Ensuring Successful Thesis Outcomes in an Online GIS Masters Program

Authors: Robert O. Vos, Assistant Professor (Teaching), USC Spatial Sciences Institute, Susan H. Kamei*, Managing Director, USC Spatial Sciences Institute, Kendrick Watson, Academic Programs Director, USC Spatial Sciences Institute
Topics: Higher Education, Geographic Information Science and Systems
Keywords: GIS masters programs; thesis; student outcomes
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/9/2021
Start / End Time: 11:10 AM / 12:25 PM
Room: Virtual 36
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


A thesis is a capstone experience that a masters degree program in Geographic Information Science (GIS) may require. Students who undertake a research-based thesis, even those whose future professional plans do not entail research, can find great value and satisfaction in producing a large work on a topic of compelling interest to them. GIS graduates who offer current and prospective employers a well-constructed and well-written thesis show that they are capable of conceptualizing and executing large-scale GIS projects and that they can situate the significance and impact of such projects within the multidisciplinary breadth of the GIS domain.

However, challenges of scale and logistics can bedevil a faculty-intensive thesis process in an online master’s program with a large remote student population. The M.S. in Geographic Information Science and Technology (GIST) program offered by the University of Southern California (USC) Spatial Sciences Institute (SSI) has graduated the largest number of GIS masters students to date, according to the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) of the National Center for Education Statistics. Since its launch in the fall 2007 semester, the SSI GIST program has successfully graduated more than 300 students, each of whom has produced a research-based thesis under the direction of a faculty advisor and committee, with an academic support team.

To maximize on-time completion of theses while maintaining academic standards, the SSI program has developed an innovative integrated approach that operates within parameters of faculty and staff resources and supports the contribution to scholarship in the spatial sciences.

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