My involvement in spatial science and GIS was mostly random happenstance. After not knowing what to do my freshman summer, I found a Problem’s Without Passports program run by Dr. Darren Ruddell that studied geodesign and urban planning in the Netherlands. While this didn’t quite mix with my International Relations major or political interests, it seemed like a good way to expand my horizons (and travel on the cheap). That summer class led to a minor in Spatial Studies, and that minor led to a progressive master’s degree in Geospatial Information Science and Technology.
I’ve never moved away from my International Relations focus, however. GIS simply became my method of breaking into that market. The data science skills, spatial analysis techniques, and software expertise that I’ve learned from GIS have been directly applied to my IR interests. GIS opened the door for me to intern with Special Forces at the Naval Postgraduate School, volunteer as a data analyst for Armament Research Services in their study of black market arms trade, and work as a strategic wargamer at the National Defense University. As a technical field, GIS was my way in – the hard skill that every office needed, but no one knew how to do themselves.
Coming to the table with a GIS background put me at the top of the list when applying for internships, even if the organization didn’t need much GIS work done. In the field of International Relations (and business, political science, environmental studies, and just about everything else), there is a large 21st century shift toward analytics and data manipulation. Having GIS as a resume skillset is a way to ride that wave, and make the most of the opportunities afforded by USC.