New degree: Geodesign

New degree: Geodesign

A few schools have started offering degrees in geodesign, which might leave you wondering: What the heck is geodesign?

According to a 2013 Scientific American article by Larry Greenemeier, "Geodesign is an approach to city planning, land use and natural resource management that takes into account the tendency in recent years to overdevelop land at the expense of natural habitats, as well as population growth and climate change, which have left communities increasingly vulnerable to natural disasters."

If just reading through that definition excites you, then you may have found your calling. But you have to be excited about the career field as well as the degree, which requires knowing a little about the degree itself.

Geodesign degrees and courses

Both degrees and certificates are starting to pop up for geodesign, at both the undergraduate and graduate level. Schools from the University of Southern California (USC) to Pennsylvania State University (PSU) have geodesign offerings, though the list isn't too long at this point. As the emerging field continues to spread, so could the number of geodesign degree and certificate programs.

Here are just a few classes you may expect to take in a geodesign program:

  • Geodesign history, theory and principles: In this course, you may investigate the methods and the nature of geospatially-based design.

  • Problem-solving with GIS: Geographic information systems (GIS) addresses common geographic problems, by facilitating communication and data analysis, which you may learn about in this class.

  • Sustainable design methodologies: In this course, you may learn about current aspects of sustainability, like environmental law and energy modeling, as well as how sustainability has changed over the years in culture.

  • Geodesign studio: This course will likely be one of the courses where you apply what you've been learning (as studio courses often are), by working on geospatial problems for a client or partner. You may form teams with classmates. In doing this, you'll likely be introduced to digital technologies, geodesign techniques, and scenario management tools that you'll be expected to apply.

Geodesign degrees and certificates usually blend the theoretical with the practical. You may be part of research projects with actual companies and do some geodesigning in and outside of the classroom. But you'll also learn theories, histories and analysis, which makes it a balanced and comprehensive program of study.

If you're passionate about sustainability, interested in design and planning, and want to join an emerging, interdisciplinary field, then geodesign may be worth exploring.

Career opportunities for geodesign graduates

Given its interdisciplinary nature, a geodesign program may help act as a springboard to a number of fields and roles.

According to Penn State University's geodesign page, "In this program, you can learn to couple science and evidence-based approaches with the design process, enabling you to become more adept at assessing the impact of designs on people and nature. This will become critical for a variety of roles."

Here are some of the many career roles geodesign students may be interested in pursuing if they gain the skills PSU listed, along with a geodesign degree or certificate:

  • Disaster and security specialist
  • Geoscientist
  • Architect
  • Environmental scientist and specialist
  • Geographer
  • Environmental engineer
  • Hydrologist
  • Urban and regional planner
  • Public health professional
  • Natural resource manager
  • Landscape architect

Of course, some of these may require more than just a geodesign degree, and no degree is a guarantee of employment. But a geodesign degree may be desirable for some of these careers, while for others it could be a resume booster to pair with other qualifications. That's the beauty of the interdisciplinary nature of geodesign: Whether it's a 14-credit certificate, a 128-credit bachelor's degree or a 30-credit master's degree, studying geodesign at all levels could lead you on a geodesign career path.

With sustainability continuing to be a major societal concern, geodesign holds future promise in the form of online programs, degrees, certificates and job openings. If you're passionate about this kind of planning and design, and think you'd be good at it, then you'll want to do further research to decide if this career could be right for you.


"What Is Geodesign - and Can It Protect Us from Natural Disasters?" Scientific American, January 25, 2013, Larry Greenemeier, http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/2013/01/25/what-is-geodesign-and-can-it-protect-us-from-natural-disasters/

Penn State Online, Course List - Graduate Certificate in Geodesign, http://www.worldcampus.psu.edu/degrees-and-certificates/geodesign-certificate/course-list

University of Southern California, B.S. in GeoDesign, http://spatial.usc.edu/index.php/undergraduate-programs/geodesign/