Bowling Green State University.

Dr. Robert Vos is an assistant professor of spatial sciences and the director of graduate studies at the University of Southern California’s Dornsife Spatial Sciences Institute, where he researches and teaches industrial ecology, life cycle assessment, eco-industrial park planning, and sustainability indicators. Dr. Vos is an expert in using GIS tools to improve the measurement of carbon footprint methods and has published considerably on theories and concepts of sustainability. He is also co-editor of the book Flashpoints in Environmental Policymaking: Controversies in Achieving Sustainability.

He holds PhD and MA degrees in political science and a BA in the study of the city—all obtained from the University of Southern California.

Dr. John Wilson is the founding director of the Spatial Sciences Institute and the director of the Wilson Map Lab, as well as a professor of sociology and spatial sciences. He strives to create informative models of human and environmental systems through spatial analysis and GIS—a topic about which he has published extensively. He is the author of the book “Environmental Applications of Digital Terrain Modeling” (Wiley 2018) and has two edited volumes: “Terrain Analysis: Principles and Applications” (Wiley 2000) and the “Handbook of Geographic Information Science” (Blackwell 2008).

Dr. Wilson also sits on the editorial boards for several prestigious scholarly journals, including the International Journal of Disaster Response & Emergency Management, the Annals of the Association of American Geographers Review of Books, the Journal of Geo-Spatial Information Science, and Open Geospatial Data, Software, & Standards. He also founded Transactions in GIS , where he still serves as editor-in-chief.

He holds his PhD in geography from the University of Toronto, in addition to a law degree, an MSc, and a BSc—all from the University of Canterbury.

University of Maryland, College Park - Department of Geographical Sciences

The University of Maryland is the state’s flagship institution and it is also the largest university in the state’s system and the Washington DC metropolitan area. The university offers 127 undergraduate degrees and 112 graduate degrees in thirteen colleges and schools.

The Department of Geographical Sciences at the University of Maryland offers credentialing at both the bachelor’s and master’s level in geospatial information sciences (GIS) and geospatial intelligence (GEOINT). The school operates the Center for Geospatial Information Science, which is “focused on enriching the undergraduate and graduate student education and research experience through a mixture of research and education.”

Dr. Ralph Dubayah is a professor of geographical sciences at the University of Maryland, College Park. His areas of interest and research include the remote sensing of ecosystem structures, the terrestrial carbon balance, active remote sensing, surface energy balance, lidar, radar, biodiversity, land surface energy and water balance modeling, ecosystem characterization for carbon modeling, and spatial analysis and modeling.

Dr. Dubayah received his BA in geography from the University of California, Berkeley, and his MA and PhD degrees in geography from the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Dr. Laura Duncanson is an associate professor of geographical studies at the University of Maryland, College Park. Her research interests include lidar remote sensing, data fusion, forest biomass, and forest degradation. She leads courses in how forests occupy space and how that relates to carbon stocks using applied questions of algorithm development for forest biomass mapping, as well as ecology questions about the structural diversity of forests on a global scale.

Dr. Duncanson holds a PhD from UMD, an MSc from the University of Victoria, and a BSc from Queen’s University.

Dr. Leila De Floriani is a professor in the Department of Geographical Sciences and at the University of Maryland Institute for Advanced Computer Studies (UMIACS). Her research interests include terrain modeling and analysis, spatial data structures, big data analysis through topological methods, geospatial data visualization, and social network analysis. She previously held an appointment as a professor of computer science at the University of Genova in Italy, where she was director of the PhD program in computer science.

Notably, Dr. De Floriani is an associate editor of Graphical Models, ACM Transactions on Spatial Algorithms and Systems, and GeoInformatica.

Dr. Tatiana Loboda is an associate professor in the Department of Geographical Sciences at the University of Maryland, College Park, where her research interests include wildland fire, biodiversity, boreal forests, tundra biomes, climate change, and public health, among others. She also studies the impact of climate change on arctic ecosystems, in addition to the implications for indigenous peoples and biodiversity. Dr. Loboda utilizes satellite observations of land surface conditions to assess the impacts of conservation policies on poor rural communities and malaria outbreaks in the tropics.

Dr. Loboda earned her BA from the Moscow Pedagogical State University and her MA and PhD degrees from the University of Maryland, College Park.

Dr. Taylor Oshan is an assistant professor of spatial sciences at the University of Maryland, College Park’s Department of Geographical Sciences, where he researches spatial analysis, statistics, data science, geographic information science, modeling human processes within urban environments, computational social science, and urban informatics. One of Dr. Oshan’s major projects is designing and building an app to model obesity rates across Phoenix, which is an open source Python implementation of MGWR.

Dr. Oshan holds a PhD in geography from Arizona State University, an MA in geography from CUNY Hunter College, and a BA in history from the University of Delaware.

University of Waterloo, Department of Geography and Environmental Management

Although not an American institution, the University of Waterloo’s Department of Geography and Environmental Management boasts a highly-multicultural staff with a diverse, cutting-edge curriculum. Bordering the Great Lakes in Ontario, Canada, Waterloo offers both graduate and undergraduate degrees and takes a “research-infused” approach to GIS education, balancing coursework with equal parts field forays and text/data studies.

Regardless of the level of one’s education, the GEM is divided into four disciplines: earth systems science, economy and society, geomatics, and climate change and environment. These four broad pathways offer control and flexibility for students who want to sample the wide range of science courses that Waterloo offers. Expect coursework in climate change, population dynamics, wetlands, food systems, environmental health, water resources science, water resources management, climatology, spatial analysis, internet mapping, remote sensing, and database development.

Dr. Jean Andrey is an associate professor of geography and dean of the environment faculty at the University of Waterloo’s Department of Geography and Environmental Management. As a graduate professor and supervisor, Dr. Andrey works in the disciplines of weather and society, hazards, climate change impacts and adaptation, transportation planning, and road safety. She teaches courses on becoming a geographer, the geography of transportation, and an introduction to environmental research methods.

She holds a PhD in geography from the University of Waterloo.

Dr. Peter Deadman is an associate professor and chair of geography and spatial systems at the University of Waterloo. His research, teaching, and lecturing interests include land-use change, agent-based models, wetland vegetation models, climate change impacts on water resources, enterprise GIS, geodatabase design, spatial analysis with GIS, spatial data and databases, spatial data handling, computer cartography, and the applications of GIS. Notably, Dr. Deadman applies agent-based models to understand the land use strategies of multi-sited forest farmers in the Amazon estuary.

He holds a PhD in natural resources from the University of Arizona.

Dr. Chris Fletcher is an associate professor and associate chair for graduate studies in the Department of Geography and Environmental Management at the University of Waterloo. His research uses computer modeling of global climate systems to deepen understanding of climate change and covers the role of atmospheric circulation in determining regional patterns of temperature and precipitation in past, present, and future climates. As a graduate advisor and supervisor, he consults on tropical-extratropical teleconnections and seasonal-to-decadal climate variability, land-ocean-atmosphere interaction, snow albedo feedback, and climate modelling.

Dr. Richard Kelly is professor and chair of the Department of Geography and Environmental Management at the University of Waterloo, where he supervises graduate students in the areas of remote sensing, snow climatology, geospatial modelling of snow, citizen science, snow and ice hydrology, remote sensing to estimate global water storage in seasonal snowpacks, and how in situ measurement strategies can be deployed to support remote sensing observations and numerical hydrologic models of snow. Recently, Dr. Kelley has led courses in remote sensing, earth systems science, and advanced remote sensing techniques.

Dr. Jonathan Li is a professor of geography and environmental management and head of the mobile sensing and geodata science laboratory at the University of Waterloo’s Department of Geography and Environmental Management. In the GIS graduate studies program, he supervises multispectral and SAR remote sensing, laser scanning, object-based image analysis, remote scanning, 3D urban modeling and spatial analysis, terrain analysis in hydrogeography, and geomatics solutions to disaster management. Professor Li teaches courses on China’s diversity and dynamism, geodesy, surveying, multivariate statistics, and urban remote sensing.


Schools that meet our criteria for designation as one with a fantastic GIS program must:

  • Offer comprehensive program(s) centered around geographic information systems that prioritize undergraduate and graduate learning.
  • Assign cutting-edge curriculum that integrates research from contemporary scholarship.
  • Boast a demonstrated history of student satisfaction in academics, facilities, and curricula.
  • Retain a staff of credentialed and peer-reviewed scientists and GIS experts.

To be marked for inclusion on our list of top-rated speech pathology professors and faculty, we look at the following criteria:

  • University Affiliation: GIS faculty on this list must currently be employed in instruction or research at an accredited university or college.
  • Professional Commitment: Together with whatever research, teaching, or leadership obligations these GIS professors might have, some have risen to positions like faculty dean or program director or have taken advisory positions on the boards of public firms.
  • Peer Recognition: In their dedication to the field of geography and the technology used to research it, faculty who have set themselves apart may have received special recognition for their published work, grants or allotments for research or funding, or excellence in teaching awards.
  • Publication: In addition to having been featured extensively in peer-reviewed journals, many of the professionals on our list show publication expertise in the areas of quarterly, personal, and mainstream literature, or have been featured in various media.

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