Credits and Coursework (MS SDS)

There is a minimum of 33 or 36 total credits (depending on whether you choose to do a scholarly paper or thesis) required for the MS SDS degree. This includes at least:

  • 15 - 18 credits of course work (400-level or above) - Required classes are 485 and 486.
  • 18 credits of course work at the (500-level )- Required classes are 583, 586, 560, scholarly paper (596 - 3 credits), or thesis (600 - 6 credits).

Some students start with one our certificate programs, which can count toward the first year or so of the master's program. Every graduate student must complete formal training in professional ethics during their first year of study. Geography 485 and 486 are required courses that are usually taken in the first or second year. Geography 583, 586, and 560 are required courses that are usually taken in the second or third year of study. Geography 596 or 600 are usually taken in the second and/or third year.

Grades of B- or higher count towards the MS SDS Program.


GeoApp or GEOINT

Geospatial Programming and Web Map Development

Remote Sensing

Professional Ethics Training

Penn State's Graduate School requires that every graduate student complete formal training in professional ethics during their first year of study. MGIS students may fulfill this requirement in either of two ways:

  1. Register for and successfully complete the 2-credit class GEOG 864: Professionalism in Geographic Information Science and Technology (see GEOG 864 is offered once each year during the Summer term; or
  2. Successfully complete the non-credit Responsible Scholarship and Professional Practice workshop. "RSPP" workshops are offered three times each year, in January, August, and November. (see The two-week online workshop requires at least five hours of individual reading and group case study analysis and discussion. Students will not be charged any extra tuition or fees to participate in RSPP. However, students will have only one chance to complete the free workshop; those who fail to successfully complete assigned workshop activities will be required to register for and complete the two-credit GEOG 864 course.

The Advising Team will help you decide which option is best for you.

Required classes

GEOG 485: GIS Programming and Software Development
3 credits

Geography 485 teaches you how to automate GIS tasks using the Python scripting language. Automation can make your work easier, faster, and more accurate, and knowledge of a scripting language is a highly-desired skill in the GIS profession. In this class, we dedicate time to programming fundamentals so that the skills learned can be applied to languages other than Python. You'll benefit by increasing your ability to solve geospatial problems through the use of programming.

GEOG 486: Cartography and Visualization
3 credits

Geography 486 covers design principles and techniques for creating maps with contemporary mapping tools, including ArcGIS Pro. Students will apply cartographic theory to practical problems, with a focus on making optimal design decisions during tasks such as selecting visual variables, classifying and generalizing data, applying principles of color and contrast, and choosing projections for maps. Students will also be introduced to future-focused application topics such as augmented and virtual reality, mapping with multivariate glyphs, the visual depiction of uncertainty, interactive geovisualization and (geo)visual analytics, and decision-making with maps and mapping products. 

GEOG 583: Geospatial System Analysis and Design
3 credits

Geography 583 provides the geospatial information system professional an overview of systems analysis and design with emphasis the concepts behind the design process including: requirements definition, business use modeling, business object modeling, analysis and preliminary design, and, finally, detailed design and deployment. The concepts of the geospatial software and database development process are introduced and the limitations of current modeling techniques are addressed within the spatial systems development paradigm. In a series of related activities the student applies the methods, tools and the concepts of systems development process.

The course is organized around six projects and a capstone assignment. Each project includes associated readings and activities about concepts and tools of system design and analysis. Throughout the course, students have "mile marker" (project) assignments that are designed to maintain progress toward the capstone assignment. The course demonstrates the uniqueness of geospatial system design in a succession of related projects. The projects require students to confront realistic problem scenarios that cultivate the skills and understanding required to effectively complete a geospatial system specification, design, and implementation. Particular attention is given to the use of an established system develop process.

GEOG 586: Geographical Information Analysis
3 credits

Geography 586 is a course in analytical methods for handling specifically spatial data, that is, data where the arrangement of observations in space is thought to be of significance. The techniques introduced are often mathematically complex, but while these aspects are covered in the course, the emphasis is on the choice and application of appropriate methods for the analysis of the spatial data often encountered in applied geography. Weekly projects are hands-on using geographic information systems or other appropriate computational tools, so that students appreciate the practical complexities involved, and the relative limitations of these methods in contemporary desktop GIS.

Through the weekly projects, students acquire familiarity with use of a single method or family of methods in standard desktop tools, so that they can focus on aspects of that method and develop a thorough understanding of its potential and of its limitations. Problem scenarios range across demographic, planning, crime analysis, landscape analysis, and other application areas. The quarter-long project is intended to allow students to formulate a research problem in a topic area of their own choosing, to gather and organize appropriate available datasets, and to understand how a variety of methods among those covered in the course can be applied in combination to thoroughly explore real questions. Students will be asked to engage with their peers' work during the project planning stage. They will also be encouraged to consider developing customized tools to automate repetitive analysis tasks, if they have previous programming experience.

GEOG 560: Geovisual Analytics
3 credits

Geography 560 focuses on the science of analytical reasoning mediated through human-centered interactive geographic visualization and computational methods. The course engages students with the theoretical and computational frontiers of the emerging science of geovisual analytics, a core subfield in spatial data science. This is complemented by hands-on experiences with the design, implementation, and application of geovisual analytics tools to solve complex problems. Students will read, discuss, and synthesize research articles and design solutions to geovisual analytics problems through a series of lab exercises. Research reviewed in this course will reflect the state-of-the-art in the design and evaluation of geovisual analytics applications and showcase the diversity of relevant application domain contexts. Lab exercises will provide students with experience designing and building geovisual analytics applications in a variety of contemporary technological approaches. Students will apply concepts presented in the readings to critique the effectiveness of current geovisual analytics platforms and will leverage their experiences in development of a semester project.

GEOG 596: Scholarly Paper
3 credits


GEOG 600: Thesis
6 credits