Geography

Course Catalog: Geography

The geography program at Rocky Mountain College integrates a human geography perspective rooted in historical political ecology, economic geography, and development geography; geological and environmental science perspectives on landforms, climate, water, soils, vegetation, and ecosystems; and geographic information systems (GIS) training and practice in a way that fosters student engagement with the multifaceted character of development, conservation, and planning problems.

Through interdisciplinary courses, unique field-work, service-learning, and internship opportunities in the Yellowstone River watershed (and beyond), students learn to use appropriate theoretical frameworks, research techniques, and technology—including spatial statistics, cartography, GIS and GPS, and remote sensing—to extract, analyze, and communicate information about socio-environmental topics from a spatial perspective.

Note: The geography (GPY) major replaced the environmental management and policy (EMP) major effective Fall 2019. The current major has a required core of courses in geography and related disciplines, including geology, geographic information systems, and environmental science; it does not require business administration or accounting. The following courses in the EMP program were replaced by GPY courses: EMP/GPY 102, 118, 224, 302; EST/GPY 226; and ESC/GPY 321 and 322. EMP 411 (Capstone) was replaced by GPY 491 and 492.

Learning Outcomes

Students who graduate with a major in geography will be able to:

  1. Explain how social, cultural, and environmental systems develop in response to varying geographical, environmental, and historical circumstances;
  2. Demonstrate knowledge of physical geographic processes and the global distribution of landforms and ecosystems as well as the mutually constitutive relationship between physical and human systems;
  3. Demonstrate a capacity to think critically and communicate effectively about the relationships between global processes and regional and sub-regional scale patterns of socio-environmental change;
  4. Identify and use appropriate geographic research tools and techniques-- including spatial statistics, cartography, GIS and GPS, and Remote Sensing -- to extract, analyze, and present information from a spatial perspective;
  5. Demonstrate a capacity to develop research questions, explain methodology and scholarly literature, conduct research, critically analyze qualitative and quantitative data, and communicate research findings in oral and written formats.

Major in Geography

A minimum of 47 semester hours is required, including:
Geography core courses:
GPY 102: World Regional Geography
GPY 118: Montana Rivers
GPY 302: Sustainable Development Policy and Practice
GPY 321: Introduction to Geographic Information Systems
GPY 322: Remote Sensing
GPY 491: Geography Capstone
GPY 492: Geography Capstone Laboratory

Choose one of the following:
GPY 224: Environment and Society
GPY 226: Energy and Society

Also required:
ECO 354: Environmental Economics
ESC 105: Environmental Science Sustainable Communities
ESC 106: Environmental Science Sustainable Communities Laboratory
GEO 101: Fundamentals of Geology
GEO 104: Fundamentals of Geology Laboratory
GEO 218: Evolution of the Earth
GEO 330: Paleoclimate and Global Change

Choose one of the following:
ESC 209: Field Survey Techniques in Zoology
GEO 343: Field Methods for Geoscientists
MAT 210: Probability and Statistics
SOC 408: Introduction to Social Research

Choose one of the following:
ESC 345: Soil Science
GEO 310: Geomorphology
GEO 318: Geology of the National Parks and Monuments
GEO 331: Oil and Gas Geology
HST 365: American Environmental History
PHR 304: Environmental Ethics
PHR 378: Philosophy of Technology and Modern Culture
POL 313: Environmental Politics
SOC 324: Sociocultural Theory

ECO 354 - Environmental Economics

Semester: Fall; Even years
Semester hours: 3

This course introduces the multidisciplinary field of environmental economics. Students will employ a critical geographic framework to examine the basic implications of economic theory related to ecosystems and environmental problems involving water, air pollution, energy, climate change, natural resources, and human health and development.

Prerequisite: None; ECO 205 is recommended


ESC 105 - Environmental Science: Sustainable Communities

Semester: Fall and Spring
Semester hours: 3

An introductory course designed for students entering the environmental sciences and studies program and for other students who would like to take an ecology course. Topics address the central concepts of ecology including the physical environment in which life exists. Students will explore the properties and processes of populations and communities, ecosystem dynamics, biogeography and biodiversity, as well as issues in conservation and restoration ecology. Three hours of lecture per week. This course may fulfill a natural lab science core curriculum requirement if taken concurrently with ESC 106.


ESC 106 - Environmental Science: Sustainable Communities Laboratory

Semester: Fall and Spring
Semester hours: 1

In the laboratory, students will apply environmental science concepts to ecological studies in the natural environment and learn how to present their results in a scientific report. One two-hour laboratory session per week.

Corequesite: ESC 105


ESC 209 - Field Survey Techniques in Zoology

Semester: Spring; Even years
Semester hours: 4

A field and laboratory course covering basic field techniques to survey and inventory areas to assess biodiversity, with an emphasis on Montana mammal, bird, reptile, amphibian, and fish fauna. Topics include species identification, survey and trapping, experimental design, data analysis, and report completion. Once identification and survey skills are learned, field teams will be formed and assigned to survey and inventory local habitats of concern with the goal of helping guide local management and restoration of these habitats. An additional fee is required.

Prerequisite: Prerequisite: ESC 105 and 106, or BIO 120


ESC 345 - Soil Science

Semester: Fall; Alternate years
Semester hours: 4

This course provides an introduction to the physical, chemical, and biological properties of soils; soil formation and classification; nutrient cycling; and land resource planning and protection. The laboratory includes field trips. Three hours of lecture and one two-hour laboratory session per week.

Prerequisite: CHM 101, GEO 101, and GEO 104


GEO 101 - Fundamentals of Geology

Semester: Fall and Spring
Semester hours: 3

This course provides an introduction to the science of earth materials, earth systems, and earth history, including the study of minerals, rocks, volcanoes, earthquakes, rock deformation and metamorphism, weathering, and erosion within the modern paradigm of plate tectonics. Special emphasis is placed on interpreting the geologic landscape and history of the Rocky Mountains through an understanding of Earth processes. Three hours of lecture and one recommended two-hour laboratory per week, plus field trips. This course fulfills a natural science core curriculum requirement, and if taken with GEO 104, may fulfill the natural science with lab requirement.


GEO 104 - Fundamentals of Geology Laboratory

Semester: Fall and Spring
Semester hours: 1

Focus on description of the earth materials and earth systems within the framework of plate tectonic theory. Introduction to identification of minerals, rocks, geologic maps, and structures.

Corequesite: GEO 101 or GEO 218


GEO 218 - Evolution of the Earth

Semester: Spring
Semester hours: 3

A survey of the major geologic events that have shaped the Earth through time, techniques for telling time geologically, and the connections between the evolution of life and geologic processes and/or events will be covered in this course. Special attention will be given to the regional geologic and environmental history of Montana and the surrounding area. Three hours of lecture per week and several day- or weekend-long field trips to examine local geologic features will be required. This course fulfills a natural science core curriculum requirement, and if taken with GEO 104, may fulfill the natural science with lab requirement. Additionally, this course will provide a temporal context for many geologic features and concepts for geology majors and minors.


GEO 310 - Geomorphology

Semester: Spring; Alternate years
Semester hours: 4

Students study landforms and the processes that create them. Topics include surface processes of erosion and deposition by rivers, glaciers, wind, waves, and mass wasting. Field trips are required. Three hours of lecture and one two-hour laboratory per week.

Prerequisite: GEO 218 and GEO 343


GEO 318 - Geology of the National Parks and Monuments

Semester: Offered at discretion of department; Alternate years
Semester hours: 3

This course introduces the geology of the national parks of the western United States. Preference is given to the parks and monuments of Montana, Wyoming, and North and South Dakota, given their proximity to the College. The lecture class is structured such that each week a new feature of the geology of the selected park is introduced. Students will choose a topic of interest to investigate for class presentations. There is a required multi-day field trip. This course may be offered during either the fall or the spring semester, depending on the field locale.

Prerequisite: GEO 101, GEO 104, and GEO 218; or permission of the instructor


GEO 330 - Paleoclimate and Global Change

Semester: Spring; Alternate years
Semester hours: 3

This course is designed for geology majors, geology minors, upper-level environmental science majors, and other upper-level science majors with interest in the climate of the Earth throughout its history. Scientific literature and other resources will be used to illustrate the current ideas about the mechanisms that drive Earth’s climate system on the plate tectonic timescale, glacial timescale, and short-term timescale. Topics will include Earth’s climate system, paleoclimate proxies and paleothermometers, atmospheric chemistry and climate, controls and effects of oceanic circulation on climate, the effects of geologic features on climate (volcanoes, supercontinents, ice sheets, etc.), and the effects of biologic organisms on climate and vice versa. Three hours of lecture per week.

Prerequisite: GEO 101, CHM 101


GEO 334 - Oil and Gas Geology

Semester: Offered at discretion of department; Alternate years
Semester hours: 4

This course provides an introduction to oil and gas geology, illustrating the various processes that take place from petroleum source to sink. Lectures will focus on the generation of oil and gas, the nature of source rocks and reservoirs, exploration of petroleum traps, as well as drilling and production. Special consideration will be given to regional oil and gas fields in Montana, Wyoming, and North Dakota. Exercises will include basic rock description (hand sample and thin section), as well as geologic map and seismic interpretation and structural analysis. Assignments will focus on weekly reading and laboratory assignments, as well as field trips. Students will be assessed via laboratory exercises, midterm and final exam, and final project presented in written and oral form.

Prerequisite: GEO 101, GEO 104, and GEO 218


GEO 343 - Field Methods for Geoscientists

Semester: Fall
Semester hours: 4

This practical course in basic field techniques focuses on the use of the fundamental tools of geologic field work including topographic and geologic maps, air photos, the Brunton compass, hand-held GPS, and Jacob's staff. Students draft cross-sections, geologic maps, and stratigraphic columns, and prepare geologic reports using proper scientific writing and data analysis techniques. This course should be taken during sophomore or junior year. One hour of lecture and a two-hour laboratory per week. This course does not serve as a substitute for GEO 350 or equivalent. Students should expect several mandatory field trips. Some will require camping and strenuous hiking in mountain settings.

Prerequisite: GEO 101, GEO 104, and MAT 110 or satisfactory score on a math placement exam


GPY 102 - World Regional Geography

Semester: Spring
Semester hours: 3

This introductory geography course is a requirement for students in the environmental programs and may be used to satisfy a core curriculum requirement for the social sciences. The course provides students with tools and knowledge from the social and physical sciences that will help them to think critically about how global systems work and how they connect and transform social activity and bio-geophysical landscapes around the world. Students will learn the cultural, political-economic, and bio-geophysical characteristics that distinguish the world’s diverse regions; how place-specific characteristics shape and are shaped by global processes; and the role of policy in shaping global flows and their local expressions. Formerly EMP 102.


GPY 118 - Montana Rivers

Semester: Fall
Semester hours: 3

This integrative, field-based course introduces students to the environmental programs at Rocky Mountain College and is a required course for geography, environmental science, and environmental studies. Through hands-on experiences in the outdoor classrooms of the Yellowstone and Missouri River watersheds, students will gain a geographic perspective on key regional environmental issues. Activities include a multi-day canoe trip on the Missouri River or Yellowstone River and outdoor service learning activities, such as the annual Yellowstone River Cleanup. Students will read and keep journals, write papers, examine basic ecology and geology, analyze and communicate effectively about patterns of landscape change and management, and work as part of a team of outdoor professionals. Students will learn basic GPS and mapping (GIS) skills. Formerly EMP 118.

Corequesite: Enrollment in EST 103, ESC 105, and 106; or permission of instructor


GPY 224 - Environment and Society

Semester: Spring; Odd years
Semester hours: 3

This course presents a geographic perspective on environmental problems and introduces students to the core ideas, terminology, major controversies, complexities, and scholarly context surrounding contemporary socio-environmental problems. Topics include landscape as a dynamic artifact of human-environment interaction; roots of (mostly American) political ecology thinking; social, environmental, and political-economic factors shaping human environment interaction and environmental problems; and the roles of consumers, markets, governments, policies, science, and collective action in use and conservation of ecosystem resources. This course may be used to satisfy a core curriculum requirement for the social sciences. Formerly EMP 224.


GPY 226 - Energy and Society

Semester: Spring; Even years
Semester hours: 3

This course introduces students to knowledge, theories, and analytical techniques that will help them better understand and communicate effectively about the scientific, technical, economic, social, political, and environmental dimensions of Earth-Energy-Society interactions. While other energy sources will be discussed, the course focuses primarily on human use of energy from hydrocarbons (fossil fuels). Particular attention will be given to policy tools and technical options for addressing problematic or unsustainable patterns of energy production. Patterns of Earth-Energy-Society interactions will be examined from a historical-geographic perspective. Formerly EST 226.


GPY 299 - Independent Study

Semester: Offered at discretion of department
Semester hours: 1-3

This course allows a superior student to devise and pursue independent study in an area agreed upon in consultation with, and supervised by, a faculty member. Students should be either a major or minor and have a cumulative GPA of 3.00 or greater.


GPY 302 - Sustainable Development Policy and Practice

Semester: Fall; Odd years
Semester hours: 3

This course provides students with an understanding of key themes of sustainable development policy and practice. Course materials and activities will track the theory and practice of development as it has evolved from the empire-building focus of the colonial period of human history to the present era of "sustainable development," which, in theory, proposes to meet the needs of the current generation without jeopardizing the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Students will critically examine common assumptions regarding sustainable development, and study the effects of particular development theorizations as well as the spatial processes and linkages leading to development outcomes. Students will consider whose needs are best met by orthodox approaches to sustainable development, how to define development success, and how development success can be achieved through policy and practice. Formerly EMP 302.

Prerequisite: GPY 102 or permission of instructor


GPY 321 - Introduction to Geographic Information Systems

Semester: Fall
Semester hours: 4

This course introduces students to the theory and practical application of geographic information systems (GIS). Topics include fundamentals of cartography, GIS data types, data input, GIS database structure and management, analysis of spatially distributed data, and report preparations using GIS. Formerly ESC 321.


GPY 322 - Remote Sensing

Semester: Spring
Semester hours: 4

This course introduces the principles of remote sensing to students who are new to the field but who have experience with GIS (particularly with ArcMap). The focus is on hands on application of remote sensing data and workflows to natural resource management, earth science, and environmental systems monitoring. Formerly ESC 322.


GPY 350 - Case Studies in International Political Ecology

Semester: Spring; Offered at discretion of department
Semester hours: 3

This combination lecture and field study course features travel outside the United States to study a specific landscape (e.g. the Pantanal Wetlands in Paraguay) that is the focus of development or conservation projects. Through lectures, research projects, and in-class and field activities, students will explore political and ecological concepts specific to the case study landscape and development and conservation planning in general. Field activities may include stay at remote field stations, ecological short courses, nature walks, bird watching excursions, and community meetings in local communities. Additional travel fees are required.

Prerequisite: permission of instructor


GPY 450 - Internship

Semester: Offered at discretion of department
Semester hours: 1-12

This course is a guided work experience in an already established place of business. The student must arrange the internship in agreement with a geography advisor and the Office of Career Services. The internship should relate to the student's major area of study. Contract is required.

Prerequisite: junior or senior standing


GPY 491 - Geography Capstone

Semester: Spring; Even years
Semester hours: 3

This is a seminar-style capstone course for geography majors in their second-to-last semester at Rocky Mountain College. Course discussions will explore production and contestation of environmental knowledge; the use of environmental (particularly spatial) knowledge in decision-making; and understanding the historical, scientific, and policy contexts that shape responses to local and global environmental problems. The theme of the seminar may vary depending on research or service-learning projects chosen.

Prerequisite: senior standing
Corequesite: GPY 492


GPY 492 - Geography Capstone Laboratory

Semester: Spring
Semester hours: 1

In this laboratory-style course, students will participate in long-term research or service learning projects facilitated by geography faculty. Students will critically analyze qualitative and quantitative data, apply appropriate geographic research tools and techniques in order to investigate problems and research questions from a spatial perspective, and communicate information in oral and written formats.

Prerequisite: senior standing
Corequesite: GPY 491


GPY 499 - Independent Study

Semester: Offered at discretion of department
Semester hours: 1-3

This course allows a superior student to devise and pursue independent study in an area agreed upon in consultation with, and supervised by, a faculty member. Students should be either a major or minor and have a cumulative GPA of 3.00 or greater.

Prerequisite: junior or senior standing


HST 365 - American Environmental History

Semester: Fall; Alternate years
Semester hours: 3

This course examines the interrelationship of human society and nature in American history. Topics will include ecology as it relates to European conquest of the Americas, Native American peoples, public lands policies, American national character, technological society, conservation, and the modern environmental movement.


MAT 210 - Probability and Statistics

Semester: Fall, Spring, and Summer
Semester hours: 3

This course provides a non-calculus-based study of discrete probability theory and its statistical applications. Distribution theory and its applications in hypothesis testing and setting confidence intervals are discussed.

Prerequisite: MAT 100 or satisfactory score on a placement exam


PHR 304 - Environmental Ethics

Semester: Spring
Semester hours: 3

This course will address issues such as whether natural beings and the natural world have rights or whether only humans have rights. Students will determine what is ethically appropriate for humans in their relationship with the environment as well as what environmental ethics must take account of to be consequential in the world today.


PHR 378 - Philosophy of Technology and Culture

Semester: Spring; Alternate years
Semester hours: 3

It is often a difficult task to understand one's own culture and age. Recent philosophical work offers profound insights into our age and places these insights within a much wider context.


POL 204 - Political Geography

Semester: Fall; Even years
Semester hours: 3

This course introduces students to political geography as a field of inquiry, including the scholarly context, core ideas, terminology, major controversies, and complexities associated with taking a geographical perspective on political issues. Students will develop tools to think critically about the mutually constitutive relationship between politics and places, as well as the conflict-laden politics of human-environment relations. The readings, videos, music, and other materials used in the course are drawn from political geography, political science, the humanities, government and multi-lateral agencies, and substantive news and media outlets (e.g., Economist, National Geographic, and The World Bank). Course topics include the changing relationships between territory, sovereignty, and identity; globalization and environmental governance; and the paradoxes and contradictions of post-9/11 geopolitics.


POL 313 - Environmental Politics

Semester: Spring
Semester hours: 3

This course explores the political problems associated with the human impact on the natural environment: pollution, natural resources, public lands, land use, energy, cultural/social justice, and population.


SOC 324 - Sociocultural Theory

Semester: Fall; Alternate years
Semester hours: 3

A study of the historical development of the fields of anthropology and sociology with an emphasis on the contributions of both classical and modern social theorists in the development of key concepts in the study of social and cultural behavior.

Prerequisite: SOC 101 or SOC 242 or permission of the instructor


SOC 408 - Introduction to Social Research

Semester: Fall; Alternate years
Semester hours: 3

Students will complete the tasks necessary for conducting sociological research prior to the collection of data. Students will write a research proposal to include the development of a research question (hypothesis), a literature review of existing research on this topic, identification of a population for study, choice of two research methodologies for data collection, choice of analytical tools, and a statement of expected results. After successful completion of this course students will be prepared for SOC 409: Practicing Social Research.

Prerequisite: SOC 324


  • Lucas Ward, Associate Professor of Geography and Program Coordinator
  • Thomas Kalakay, Associate Professor of Geology
  • Kayhan Ostovar, Associate Professor of Environmental Science
  • Derek Sjostrom, Associate Professor of Geology
  • Emily Ward, Associate Professor of Geology
  • Megan Poulette, Assistant Professor of Environmental Science