To our alums and supporters from the Chair

Dear geography alums and supporters,

Over the past two years, higher education in Washington state has been hit hard by the recession that has gripped the entire nation.  In responding to the harsh realities of our new situation, the Department of Geography at the University of Washington has become more entrepreneurial, and more focused on our own efforts to support our students, staff, and faculty.  We have initiated three new strategies to raise the revenue needed to continue our high level of teaching and research support.

The first strategy we’ve engaged is to develop a new self-sustaining Master’s program in Geographic Information Systems (GIS).  This program involves two weeks of intensive, Seattle-based training (at the beginning and end of the program), and two years of on-line teaching.  We chose to develop a professional GIS course because of the overwhelming demand for these types of skills, particularly among young professionals.  The on-line version of the class serves both those in the Pacific Northwest and also a significant number of international students.  It’s a win-win situation for Geography, as we are able to serve the needs of local and foreign students, and also bring in a significant new revenue stream for the department.

Our second strategy has been to seek out unusual sources of funding for our students, including grants and work opportunities that are not well publicized or known outside of a relatively small scholarly niche.  Because geography is such a wonderfully flexible field, and our students are better trained than most small departments, we have had great success in placing students across campus in positions such as the Center for Studies of Demography and Ecology (CSDE), the Center for Statistics (CSSCR), the English writing link, the Law, Societies and Justice program, the advising center, and many others.  We are also highly successful with in-house fellowships such as the Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) grants, which enable our students to continue their studies while learning a foreign language at the same time.

A third source of revenue makes us all feel very nostalgic, but reflects both the new economic realities, as well as the shifts in cartography that have occurred over the past decade.  We are selling our maps!  Partnering with UW Supplies, we plan to auction off hundreds of our old maps on EBay over the course of this coming year.  We are also economizing on our printing and copying (unfortunately, we now have to charge students for these functions), and otherwise cutting back in our everyday operations.

Thanks to the generous gifts of our donors, however, we have been able to maintain a remarkably high level of support to both our faculty and our students.  For example, we have been able to continue our lovely graduation ceremony at the Urban Horticultural Center, our colloquium series, and our monthly “first Friday” pizza lunches for undergraduates.  These lunches give us a chance to provide information that’s ‘good for them’ such as resume building, career panels, and how to apply to grad school–which they otherwise tend to ignore (who has time, right?!).

More importantly, perhaps, recent donor gifts have supported undergraduate and graduate level research and learning that otherwise might never have happened because of the declining dollars available from public and private foundations.  I’d like to share one example of how contributions from alumni and friends of the Department can positively impact our students.

In 2007, Dennis and Diane Durden established an endowment to support graduate students in geography.  Last year funds from the endowment supported a “dissertator retreat” for advanced graduate students.  Using the beautiful (and inexpensive) UW facilities at Friday Harbor in the San Juan Islands, seven students and two faculty met up with eleven students and faculty from the University of British Columbia, for three days and two nights of intense, intellectual discussion, sharing of data and methods, and peer review of research proposals and writing.  All of the students who were fortunate enough to attend the retreat raved about it. The experience was clearly formative for the students, who had the rare opportunity to think and write and get extraordinary peer and instructor feedback without the usual distractions of work and everyday life. One student, Patricia Lopez, wrote of her time there: “It’s difficult to express just how rare and wonderful it was to be in this beautiful and intimate setting with such amazing minds from two different universities – to receive real feedback from highly-respected academics with such candor. But especially, how grateful we all were to walk away with a sense of purpose and feeling so very supported (by both faculty and other grad students – many of whom we’d just met!) in what is, perhaps, one of the more daunting aspects of the PhD process. The intense passion and interest and dedication to our field that was shared over those three days reminded me of why I not only became a graduate student, but specifically, a Geographer.”

To all of our contributors, let me offer my profound thanks for your support.  We have been able to continue our great programs through your continuing help.  Please join us this spring, as we celebrate the department’s 75th Anniversary! The date and venue will be announced in my next letter.

With best wishes,

Katharyne Mitchell

Welcome to the UW Geography Blog!

Dear fellow geographers,

Welcome back from the summer! We look forward to an exciting year ahead! Some highlights of our new programs and relationships include the launch of a new professional Master’s program in GIS, a new director of the Law, Societies, and Justice program, a new head of the Center for Studies in Demography and Ecology, and a brilliant new cohort of graduate students arriving and ready to set the world on fire.

Over the past year we saw Vicky Lawson win a new set of laurels by becoming the University’s Distinguished Graduate Mentor for 2010. This honor follows multiple other teaching awards, including the award for best undergraduate teaching in 1996.

The department also feted Bill Beyers, who became professor emeritus in June. Old friends and students stretching back nearly forty years showed up to party with Bill on the top of Smith Tower in downtown Seattle. The weather was perfect, with views out and beyond West Seattle and the islands of Puget Sound.

Other moments of interest over the past year included the start of Sarah Elwood’s and my three-year research project on children’s mapping and neighborhood awareness, and its potential links with greater civic engagement. We worked alongside grad students Tricia Ruiz and Ryan Burns, teaching middle-school students new geovisualization strategies as they remembered and mapped their own ‘youth journeys’ throughout the day.

Steve Herbert also embarked on a new project investigating the relationship between territory, the law, and the rights of endangered animals, particularly whales. He made many of his colleagues extremely envious as he headed off to the San Juan Islands for several long weekends over the summer!

Mark Ellis initiated a new NSF project on the locational choices of US immigrants during different economic periods, from boom to bust. Lucy Jarosz began a new thread of research in Canada on comparative agricultural systems, and many other faculty have continued research in all corners of the globe.

I will be highlighting both the teaching and research efforts of our faculty in my blog, so stay tuned for further information as the quarter proceeds. Our new interactive website was made possible by the extremely hard work and great web savvy of our PhD student, Joe Eckert, this summer. Thanks to Joe for doing such a great job.

All the best to everyone for the 2010-2011 school year!

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