News from the Chair

Message from the Chair

Welcome to the Department of Geography—or perhaps I should say welcome back! This newly designed Minnesota Geographer—a collaboration between the geography department and our home college, the College of Liberal Arts (CLA)—is your new portal into the department.

In my second year as chair, the department continues its journey through a decade-long period of retirements and rejuvenation. Despite many painful losses to retirement over the past 15 years, we have much to celebrate on the faculty front. As distinguished senior scholars have left, we have recruited rising stars to build on their valuable work and break new ground. These newcomers are already attracting international attention for their work in areas as disparate as human–environment and nature–society relationships, culture and politics, politics and food in Africa, climatological modeling, Geographic Information System (GIS) and institutions, the geographies of memory, land use–land cover modeling, paleoecology and past climate reconstructions, and the geography of music.

Thus we continue to build in the three major areas of the department—human-social, biophysical, and geographic information science/systems. One measure of the quality of our junior hires is the number who have received the prestigious McKnight Land Grant Professorship, awarded to the most promising junior faculty. This award has gone to Bruce Braun, Vinay Gidwani, Bryan Shuman, and Steven Manson.

Across generations, faculty involvement in research projects is broad and deep—from the National Historical Geographic Information System (NHGIS) project (story page 14–15) to the CLA Space and Place collaborative, an experimental forum that bridges the methods, concerns, theories, and practices of the humanities, fine and performing arts, and social sciences. Our faculty have been elected to national and international professional offices, have received major grants from the NSF and NASA, and have served the community in many remarkable ways—working directly with community organizations and bringing their expertise to problem solving around issues ranging from traffic congestion to global climate change. And they remain dedicated to their students. Three are members of the University’s Academy of Distinguished Teachers.

In the end, of course, students are what this whole enterprise is about—and by any measure, our students continue to bring luster to our department. They win national awards, partner in research, and generate new ideas and new applications. We are pleased that our academic programs are thriving, and that our reputation for excellence in instruction at all levels continues.

As you have done, our graduates continue contributing to academia, government, and industry in myriad ways—as teachers and researchers, professional geographers, public policy experts , and civic leaders. We have now graduated more than 60 students from our master’s of geographic information science program—and they work in organizations throughout Minnesota, as well as in Thailand, India, and other countries. Our Ph.D. graduates have landed positions at some of the very best places, including the University of British Columbia, University of Washington, University of Florida, Clark University, University of Georgia, Middlebury College, and Dartmouth College.

To reflect on our accomplishments and to help sort out our future, we completed an external review of the department last fall, our first in 18 years. Building on the report of the review team, we are developing a departmental strategic plan that will identify both the key departmental directions for the next decade and, more importantly, the resources that will be needed to achieve our goals.

It was the last strategic plan, completed in the mid-1990s, that guided the department through the past 10 years. This plan laid out a schedule for hiring, and we followed it: We created a master’s program in GIS (one of the first, and now the most successful, in the country). We helped to create an interdisciplinary environment studies degree—an undergraduate program in biology, society, and the environment (BSE), which has grow n to more than 100 majors. We look forward to completing and implementing another thoughtful, forward-looking, and comprehensive strategic plan that will enable the department to maintain its distinction in the discipline.

Please stay in touch with us. Tell us what you are doing, send us some memories of your days in our department, and let us know how to better connect with you. I am just a few key strokes away at

Best wishes,



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This page contains a single entry by cla published on July 23, 2008 12:18 PM.

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