James O'Brien


I got involved in GIS in 1993 but via a slightly different path perhaps to most people. A year earlier I'd been introduced to GIS at a university promotional event where it was described as "Computing and Environmental Studies." Intrigued at how the two could be combined, I went along, listened, liked what I heard and selected GIS as my undergraduate degree. That degree, combining GIS with a solid background in Computing Science, led to me being employed as a computer programmer, hardware technician, cartographer and a few other things along the way. I obtained a PhD at Penn State (01-04), and followed that up with a year in Australia doing financial management before returning to Penn State for a one year Post Doc working on the final year of the Human Environment Regional Observatory project. At the conclusion of that project I moved to Kingston University in London, UK as a Senior Lecturer in GIS and then as a Principal Lecturer teaching ArcGIS customisation, spatial databases, GIS & Hazards, Mobile GIS and Geoweb Development (which uses ArcGIS Server), Project Management and a few other things. After 4.5 years doing that, I was enticed back to Australia to join the Risk Frontiers research centre at Macquarie University where I work as part of a team using GIS (and a range of other tools) to model the spatial distribution of natural hazards (and their associated losses) like fire, flood, earthquake, and cyclone (hurricane) for insurance companies. As the Chief Geospatial Scientist I spend a lot of my days designing and building spatial tools for analysis particularly using Python but also a range of other languages.

Course Spotlight

pile of maps

Cartography and Visualization (GEOG 486) covers design principles and techniques for creating maps with contemporary mapping tools. Students will 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. Visit the course.

Faculty Spotlight

Dr. Fritz Kessler

Dr. Fritz Kessler has taught various online courses in the Master's of Geographic Information Systems at Penn State since 2007. He's also an avid cyclist and musician. Learn more about Dr. Kessler, see what he has to say about online education, and hear him play a tune on the mandolin.