Get rich…with a geography degree?

Geography is fast becoming a lucrative and diverse field with job opportunities in careers ranging from health care to forestry, said a panel of experts Wednesday.

A lot of the growth in the geography field is the result of a fairly new technology called Geographic Information Systems.

“Geographic Information Systems is about taking all the data we used to put in paper maps and putting it in computer databases,” said Harvey Miller, professor of geography. “We can capture, store, analyze and communicate information about literally anything that takes place on or near the surface of the earth.”

The U.S. Department of Labor referred to geotechnology as one of the three most important emerging and evolving fields, along with nanotechnology and biotechnology.

“The message we’re trying to send is that it’s not your father’s geography anymore,” Miller said.

Along with the technological advances comes a diversity of fields.

Health care, psychology, climate, politics, forest management, private companies and marketing all use GIS to help them know what’s going on in the area they cover.

“Just about everything has a geographic component to it. Crime takes place somewhere and products are sold somewhere,” said Dave Doepner, a crime analyst for the Salt Lake City Police Department.

Doepner uses geography to map out areas of high crime. The department can then use this information to place officers where they will be the most effective.

Paul Maus and Tony Guay, two members of the geography job panel, work in a kind of “geography firm” that hires out their mapping services to the United States Forest Service.

The firm does everything from mapping fires to tracking endangered species and vegetation patterns. The geographers then interpret this data and tell the U.S. Forest Service what they can expect in the upcoming years.

The variety of job options attracts students to become geography majors.

“I’ve always had a very wide range of interests, and geography fits this because it can be applied to almost any subject,” said Tim Edgar, graduate student advisory committee chairperson and organizer of the Geography Day events.

Student Melissa Jones said she liked the discussion because “it’s helpful to learn what kinds of skills are applicable in a wide range of fields so you can get a skill base that is transferable to whatever you are interested in.”

The geography department has about 75 undergraduate students and only 30 graduate students. This makes it a small, student-friendly department.

“There is a smaller scholarship pool. It’s just a small department. I know all my professors on a first-name basis. I have the opportunity to do directed readings and independent study that I didn’t get to do in humanities,” said Sara Howe, a geography student.

Students interested in geography careers can look for different job opportunities.

“There are a lot of opportunities out there and not very many people apply for them,” said Katrina Moser, assistant professor of geography.

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