Mar 03, 2024  
USC Catalogue 2021-2022 
USC Catalogue 2021-2022 [ARCHIVED CATALOGUE]

Spatial Sciences Institute

Return to: USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences  

Since its founding in 2010, the USC Spatial Sciences Institute has used the power of spatial thinking and literacy – the ability to connect place and space and to integrate geography into everything we do – to help address global challenges. Through its innovative academic programs and research enterprise, the Spatial Sciences Institute educates and cross-trains scholars at every higher-educational level to expand our ability to collect, analyze, model, visualize and share location-based data and information in support of policies and decisions that help sustain our planet, promote public health and ensure human security.

Spatial Sciences Institute students work in the field, studio and lab with an internationally recognized faculty who are contributing to the rapidly evolving body of geospatial knowledge. Student researchers in the Spatial Sciences Institute join its interdisciplinary faculty on their funded research with agencies, businesses, non-profits, NGOs and other entities to produce actionable impact. The Spatial Sciences Institute provides numerous opportunities for internships, conference paper and poster presentations and networking, so its students are poised for geospatial careers, which are among the fastest-growing in the United States and world today, and other endeavors.

The Spatial Sciences Institute is a founding member of the UNIGIS International Association, a network of universities around the world that lead and share in the development of online GIS education programs, and an Esri Education Development Center.

Allen Hancock Foundation Building B55
(213) 740-5910
FAX: (213) 740-9687

Director: John P. Wilson, PhD*
Managing Director: Susan Kamei, JD


Professors: Francois Bar, PhD (Communication); Myles Cockburn, PhD (Preventive Medicine); Maged Dessouky, PhD (Industrial and Systems Engineering); William F. Deverell, PhD (History); Philip Ethington, PhD (History); Sofia Gruskin (Preventive Medicine); Steven Lamy, PhD (Political Science and International Relations); Rob McConnell, PhD (Preventive Medicine); Jeffrey Sellers, PhD (Political Science and International Relations); John P. Wilson, PhD* (Sociology)

Associate Professors: George Ban-Weiss, PhD (Civil and Environmental Engineering); Lihua Liu, PhD (Preventive Medicine); Nathan Perl-Rosenthal (History); Paulina Oliva, PhD (Economics); Alexander Robinson, PhD (Architecture); Emily Smith-Greenaway, PhD (Sociology)

Assistant Professors: Laura Ferguson, PhD (Preventive Medicine); Daniel A. Hackman, PhD (Social Work); Jessica Ho, PhD (Geronotology); Jill Johnston, PhD (Preventive Medicine); Stephen Sanko, PhD (Clinical Emergency Medicine)

Professors of the Practice: Steven D. Fleming, PhD; Gregory Treverton, PhD (Political Science and International Relations)

Professors (Research): Yolanda Gil, PhD (Computer Science); Craig Knoblock, PhD (Computer Science)

Associate Professors of the Practice: Lynn Dodd, PhD (Religion); Andrew Marx, PhD

Associate Professors (Teaching): Darren M. Ruddell, PhD; Jennifer N. Swift, PhD; Robert Vos, PhD

Associate Professors (Clinical): Meredith Franklin, PhD (Preventive Medicine); Rima Habre, PhD (Preventive Medicine)

Associate Professors (Research): Yao-Yi Chiang, PhD; Michael Orosz, PhD

Assistant Professors (Teaching): Laura Loyola, PhD; Elisabeth Sedano, PhD; An-Min Wu, PhD

Lecturers: Jennifer Bernstein, PhD; Leilei Duan, PhD

Emeritus: Karen Kemp, PhD

*Recipient of university-wide or college teaching award.

Degree Programs

The Spatial Sciences Institute offers a Bachelor of Science in Geodesign and a Bachelor of Science in Global Geodesign (both with the USC School of Architecture and USC Price School of Public Policy), a Bachelor of Science in Human Security and Geospatial Intelligence, and minors in GIS and Sustainability Science; Human Security and Geospatial Intelligence; and Spatial Studies. The Institute also features an online Master of Science and a Graduate Certificate in Geographic Information Science and Technology and an Master of Arts in Global Security Studies as well as online Graduate Certificates in Geospatial Intelligence, Geospatial Leadership, Remote Sensing for Earth Observation, and Spatial Analytics; an online Master of Science in Human Security and Geospatial Intelligence, a Master of Science in Spatial Data Science, a Master of Science in Spatial Economics and Data Analysis (with the Department of Economics), and a Mater of Science and a Doctor of Philosophy in Population, Health and Place (with the Departments of Preventive Medicine and Sociology).

All of the programs and courses offered by the Spatial Sciences Institute explore the various ways in which location is used to acquire, represent, organize, analyze, model and visualize information. They seek to engage students enrolled in a range of academic programs in the natural and social sciences, the humanities and the professional schools.

Undergraduate Degrees

The BS in Geodesign and BS in Global Geodesign are interdisciplinary majors that include curriculum from the Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, the USC School of Architecture and the USC Price School of Public Policy. These two degrees treat planning as a globally relevant framework for collective action, the spatial sciences as a platform for supporting science-based decision-making, and design as a vehicle for solving the world’s wicked problems. With a broad base of knowledge from these disciplines around a liberal arts core, Geodesign and Global Geodesign majors are poised for graduate studies and professional opportunities in the public, private and not-for-profits sectors, including urban planning, geographic information science and technology, real estate development, community health and preventive medicine. Geodesign and Global Geodesign majors may take advantage of USC’s progressive degree path to obtain a BS in Geodesign or Global Geodesign with an MA in Environmental Studies, a Master of Planning, or an MS in Geographic Information Science and Technology in as few as five years.

The BS in Human Security and Geospatial Intelligence provides students with a conceptual and technical grounding in human security, including how to evaluate security around the world, create and gather geospatial data, and design security solutions. The topics covered include international border conflicts, humanitarian response and relief, global human rights, the monitoring and prevention of genocide, and refugee migration and crisis management. This program connects collaborative and interrelated disciplines and as such, provides a framework for undergraduate-level analysis and planning in future human security and Geospatial Intelligence work within the U.S. Department of Defense, U.S. State Department, related U.S. support/non-governmental agencies, and within comparable city, county, state, and international organizations.

Honors Program

Candidates for the BS in Geodesign, the BS in Global Geodesign, and the BS in Human Security and Geospatial Intelligence can qualify for graduation with departmental honors by meeting these requirements: a 3.7 GPA in the courses counted toward the major at the time of graduation and completion of a research project or thesis under the guidance of a faculty member teaching the appropriate capstone course (SSCI 412  for Geodesign and Global Geodesign, and SSCI 420  for Human Security and Geospatial Intelligence). In addition, students must receive an A or A- in the appropriate capstone course. Departmental honors are noted on academic transcripts but not on the diploma.


The undergraduate minor in Spatial Studies can be combined with any major and provides the scientific understanding and technical skills in geographic information science, mapping, and the accompanying geospatial technologies (GIS, GPS, remote sensing). Graduates with competencies in spatial sciences are problem solvers and have competitive edges in sectors such as diplomacy, finance, healthcare, retail, logistics, communications, manufacturing and conservation.

The undergraduate minor in Human Security and Geospatial Intelligence educates future leaders in location-based analytics to gather, interpret and implement actionable intelligence to promote human security. In combination with any major, this minor helps position graduates for career paths and/or graduate education in areas such as humanitarian relief, law enforcement, national security and defense.

The undergraduate minor in GIS and Sustainability Science educates future leaders in location-based analytics to gather, interpret, and implement plans and policies to build healthy and sustainable communities. In combination with any other major, this minor helps position graduates for career paths and/or graduate education in areas such as urban and regional planning, economics, landscape architecture, urban design, public health, and international development.

Graduate Degrees

The online Graduate Certificate in Geographic Information Science and Technology provides the foundation for professional advancement utilizing geographic information science and the latest geospatial technologies. The online Graduate Certificate in Geospatial Intelligence is accredited by the U.S. Geospatial Intelligence Foundation, and develops career readiness for those interested in the human security applications of geographic information science and technology. The online Graduate Certificate in Remote Sensing for Earth Observation develops career readiness for those interested in using remote sensing to collect various kinds of spatial data about places on the Earth from a distant location. Our vision mirrors that of the Group on Earth Observations (GEO), an international, intergovernmental agency, working to improve the availability, access, and use of Earth observations for the benefit of society through major initiatives, such as the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Paris Climate Agreement, and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction. The online Graduate Certificate in Geospatial Leadership is for individuals with some training and experience looking to increase their potential for advancement in the geospatial field. In addition, all three of these online graduate certificates may be taken by USC master’s and doctoral students in other disciplines.

The online MS in Geographic Information Science and Technology provides state-of-the-art education in core geographic information science and accompanying applications. Students may choose among three tracks - Spatial Data Acquisition and Integration; Spatial Data Analysis and Visualization; Spatial Application Development – or select elective courses that better match their own needs and aspirations.

The online MS in Human Security and Geospatial Intelligence provides state-of-the-art knowledge of GIS techniques and data within the context of incident preparation and response. This program empowers graduates to build leadership skills and to pursue management roles within the geospatial intelligence and human security fields, and is ideal for individuals who thrive in highly dynamic, chaotic environments and who have a passion for risk mitigation, disaster planning and threat mitigation in military, disaster management, and humanitarian operations.

The courses in the online Graduate Programs in Geographic Information Science and Technology and Human Security and Geospatial Intelligence are offered year-round and students can start these programs in the fall, spring or summer semesters. Students in the online Master of Public Health program offered by the Keck School of Medicine of USC can complete a GeoHealth track by completing four spatial sciences courses offered by the Spatial Sciences Institute. Students interested in this GeoHealth track should contact the Master of Public Health program in the Department of Preventive Medicine.

The MS in Spatial Economics and Data Analysis provides state-of-the-art knowledge of the spatial and economic principles and methods that are used to support spatial econometrics and related forms of spatiotemporal analysis. This program, which draws on classes from the USC Dornsife Department of Economics and the Spatial Sciences Institute, seeks to empower graduates with the scientific knowledge and methods to identify new business opportunities and develop new policy solutions to help address some of the challenges in our increasingly interconnected and urban world.

The MS in Spatial Data Science is jointly offered with the Viterbi School of Engineering’s Department of Computer Science and the Spatial Sciences Institute. The individual courses focus on modern computational tools and how these can be leveraged with new analysis methods, such as artificial intelligence and machine learning, to turn various forms of spatial “big” data into actionable information.

The MA in Global Security Studies is a two-year program designed for students who already have a substantial undergraduate background in social sciences or relevant professional experience in subjects such as international relations, political science, environmental studies and social sciences. Students in the program may concentrate in security, intelligence and military issues; human security and humanitarian crises issues; or environmental security issues.

Students in the MS in Transportation Systems Management offered by the Viterbi School of Engineering can complete a Geographic Information Systems track by completing three spatial sciences courses offered by the Spatial Sciences Institute. Students interested in this GIS track should contact the MS in Transportation Systems Management program in the Department of Civil and Environment Engineering.

The Graduate Certificate in Spatial Analytics provides USC doctoral students with customized opportunities to learn about the fundamental geographic information science principles and a series of rapidly evolving geospatial technologies that take advantage of the Cloud and the Web along with advances in analytical techniques, modeling tools and online geographic data sources. The learning goals and outcomes in the courses that contribute to this certificate can be customized to match the student’s disciplinary interests and research objectives.

In the interdisciplinary Population, Health and Place master of science and PhD programs, faculty from the USC Dornsife Department of Sociology, the Department of Preventive Medicine of the Keck School of Medicine of USC, and the USC Dornsife Spatial Sciences Institute provide training for careers in research, teaching and applied work with large data sets and varied modeling and computation approaches in public health, epidemiology, demography, biostatistics, sociology, medical geography, spatial sciences and other fields.


PhD Admission Requirements

The courses required for admission are an introductory geography or sociology course, a course in statistics, a course in research methods or experimental design and at least one course from each of the following lists: (1) one or more of social demography, society and population, medical sociology; (2) one or more of cartography, human geography, medical geography, spatial analysis.; and (3) one or more of climatology, hydrology, environment and health. Additional courses are desirable, as is work in the biological, physical and social sciences, in mathematics and in philosophy. Students with less background in public health, sociology or the spatial sciences, but outstanding undergraduate records in related fields are also encouraged to apply.

Students are selected on the basis of undergraduate records, scores on the Graduate Record Examinations General Test, course background, three letters of evaluation, personal statement of interests and goals, and evidence of research skills or interests (e.g., publications or participation in research projects).

Application for admission to the PhD Program in Population, Health and Place requires submission of two sets of material: special program forms and university application forms. Students are admitted only for study beginning in the fall semester; both sets of completed application forms must be submitted by December 1 for admission the following fall.

Degree Requirements

These degrees are under the jurisdiction of the Graduate School. Refer to the Requirements for Graduation  section and The Graduate School  section of this catalogue for general regulations. All courses applied toward the degrees must be courses accepted by the Graduate School.


    Bachelor’s DegreeMinorMaster’s DegreeGraduate CertificateDoctoral Degree


      Global SecuritySpatial Sciences Institute