Feb 23, 2024  
2023-2024 Graduate Catalog 
2023-2024 Graduate Catalog

Geography and Environmental Systems (GES)

Return to {$returnto_text} Return to: Graduate Programs

Eugene P. (Sandy) Parker, Chair
Jeffrey Halverson, Graduate Program Director

Degrees Offered

M.S., Ph.D. (Degree Types )


Full Professors

MILLER, ANDREW J., Ph.D., The Johns Hopkins University; Hydrology, geomorphology, water resources
HALVERSON, JEFFREY B., Ph.D., University of Virginia, Mid-Atlantic meteorology and climatology, hurricanes and severe storms

Associate Professors

BAKER, MATTHEW, Ph.D., University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Watershed ecology, riparian ecosystems, ecosystem/landscape ecology, watershed hydrology and biogeochemistry
BENNETT, SARI J., Ph.D., University of Illinois, Economic geography, geographic education
ELLIS, ERLE, Ph.D., Cornell University, Biogeochemistry, landscape ecology, managed ecosystems
PARKER, EUGENE P., Ph.D., University of Colorado, Environmental history and conservation, cultural ecology
SWAN, CHRISTOPHER M., Ph.D., University of Maryland, College Park, Community ecology, aquatic ecosystems

Assistant Professors

BIEHLER, DAWN, Ph.D., University of Wisconsin, Madison, Health geography, urban environmental history, environmental justice
HOLLAND MARGARET BUCK, Ph.D. University of Wisconsin-Madison, Human dimensions of global environmental change
LANSING, DAVID, Ph.D. Ohio State University, Human/environment interactions; political economy of climate change; environmental policy; agrarian change; social theorySTUDDS, COLIN, Ph.D.,
TANG, JUNMEI, Ph.D., University of Texas, San Marcos, Geographic Information Science, Remote sensing, urban landscape ecology, resource management, environmental modeling

Adjunct and Affiliate Research Professors

CAMPBELL, Petya K.E., Ph.D., University of New Hampshire, Remote sensing of vegetation, vegetation biophysical parameters and spectral response
GROFFMAN, Peter, Ph.D., University of Georgia, Environmental regulation of microbes, ecosystem function and nutrient cycling, water and air quality, soil carbon storage
HUEMMRICH, Karl F., University of Maryland, College Park, Remote sensing of ecosystem structure and function
MEHTA, AMITA, Ph.D., Research Assistant Professor
PICKETT, STEWARD T.A., Ph.D., University of Illinois, Urban ecosystems, function of landscape boundaries, plant community succession
POUYAT, RICHARD V., Ph.D., Rutgers University, Urban/suburban effects on soil carbon and nitrogen dynamics, ecosystem response to environmental stressorsREMER,
LORRAINE, Ph.D., Research Professor
SCHOOL, JOSEPH, Director of Cartographic Services Laboratory
SHUMAN, CHRISTOPHER, Ph.D., Research Associate Professor
TOKAY, ALI, Ph.D., University of Illinois, Cloud and precipitation physics, severe storms
TURPIE, KEVIN, Ph.D., Research Associate Professor

Program Description

The Department of Geography and Environmental Systems is at the interface between natural science, social science, public policy, engineering and information technology, with faculty who have background and collaborative relationships in both research and teaching related to all of these areas. The spatial perspective central to Geography as a discipline provides an analytical framework that bridges disciplinary boundaries and utilizes the tools of Geographic Information Science to assist in our understanding of complex patterns in the natural and human environment. Collaborative relationships with other academic programs on campus include Public Policy, Economics, the School of Aging Studies, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Mathematics and Statistics, Biological Sciences, and Physics.

The environment is a key focus area of education and research on the UMBC campus. In addition to a core group of interested faculty from the natural sciences, social sciences and engineering, the campus hosts the field headquarters of the Baltimore Ecosystem Study, an NSF and U.S. Forest Service-supported Urban Long-Term Ecological Research Site; the Joint Center for Earth Systems Technology (JCET) and Goddard Earth Sciences and Technology Center (GEST), both of which are components of a NASA/UMBC consortium focusing on earth systems science and the application of remote sensing technology to monitoring of the earth’s atmosphere and surface; the Center for Urban Environmental Research and Education (CUERE), focusing on the environmental, social and economic consequences of landscape transformation associated with urban and suburban development; and the U.S. Geological Survey Water Science Center for the MD-DE-DC region, which is located in the campus Research Park with a staff of 60+ personnel. In addition UMBC is a partner, along with several other University of Maryland institutions as well as other research universities and federal agencies, in the Chesapeake Watershed Cooperative Ecosystem Studies Unit (CESU), part of a national CESU network. The concentration of environment-related research activity on campus provides a rich and diverse set of opportunities for prospective graduate students entering our program.

Program Specialties
Areas of concentration available to students include (1) Environmental Systems, including water resources and earth-surface processes, ecosystem science, and atmospheric processes; (2) Human Geography, with an emphasis on coupled human-natural systems including the impacts of human activities on the environment, the socioeconomic consequences of environmental degradation, and environmental policy; and (3) Geographic Information Science and Remote Sensing, focusing on training students in the application of geospatial analysis to improve understanding of changing spatial patterns in the natural and human environment. As indicated above, research on the urban environment is a particular strength among the opportunities available through this program. The areas of concentration identified above are not separate programs and do not have separate application requirements; students may elect to pursue a program of study that draws from multiple areas to suit their particular needs.

A hallmark of our program is its broadly integrative nature. Our goal is to train students at the M.S. and Ph.D. level who are capable of meeting the challenge identified in the following quote from the National Science Foundation Advisory Committee for Environmental Research and Education (2003):
New interdisciplinary programs and connections need to be fostered among traditional departments of science and engineering, including those in the social sciences (p. 8). Environmental scientists and engineers increasingly consider the interplay of physical, biological, and social factors and are required to use advanced observational, database, and networking technologies. As a consequence, there is a growing need for scientists, engineers, managers, and technicians who have the ability to work on multidisciplinary and cross-cultural teams; to use sophisticated new instrumentation, information systems, and models; and to interpret research results for decisionmakers and the general public. Fresh and innovative approaches to education are needed to train individuals to undertake interdisciplinary, collaborative, and synthesis activities. (p. 41)

Our graduates will be able to collaborate as members of multidisciplinary teams who can carry a research plan through to completion and also communicate effectively with policymakers and the general public about the significance of their work. They will acquire the skills needed to make use of new instrumentation, data-handling, and methodological capabilities to study and understand the environment. Ph.D. recipients will be well-prepared for careers as research and teaching faculty, as agency scientists, policy analysts, or decision makers, or in environmental consulting. M.S. recipients likewise will be eligible for positions in either the public or private sector and will be trained to take up a variety of career opportunities in such areas as natural resource management, urban planning, transportation planning, environmental policy, environmental science, water resources or watershed management, natural hazards planning and response, GIS and remote sensing, global change research, atmospheric science, landscape ecology, and ecosystem resource management.

Program Admission Requirements

Admissions decisions are made once each year for Fall admission. The application deadline is February 1. Students wishing to enter the Ph.D. or the M.S. programs in Geography and Environmental Systems (GES) have to meet the minimum standards for admission to the University of Maryland Graduate School, Baltimore. Candidates for admission must have earned a bachelor’s degree at an accredited U.S. university or an equivalent degree from a comparable foreign institution, with a minimum GPA of 3.0 overall and 3.3 for the major. All applicants should submit scores for the Graduate Record Examination (Aptitude Test). Scores on the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) must be submitted by applicants whose native language is not English and who do not have a degree from a U.S. postsecondary institution. Decisions on admission are made by the department’s Graduate Admissions Committee and are based on the applicant’s transcripts, letters of recommendation, the personal statement of goals and objectives, and GRE scores. All original application documents should be sent as a package directly to the Graduate School, not the graduate program.
Because of the diversity of subject matter and research interests covered in our program, there is no specific academic major required as a prerequisite for admission. However, in addition to deciding which students to admit to the program, the Graduate Admissions Committee will identify any background or prerequisite courses that admitted students might need to complete based on their expressed research interests. That information will be included in the admissions letter and students will be encouraged to contact their prospective advisor to discuss how those needs can be addressed. Students also will be strongly encouraged to contact their advisor after accepting an offer to discuss their course load for the first semester.

Full-time enrollment is the standard for both the M.S. and Ph.D. graduate programs. Some courses are offered in late afternoon or in the evening but the majority of courses are offered during daytime hours and the department cannot guarantee the availability of a full suite of graduate courses for students who are able to attend only in the evening. Prospective applicants who wish to enroll on a part-time basis will need to discuss their interests in advance with a faculty advisor to determine whether such an arrangement is feasible.

Accelerated Masters Program Admission

The Accelerated M.S. program is designed for current UMBC students who would like to begin their graduate education while completing the Bachelor’s degree in their senior year. Students can complete up to three graduate courses in their senior year while paying tuition at the undergraduate rate. Application requirements are the same as for the regular graduate degree; GRE scores for students applying for the Accelerated M.S. can be submitted through Feb. 15. Three letters of recommendation are required, with no more than two from GES faculty.
Students who wish to pursue this option need to be close enough to completion of Bachelor’s degree requirements that they can accommodate up to three graduate courses in their last two semesters above and beyond courses needed to complete the Bachelor’s degree. Because students’ applications are being submitted earlier than is normally the case and the academic record is shorter, strong evidence of academic ability and motivation will be especially important in the admissions process.

Facilities and Special Resources

The Department is well-equipped with laboratories for GIS, cartography, ecology and biogeography; and research space supporting research in sustainability, historical urban ecology, landscape ecology and advanced GIScience. The ecology lab maintains resources to perform research particularly in aquatic ecosystems, including equipment to delineate aquatic habitats, stereomicroscopes, a spectrophotometer, temperature-controlled environmental units, and supplies to study aquatic communities both in the lab and the field. Field sites are located close to campus at Patapsco State Park. The biogeography lab is equipped to measure genetic diversity at the morphological and molecular levels in addition to analysis of survey results. Field sites to conduct common garden experiments or measurements are also available.

The Department also owns several current meters for streamflow measurement and has access to total stations for surveying as well as other field equipment for collecting and analyzing sediments and soils. Facilities and equipment in support of hydrologic research and for other types of environmental sampling, analysis and modeling are available on campus at the Technology Research Center (TRC), where faculty projects involving collaboration with the Baltimore Ecosystem Study (BES) and the Center for Urban Environmental Research and Education (CUERE) are located. BES and CUERE, working together with the U.S. Geological Survey MD-DE-DC Water Science Center, operate field monitoring and sampling networks in the Baltimore metropolitan area and collaborative opportunities are available for graduate students working on problems of mutual interest. The U.S. Forest Service has several full-time scientific staff on campus who play an active role in these projects. Through these collaborations as well as collaborations with researchers in UMBC’s Joint Center for Earth Systems Technology (JCET) and Goddard Earth Sciences and Technology (GEST) Center, graduate students will also have access to high-resolution GIS data, LiDAR topographic data and remote sensing images characterizing the regional landscape, global earth systems and the built environment. Regional partnerships with state and local agencies involved in environmental monitoring, planning and regulation offer additional resources in support of graduate research.

Financial Assistance

A limited number of graduate teaching and research assistantships are available through the department. Externally funded research conducted by the program’s faculty provides opportunities for graduate students to be employed on research projects. Most assistantships will be awarded to students who are seeking the Ph.D. degree. Funding decisions will be made separately from admissions decisions and applicants will generally be informed about both admissions and availability of departmental support in the same letter. Check the Geography and Environmental Systems website for further information on internal and external fellowships as well as various funding opportunities which may arise (ges.umbc.edu). You can also consult the Graduate School page on Funding Opportunities ( http://www.umbc.edu/gradschool/funding/opps.html) or the Financial Aid and Scholarship web page (http://www.umbc.edu/financialaid/) for additional information about special scholarship opportunities as well as financial aid.

Student Learning Outcomes and Assessment

It is imperative that students be clearly informed of knowledge, skills, and competencies that they are expected to exhibit upon successful program completion, and understand the major exams and assessments they will be expected to pass in order to complete their degree. We plan to address this need through several documents (such as the admissions letter and annual written reports), meetings, evaluations and examinations throughout the students’ graduate programs.
The admissions process will require that students submit a transcript, GRE scores, letters of recommendation, a curriculum vitae or resume, and a personal statement. In addition to deciding which students to admit to the program, the admissions committee will identify any background or prerequisite courses that admitted students might need to complete based on expressed research interests. That information will be included in the admissions letter and students will be encouraged to contact their prospective advisor to discuss how those needs can be addressed. Students also will be strongly encouraged to contact their advisor after accepting an offer to discuss their course load for the first semester.
Once the students have arrived on campus, the process becomes more formal. During an orientation session, students will be provided with materials describing all requirements, evaluations, and expectations for successful completion of their program. Students also will have a formal meeting with their advisor to plan their curriculum and decide on specific courses to be taken. These advising decisions will be discussed among the graduate faculty at a special meeting, to ensure that students face comparable expectations.

As the students’ programs progress, the emphasis of this process is increasingly on evaluation of student performance. Grades are one way to communicate faculty expectations and perceptions of student progress, but are not sufficient to communicate all faculty expectations, nor student achievement, at the graduate level. Therefore, at the end of every academic year, all students will be evaluated during a special meeting of the graduate faculty. The purpose of this evaluation is to ensure that students make sufficient progress in their overall program. Their progress will be measured in faculty evaluations based on course work, research activities (such as assistantships or other projects), and any other scholarly activities relevant to their preparation for their thesis (if pursuing the thesis option) at the Masters level or comprehensive exam and dissertation at the Ph.D. level. A summary of this evaluation will be provided to the student in writing and placed in their file.

The Ph.D. comprehensive exam will consist of two parts: a written exam, and an oral defense of the answers. In addition, Ph.D. students will be required to defend their dissertation proposal to ensure that the work makes an appropriate contribution to their field and is feasible within each student’s time and fiscal constraints. Ph.D. students will defend their dissertation proposal between 2 months and the end of the next semester after passing their comprehensive exam.



    Geography and Environmental Systems

    Return to {$returnto_text} Return to: Graduate Programs