John P. Wilson
Computer Science, Preventive Medicine, Sociology, and Spatial Sciences
• Geographic Information Science • Environmental Modeling
• Geodesign • Population and Public Health • Spatial Data Science
University of Southern California
Professor, School of Architecture
Professor, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering
Professor, Department of Computer Science,
Viterbi School of Engineering
Professor, Department of Preventive Medicine, Keck School of Medicine of USC
Professor, Department of Sociology, Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences
Director, USC Spatial Sciences Institute
Director, Wilson Map Lab
Co-Director, Climate and Health Working Group, Exposure Sciences Research Core, External Factors Facility Core, Southern California Environmental Health Sciences Center
Co-Director, Center for Knowledge-Powered Interdisciplinary Data Science
Spatial Sciences Lead, Clinical Research Informatics, Southern California Clinical and Translational Science Institute
Professor, Institute of Geographical Sciences and Natural Resources Research
Chinese Academy of Sciences
Editor-in-Chief, University Consortium for Geographic Information Science Geographic Information Science and Technology (GIST) Body of Knowledge
Editor-in-Chief, Transactions in GIS
Associate Editor, International Journal of Disaster Response and Emergency Management
Associate Editor, ISPRS International Journal of Geo-Information
Take a look at John Wilson’s
Dr. John P. Wilson is Professor of Sociology and Spatial Sciences in the Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences at the University of Southern California (USC) where he directs the Spatial Sciences Institute as well Wilson Map Lap. He holds appointments as Professor in the School of Architecture, in the Keck School of Medicine of USC’s Department of Preventive Medicine, and in the and in the Viterbi School of Engineering’s Departments of Computer Science and Civil & Environmental Engineering.
From 1998 to 2001 and 2007 to 2010 he was Chair of the Department of Geography at USC, and from 1992 to 1997 he was Professor of Geography in the Department of Earth Sciences, Adjunct Professor in the Department of Plant & Soil Science, and Director of the Geographic Information and Analysis Center (GIAC) at Montana State University (MSU). His early career was as Assistant Professor (1984-1990) and then Associate Professor of Geography (1990-1994) with corresponding adjunct appointments in Plant & Soil Science at MSU. He founded GIAC at MSU in 1989 and the GIS Research Laboratory, GIST Graduate Programs, and Spatial Sciences Institute at USC in 1997, 2007 and 2010, respectively. He has held several visiting appointments in environmental studies, geography, and planning at the Australian National University, University of Canterbury, University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, University of Utrecht, University of Waikato, and most recently, in the Institute of Geographical Sciences and Natural Resources Research at the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
He founded the journal Transactions in GIS published by Wiley-Blackwell in 1996, and has served as Editor-in-Chief since its inception. He currently serves on the editorial boards of the International Journal of Disaster Response & Emergency Management, Journal of Geo-Spatial Information Science, Open Geospatial Data, Software, & Standards, and the Annals of the Association of American Geographers Review of Books. He has previously served on the editorial boards of Applied Geography (1992-2001) and the Annals of the Association of American Geographers (2006-2009). He has chaired the Applied Geography Specialty Group of the Association of American Geographers (1989-1991) and the Research Committee of the University Consortium for Geographic Information Science (UCGIS) (2002-2005). He also served on the Board of Directors (2003-2006) and as President of UCGIS from 2006 to 2007. He currently serves as Editor-in-Chief for the UCGIS GIST Body of Knowledge project and is an active participant in the UNIGIS International Network, a worldwide consortium of universities focused on online geographic information science academic programs.
His research focuses on the modeling of human and environmental systems and makes extensive use of GIS, spatial analysis, and computer models. He has published numerous books and articles on these topics, including Environmental Applications of Digital Terrain Modeling (Wiley, 2018) and two edited volumes, Terrain Analysis: Principles and Applications (Wiley, 2000) and the Handbook of Geographic Information Science (Blackwell, 2008). Much of this work is collaborative with the goal of improving our understanding of the factors linking people, their environments, and their health. The work of his lab group can be seen at http://johnwilson.usc.edu/. He has received numerous honors for his research and teaching, the most recent his election as a Fellow of the UCGIS (2014) and his receipt of a Lifetime Achievement Award by the International Association of Chinese Professionals in Geographic Information Science (2016) and the GIS Education Award by the UCGIS (2019). He also received a Mellon Award for Excellence in Mentoring from the Center for Excellence in Teaching at USC (2005) and the Albert S. Raubenheimer Outstanding Faculty Award for his research, teaching, and service contributions in Dornsife College at USC (2004).
By the Numbers
1 sole-authored book
2 edited books
28 book chapters (7 co-authored with students)
97 refereed journal articles (60 co-authored with students)
22 conference/symposium proceedings papers (9 co-authored with students)
46 technical reports and working papers (31 co-authored with students)
230 presentations at conferences and symposia (73 co-authored with students)
99 invited lectures and seminars
133 grants and contracts worth $9,400,159 (44 internal, 89 external)
11 post-doctoral fellows and visiting scholars supervised
12 PhDs graduated (10 in Geography; 3 in Computer Science)
59 MAs/MSs graduated (14 in Geography; 43 in Geographic Information Science and Technology; 1 in Geology; 1 in Soil Science)
|Books & Book Chapters||3||7||14||7||0||31|
|Refereed Journal Articles||8||15||25||34||11||97|
|Conference / Symposium Proceedings Papers||1||10||4||7||0||22|
|Conference / Symposia Presentations||19||65||53||52||8||230|
|Technical Reports & Working Papers||5||2||31||3||3||47|
|Invited Talks & Seminars||6||23||15||51||3||99|
|MAs & MSs Graduated||2||11||3||35||1||59|
|No. of Grants & Contracts Awarded||12||45||38||29||9||133|
|Total Grant & Contract Dollars||$273,459||$2,905,868||$4,293,255|| $1,662,477||$265,100|| $9,400,159|
Building Things That Matter:
Throughout my career, I have watched trends and tried to build academic programs and research groups that seized the opportunities at hand to build meaningful growth opportunities for faculty, staff, and students. This started early for me via some confluence of forethought and luck – I saw Esri’s Arc/Info (Version 2.0) at a GIS/LIS Symposium in Dallas, Texas in 1986 and saw immediately the possibilities for building new geography courses and an organized research unit focused on spatial analysis and modeling around these kinds of platforms. A few years later, I gathered the necessary political and financial support, designed and authored a series of classes, and founded the Geographic Information and Analysis Center at Montana State University that I directed from 1989 to 1997.
I moved to the University of Southern California in 1997 and founded the GIS Research Laboratory that I directed from its inception until the demise of the Department of Geography and GIS Research Laboratory in 2010. The field changed a great deal over the 21 years covered by these two initiatives and fortunately, the work moved to the production and sharing of spatial analytics and models as some of the early tasks (particularly building geospatial datasets from scratch) faded into the background.
The field of geographic information science grew tremendously in terms of both breadth and depth during this period as well. The work of pioneers (scholars like Luc Anselin, Peter Fisher, Michael Goodchild, Michael Hutchinson, and Shaowen Wang, among others) along with the emergence of the spatial turn – which swept through the natural sciences, the social sciences and the humanities – and computational advances spawned by colleagues in both the computer science and information technology fields has helped to spawn this growth. Whatever the explanation, I personally came to see geographic information science as an enabling discipline (much like statistics has become during my lifetime) and with this in mind and the support of the USC Provost’s Office, I founded the Spatial Sciences Institute on July 1st 2010.
Housed in the Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, the USC Spatial Sciences Institute looks outward and endeavors to promote and support spatial perspectives across the academy. I believe there are hundreds of scholars and students whose work would benefit from looking at their topics through a spatial lens from time to time. This belief means that we need academic programs that simultaneously: (1) introduce large numbers of scholars and students in multiple disciplines to the spatial sciences on the one hand; and (2) train relatively small numbers of spatial scientists on the other hand! The new academic programs I have helped to craft during the past decade seek to achieve both of these outcomes – as I will explain below.
Building research units like the Geographic Information and Analysis Center at MSU and GIS Research Laboratory at USC provide modest vehicles for training students and building new academic courses and programs. To achieve a large and lasting impact, one needs to build new academic degree programs that anticipate where society, science, and technology are heading, and the kinds of opportunities these developments are likely to spawn.
The launch of the Spatial Sciences Institute on July 1st, 2010 followed several years of planning and the goal was to create a nimble, outward looking academic unit that could seize a number of opportunities to build a series of interdisciplinary academic degree programs and then create the technological and intellectual base to support these programs.
I started by writing curriculum and accreditation proposals to launch an online M.S. in Geographic Information Science & Technology (GIST) to complement an online Graduate Certificate I had designed and launched in 1998 soon after joining the USC Department of Geography. The new GIST M.S. has flourished since we recruited the first students in the fall of 2010, and we quickly added new Graduate Certificates in Geospatial Intelligence and Geospatial Leadership as well as a GeoHealth track in the Keck School of Medicine’s Online Master of Public Health (MPH) degree program. All of these programs continue and we have graduated nearly 300 GIST MS students during the past decade whose accomplishments since graduation have been amazing.
I next started thinking about and planning an interdisciplinary Geodesign B.S. degree program. Encouraged by the success of our online programs and realizing that geographic information science (and my own work for that matter) had spent too much time and effort describing what was wrong with the world, I started looking at how geographic information science could support building solutions. I was lucky enough to attend a presentation by Carl Steinitz at Esri in 2011 and this got me thinking about what one would need to do to create undergraduate degree programs that would position students at the intersection of spatial, design, and planning with a focus on problem-solving. The B.S. in Geodesign and B.S. in Global Geodesign degrees launched in 2014 and 2019, respectively draw on classes from architecture, planning and the spatial sciences, and represent the first degrees of their kind in the world.
The motivating concept was simple. The School of Architecture would lead the design elements of the program, the Price School of Public Policy would provide the planning frameworks around which both collective and individual action (creativity) occur, and the USC Spatial Sciences Institute would provide the stage on which scientific knowledge is gathered and assembled to address the opportunities at hand. The student response has been fantastic and we now graduate 10-15 geodesign majors per year. Like our GIST graduates, the Geodesign graduates have quickly found their way to novel graduate programs or leadership positions in government agencies and urban design firms. The future is promising as we work to build meaningful collaborations with colleagues in Amsterdam University College and Peking University.
We quickly turned our attention to doctoral students and following a period of planning and curriculum review, we launched a first-of-its-kind in the world Ph.D. in Population, Health and Place in Fall Semester, 2016. Built on roughly equal contributions from the Department of Preventive Medicine, the Department of Sociology, and the Spatial Sciences Institute this new degree program has sought from the outset to produce a new kind scholar and leader. These graduates will be cross-trained in public health (biostatistics, exposure science and epidemiology), population science (demography and demographic methods), and the spatial sciences (mapping, spatial analysis and modeling) and positioned to help find and implement solutions for problems that occur at the intersection of these standalone fields. The results so far are encouraging and we anticipate that our first PHP cohort will graduate in the spring of 2021.
During the past three years, we have turned our attention to building new academic programs for undergraduates and master’s students. The undergraduate programs include a new B.S. and Minor in Human Security and Geospatial Intelligence and a new minor in GIS and Sustainability Science to complement the Minor in Spatial Studies that we launched in conjunction with the B.S. in Geodesign in 2014. The two human security and geospatial intelligence programs draw on classes in political science and international relations as well as classes in spatial sciences. The initial student interest has been strong and this spring, we will teach the last of the new classes we have stood up to support these new undergraduate programs.
The three new M.S. degrees are collaborations with fields that complement the spatial sciences and with whom we can provide graduates that take up leadership positions following graduation. The first is an M.S. in Spatial Data Science that we co-teach with the Data Science faculty affiliated with the Viterbi School of Engineering’s Department of Computer Science and the second is an M.S. in Spatial Economics and Data Analysis that we co-teach with faculty in the Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences’ Department of Economics. The third is an M.S. in Transportation Systems Management offered by the Viterbi School of Engineering’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and to which we contribute a required class and a specialization in Geographic Information Science, Systems, and Services. The early results have been fantastic, notwithstanding the havoc and disruptions brought by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the two new master’s programs that we offer jointly with computer science and economics may soon rival the GIST M.S. in terms of student numbers and career opportunities.
I have found throughout my life and career that serendipity has a way of lending a helping hand. Trekking back to 1993, Michael Goodchild asked me to organize and lead a session that asked whether we needed a second international, peer-reviewed academic journal focused on geographic information science at the Second International Conference on GIS and Environmental Modeling in Brackenridge, Colorado. Following this conference, I authored a proposal to launch a new journal and we published the first issue of Transactions in GIS in February 1996. I chose the name with a particular goal in mind – the desire to establish a journal that spanned scientific foundations as well as applications – and therefore an outlet that provided a permanent repository for both articles describing fundamental scientific advances and best practices. I have served as the Editor-in-Chief from the outset and we will publish the first issue of volume 25 in February 2021. The journal has grown in size and stature during the past 25 years (6 issues with 25 articles per issue will be published in 2021 compared to just 4 issues with 9 articles per issue in 1996, and the journal is now included in the Web of Science and earned an impact factor of 1.933 in 2020). The mission has changed little since its inception and today Transactions in GIS aims to publish original research articles, review articles and short technical notes on the latest advances and best practices in the spatial sciences, where the latter includes all of the different ways in which geography might be used to organize, represent, store, analyze, model and visualize information. That said, the opportunity to first, launch and grow this journal and second, to help guide the best manuscripts to publication are among the best things I get to do as a scholar and teacher.
Building Successful Collaborations:
The best collaborations are those where the sum of the parts is more than the parts themselves. These opportunities occur in a variety of ways but the best usually involve collaborations with faculty colleagues, staff, and students, as explained below
A quick glance at my publications will indicate that I have been lucky enough to work with many wonderful colleagues over the years. Indeed, there are too many to mention by name, but let me say that I have come to realize in the past couple of years that my role in such collaborations is evolving quickly. I chose to go to Montana State University in 1984 because I loved the landscapes and I saw tremendous opportunities to gather expertise and guidance from a trio of senior faculty – Steve Custer, Gerry Nielsen, and Robert Taylor. Each was influential and all three played key roles in my early successes in both fundraising, grantsmanship, and publishing. My hope now is that I gathered sufficient knowledge and wisdom over the past 36 years that I can switch up the roles I play in these kinds of collaborations. My roles and responsibilities are evolving quickly and I increasingly find myself assuming the role of senior scholar and guiding hand with rising stars like Felipe de Barros (USC), Rima Habre (USC), Kayla de la Haye (USC), Yumin Chen (Wuhan University) and Lili Zhang (Chinese Academy of Sciences), among others in novel research projects.
A quick glance at my publications and presentations will indicate that I have also published many book chapters, journal articles, and conference proceedings papers with graduate students over the past four decades. I was the first person in my extended family in New Zealand to go to college and I earned my first degree in Law at the University of Canterbury in 1976. The legal training has helped shape who I am today but I had already settled on a career in science before finishing my law program. I sought out an academic career so I could work with students and the “value” proposition that has accompanied this choice gets better with each passing year. I have always found value in teaching and in guiding student research projects, and look forward to many new opportunities of both kinds moving forward.