Hands-on activities for teaching and learning about careers in geography, geosciences, and GIS

05-07-2021 10:20 AM
Esri Frequent Contributor
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How should we teach and learn about careers?

A unique challenge exists  in educating geography and students in related planning, geoscience, and environmental fields about career opportunities.  It is rather uncommon for an employer to advertise an opening for a 'geographer' or even a 'geoscientist' per se, even in cases where a job entails applications of geographic knowledge, skills, and technologies.  At the same time, many employers are simply unfamiliar with what a person with a geography or related geo- degree knows and is able to do.  While this may at first glance seem to put geography and geoscience students at a disadvantage, professional possibilities awaiting geo-  graduates are bountiful and extensive.  Given the challenges facing communities around the world, including natural hazards, economic inequalities, water quality and quantity, affordable housing, and especially since early 2020, human health, I expect that the opportunities will continue to expand in number and in diversity of fields.

Our responsibility as educators and advisors in this context is to engage students in a process of thinking about the significance and potential of their academic preparation in geography and what it means to become a professional geographer or geoscientist.   And then, once a person has achieved this goal, how can one nurture one's skills as a lifelong learner in the field?

I, along with my colleagues Dr Michael Solem, Dr Niem Tu Huynh, and Dr Thomas Larsen, have designed three model activities that are designed to help students identify and understand the range of career options available to them.  The pedagogical approach we advocate goes beyond the 'nuts and bolts' of helping students write cover letters, format resumes, design portfolios, and improve their interviewing skills.  Rather, we focus on ways to prepare students to think analytically about the broader industry trends shaping the future economy, and how their disciplinary expertise connects to the evolving needs of business, government, and nonprofit employer organizations.  We conclude that from this approach, students stand to gain valuable research skills and a newfound appreciation of the broader value of geography and geoscience in a wide array of professional settings.

This engaging set of activities is designed to enable students to understand the many career pathways available to them in geography, geoscience, and GIS, to identify gaps they may have in their skills and knowledge to achieve their career goals, and to begin to take steps to fill those gaps.   After testing these activities in face-to-face workshops at the American Association of Geographers (AAG) annual meetings and in an online format at the 2021 AAG meeting, we have concluded that they work equally well in both formats. 

My activity, entitled Examining Career Skills Necessary to Apply Geography to Solve Problems Using GIS, focuses on key questions that can be asked and analyzed through the use of the annual Esri Map Books.  Dr Larsen's and Dr Tu Huynh's activity is entitled Transcending Boundaries: Applying Geography Knowledge, Skills, and Practices across Disciplines, and makes use of a variety of sources including a fascinating interdisciplinary circle-and-spoke diagram.  Dr Solem and Dr Adams' activity is entitled Evaluating Your Professional Qualifications Using a Gap Analysis, and makes use of the AAG careers website and the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook.  

How can you access and use these materials?  

The activities described in this essay are provided in Chapter 32 of this book The Handbook for Teaching and Learning in Geography, by Helen Walkington, Jennifer Hill and Sarah Dyer, published by Edward Elgar Publishing.  In addition, my colleague Dr Thomas Larsen placed our activities in this resource link so that you can readily access them.  Click on each of the authors' names at the top to access the materials. 

Another resource comes from a story map that I will present when I conduct a webinar on 11 May for the Geological Society of America.   The webinar is entitled Career Pathways for Geoscientists using GIS.  I highly recommend that you join us for this event, as it will be lively, packed with information and fun hands-on activities, and provide ample time for reflection and conversation:   Join geographer and GIS educator Joseph Kerski as we examine why geotechnologies such as GIS, web mapping, remote sensing, GNSS-GPS, and related tools are important to society, to science, and to your own career path. What are the forces and trends that are acting on GIS in the 2020s, and what skills will be important going forward? We will also explore how you can engage with tools, data, educational resources, and the community of geotechnology practitioners. We will allow for plenty of time to answer your questions about geotechnologies and your career path.  Register here.


Webinar on Careers for the Geological Society of America.  Please join us!  If you cannot make it, it will be recorded, and I will also share my story map with the webinar's contents in this essay.

Further reflections, along with other practical advice, are provided in a chapter I co-authored in the Practicing Geography book published by Pearson.  As the book's title indicates, this book is filled with practical advice on developing and nurturing geographic content, skills, and perspectives, suitable for undergraduates, graduate students, new professors, tenured professors, and geographers in government, nonprofits, and private industry.  Our chapter is entitled Geography Education and Career Readiness, by Joy K. Adams, Niem Tu Huynh, Joseph J. Kerski, and G. Brent Hall, wonderful colleagues, all.  


The activities described in this essay are provided in Chapter 32 of this book The Handbook for Teaching and Learning in Geography, by Helen Walkington, Jennifer Hill and Sarah Dyer, published by Edward Elgar Publishing.


The activities described in the this essay are also available at this link, and pictured above, thanks to my colleague Dr Thomas Larsen.

About the Author
I believe that spatial thinking can transform education and society through the application of Geographic Information Systems for instruction, research, administration, and policy. I hold 3 degrees in Geography, have served at NOAA, the US Census Bureau, and USGS as a cartographer and geographer, and teach a variety of F2F (Face to Face) (including T3G) and online courses. I have authored a variety of books and textbooks about the environment, STEM, GIS, and education. These include "Interpreting Our World", "Essentials of the Environment", "Tribal GIS", "The GIS Guide to Public Domain Data", "International Perspectives on Teaching and Learning with GIS In Secondary Education", "Spatial Mathematics" and others. I write for 2 blogs, 2 monthly podcasts, and a variety of journals, and have created over 5,000 videos on the Our Earth YouTube channel. Yet, as time passes, the more I realize my own limitations and that this is a lifelong learning endeavor and thus I actively seek mentors and collaborators.