Geography and Environmental Science

Department Chair: Kathryn Besio, Ph.D.

Social Sciences Division Office:
Office: University Classroom Building (UCB), Room 308
Tel: (808) 932-7100



Associate Professors:


Geography aims to help people understand why things happen where they do. Many of the problems and issues facing our world today have geographic dimensions, such as environmental quality, social justice, housing, food production and consumption, global trade and business, and resource management. An education in Geography provides essential skills for problem solving and making sense of an interconnected, complex world.

The study of both natural and human environments is an outstanding feature of Geography. Geography students will acquire a liberal arts education while specializing in one of the subfields of the discipline. Popular subfields are Physical Geography (including climatology, biogeography, and geomorphology), Human Geography (including cultural geography, economic geography, indigenous geographies, resource management, and land use planning), and Geographic Techniques (including remote sensing, geographic information systems, and cartography). The Department also participates in an interdisciplinary graduate program (M.S.) in Tropical Conservation Biology and Environmental Science.

Hawaiʻi Island has diverse natural and cultural environments ideal for the study of Geography. Field excursions and associated student research activities are an integral and enriching component of the student’s geographic education at UH Hilo. Computer-based spatial analysis, cartography, and image processing contribute to a contemporary curriculum.

Geography Department graduates have gone on to a wide range of careers, including resource management, community development, cartography and map design, GIS analysis, land use planning, environmental engineering, publishing and editorial work, environmental law, landscape architecture, and teaching at all levels.


Our mission is to educate students through a Hawaiʻi-based curriculum in geography and the environment rooted in interdisciplinary experiential learning and its transformative potential. We aim for teaching and research that connect local places and processes to greater Oceania and the globe. Whether a student focuses on geography (human, physical, or spatial science), environmental studies, or environmental science, our goal is to create thoughtful and capable graduates with the foundational knowledge, technological skills, theoretical background, and creativity needed to contribute to their communities’ needs and help achieve a more just and thriving world. Mahalo nui to the kanaka maoli of Hawai‘i whose ‘āina teaches and supports the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo community.

Program Learning Outcomes

Upon successful completion of the B.A. in Geography or the B.S. in Environmental Science, students will be able to:

  • Demonstrate mastery of core concepts in human and environmental aspects of Geography (Program Learning Outcome—Mastery of Key Concepts in Discipline).
  • Evaluate key patterns in spatial data and identify technologies and research techniques to interpret data for later analysis and problem solving (Scientific and Quantitative Reasoning; Critical Thinking).
  • Interpret and critique professional (academic and non-academic) literature (Information Literacy; Critical Thinking).
  • Present research results in visual, oral and written formats to a range of audiences, including academic, professional and community (Communication; Collaborative Skills, Civic Participation and Applied Learning).
  • Perform quantitative and qualitative analysis to interpret environmental and social data and address environmental problems (Scientific and Quantitative Reasoning, Human Interaction and Cultural Diversity).
  • Develop and carry out social/natural science research in a range of interdisciplinary fields related to the majors (Collaborative Skills, Civic Participation and Applied Learning).

Goals for Student Learning in the Major

The study of Geography helps students understand and analyze:

  • The social, cultural and natural processes that make places distinctive
  • Globalization and its effects on environmental and cultural change
  • The uneven global distribution of wealth, resources and population
  • The historical development of the discipline of Geography
  • The representation and analysis of geographic data
  • How to use geo-spatial tools, technologies, and methods

Contributions to the UH Hilo General Education Program

As an integrative discipline, Geography gives students a comprehensive view of the world and an appreciation of environmental and cultural diversity.