Understanding our world and its people

As international events unfold each day, the need to understand the many lands, cultures and people that make up our world has never been greater. Elon’s Department of History and Geography offers minors in geography and geographic information systems (GIS) that will vastly expand your knowledge of the physical characteristics of the globe and the intricacies that make each region distinctive.

The study of geography involves much more than memorizing locations and learning to use maps. At Elon, you will explore how the location of a country, region or society affects world economies, politics, cultures and ecosystems. You will also gain experience with the latest technology used in the study of geography through courses in GIS — computer systems used to store and analyze spatially referenced data.

Through courses in GIS, remote sensing, physical geography and human environment interactions, you will be better prepared for virtually any field of work or study. A geography or GIS minor will also complement your major area of study and give you an advantage in fields such as business, education, research and government service.

I majored in Political Science and the Geography minor helped provide me with another set of tools for analyzing the world that we live in. It helped me to become more aware of and more knowledge of pressing global issues that impact the environment, the movement of people, and specific regions. The Geography minor helped me to understand complex problems around the world and I plan to utilize these skills in the future as a policymaker.

Jordan Thomas ’14, Teach for America instructor in Charlotte, N.C.

Elon offers a variety of advanced seminars in geography that are linked to other majors such as environmental studies and international studies, making it easy for you to earn a geography minor while completing the requirements for your major. Seminar topics include African geography and environments, global environmental change, and development and the environment in Latin America, Africa and Asia. You will also have the opportunity to participate in courses in specialized fields such as climate change and urban planning.

Study abroad

More than 70 percent of Elon students study abroad before they graduate. The Department of History and Geography offers study abroad programs in Asia, Africa and Europe that count toward a geography minor.

Technology resources

In Elon’s GIS laboratories, students use sophisticated mapping software to analyze spatial data collected from online sources and from agencies such as the U.S. Census Bureau, U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and many government-sponsored institutions and organizations. Students see firsthand how emergency management officials use GIS technology to calculate emergency response times to crime scenes and disaster sites. They also learn how environmentalists, business leaders and city planners use GIS software to identify important habitats for endangered species, locate the best site for a new business or find the safest route to transport hazardous materials.

Elon’s GIS labs are equipped with several Global Positioning System devices that use satellite technology to determine an object’s position on the earth’s surface and digitizing boards that transfer large maps and blueprints to digital form.

Award-winning faculty

Elon encourages close working relationships between students and faculty members in and out of the classroom.

Dr. Honglin Xiao researches applications of GIS and remote sensing in physical geography and environmental studies, as well as human-environment interactions. Recently, he reconstructed high-resolution records of environment and human activities over the past several thousand years using stalagmites he obtained when camping inside a cave in southwest China for ten days. He also mentors student research and serves as a grant reviewer for the National Science Foundation.

Dr. Ryan Kirk conducts research about the use of GIS and spatial statistics for applied environmental management projects. In recent years, he has taken undergraduate students to several National Wildlife Refuges in the Midwest to collect data for conservation planning and designed a service-learning GIS class project in collaboration with a non-profit watershed association.

Research opportunities

In geography courses and through Elon’s Undergraduate Research Program, our faculty take an active role in helping students achieve their academic goals. Students also collaborate with professors on projects that may serve as course materials in future classes. A few recent student-faculty collaborations in geography have produced articles published in the South African Geographical Journal, Progress in Development Studies, African Studies Quarterly, The Encyclopedia of Earth, The Encyclopedia of African Thought, Jewish Quarterly and Geographical Bulletin; several Spring Undergraduate Research Forum (SURF) presentations on campus; and several presentations at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research and the Association of American Geographers Annual Conference.

Academic recognition

The geography faculty recognize academic achievement by inviting qualified students to be inducted into Gamma Theta Upsilon, the International Geography Honor Society. The faculty and the honor society together sponsor an annual essay contest which provides a $500 prize for the winner to help defray the cost of study abroad. They also offer a GIS open house where geography students showcase their work.

Real-world experience

As you pursue a geography or GIS minor, you will have opportunities to deepen your studies through real-world experiences. One recent graduate with an environmental studies major and a geography minor completed an internship with the Delaware Department of Natural Resources, and another geography minor worked for Africa Action in Washington.

Career options

A geography or GIS minor will prepare you for a variety of fulfilling careers including:

  • Diplomat
  • Foreign Service worker
  • Peace Corps volunteer
  • Development worker
  • Climatologist
  • Medical geographer
  • GIS specialist and cartographer
  • Geography teacher
  • Meteorologist
  • Environmental and energy scientist
  • Air quality specialist
  • Aviation specialist
  • Urban planner
  • Transportation specialist
  • Recreational specialist
  • Business marketing specialist