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The Wilbanks Prize for Transformational Research in Geography

The Wilbanks Prize is awarded to geographers from the academic, public, or private sectors whose research has made transformational contributions to Geography or GIScience, or to Science and Society more broadly. Wilbanks Prize awardees will receive a cash prize of $2,000 and a statuette honoring the recipient. All individual geographers are eligible to be nominated or to apply for this prize focusing specifically on geographic research.

Deadline: Dec. 31 annually

Eligibility:  All individual geographers are eligible to be nominated for or to apply for the WIlbanks Prize.

Criteria: The Wilbanks Prize for Transformational Research in Geography will be presented to those who have conducted truly transformative geographic research, specifically research which transformed geography, GIScience, and/or the world. The prize shall be made for transformative geographic reseacrch that has been conducted in all sectors of geographical research, including in academia, the private sector, and government/NGOs. The Wilbanks Prize is issued for transformative research only; it is not given for service, education, or teaching.

Nominations: To make nominations for the Wilbanks Prize, include the complete name and address of the nominee, a curriculum vitae, and a concise (2,500 words maximum) yet specific description of the accomplishments that warrant selection according to the above criteria. Up to three supporting letters from other individuals may also be submitted. Nominators wishing their candidate to be considered in a subsequent cycle (in the event the candidate was not initially selected) must resubmit the dossier, as nominations won't be carried forward from year to year. The deadline for receipt of nominations is December 31.

Submissions: Please gather all required supporting documents before completing the online Application Form at this link. The Application Form will require you to upload all supporting documents before being able to complete your submission. You cannot save a partially completed form and return to it later, so it is important to have all materials ready before accessing the online Application Form. For questions please contact or call the AAG at 202-234-1450.

Donations: Donations to the Wilbanks Prize for Transformational Research in Geography can be made at this link or by contacting Candida Mannozzi at or 202-234-1450.

Donate Now to the AAG Wilbanks Award for Transformational Research in Geography

Award Recipients

Mei-Po-Kwan, has had transformational impacts how transportation specialists and GIScientists think about accessibility and travel pattern analysis, how feminist geographers understand quantification and GIS, and how health geographers, public health researchers, and scholars in other disciplines think  about environmental exposure and the significance of neighborhood. Dr. Kwan has dramatically altered geo-visualization, and she has broadened GIScience to include more humanistic standards such as perceptions, emotions and behavior as core patterns. She has also advanced the conceptualization of uncertainty and bias by examining spatial contexts as rooted in everyday behaviors and experiences, rather than as contaniers fixed in space and time. Dr. Kwan's work has transformed the discipline of geography and GIScience and infused a more robust geospatial understanding in the broader community of researchers and practitioners.


Billie Lee Turner, Arizona State University, has been a leader in the field of land use change and a strong advocate for geography at the national level. Dr. Turner’s research has been transformative in two distinct areas, united by a geographic approach to land use change. First, his earliest work on Pre-Hispanic Mayan agriculture established a major new research strand in geography and elevated geographic research on land-use and land use change to a significant area of anthropological research. Dr. Turner and his graduate students have continued to build a substantial body of Meso-American research in which they have deepened understanding of environmental context and broadened methodological approaches to grasping the underpinnings of agricultural change. Second, Dr. Turner’s research on land use and environmental change has been influential in creating the emerging field of land systems science as a major component of global change and sustainability research. Dr. Turner is a highly deserving recipient of the Wilbanks Prize, as he exemplifies utilizing new geospatial technologies to complement traditional geographic field studies in advancing theory and analyses of land use change.


Susan Cutter, Carolina Distinguished Professor of Geography and Director of the HazardsDr. Susan Cutter
and Vulnerability Research Institute at the University of South Carolina.Dr. Cutter has made transformative, far-reaching research contributions to geography and the broader interdisciplinary research communities that focus on hazards and disasters. Her work led to development of the Social Vulnerability Index, the first nationwide empirical representation of social vulnerability. The Index is used in National Risk Assessment toolkit and by many other nations. She also pioneered the Baseline Resilience Indicators for Communities, a county-level assessment of disaster resilience; the Hazards of Place model of vulnerability, which analyzes the contributions of physical and social vulnerability to overall place vulnerability; and the Disaster Resilience of Place model, which identify place-based differences and measures progress towards resilient goals and outcomes.

Alan MacEachren, Professor of Geography and Director of the Hazards and Vulnerability Research  Institute at the Pennsylvania StateUniversity and Director of the GeoVISTA Center. Dr. MacEachren has made transformative, far-reaching research contributions to geography, GIScience, and the broader interdisciplinary research communities that focus on information visualization and visual analytics.  In his seminal 1995 book, How Maps Work: Representation, Visualization and Design, he developed a cognitive-semiotic theoretical perspective for dynamic representation that fostered the next generation of cartography, conceptualizing map making and reading as a process of knowledge construction itself. Dr. MacEachren's recent work on geovisual analytics champions thinking about how humans can collaborate with computers to make sense of information needed to solve highly complex problems. His research advances our fundamental understandings in geography, computer science and related fields and has been employed in a broad range of domains, such as public health, crisis management, and environmental science.


In 2018 the Wilbanks Prize was awarded to Douglas Richardson for his research contributions to Geography, GIScience, and geographic technologies, which have transformed the discipline of geography, and science and society more broadly. Dr. Richardson was Founder and President of GeoResearch, Inc., which invented, developed and patented the first real-time interactive GPS/GIS mapping and data collection technology in the late 1980s and early 1990s. This technology is now central to the pervasive availability of what is now generally referred to as Big Data. As part of his leadership at the AAG, Dr. Richardson has developed research programs that advance the discipline in areas such as Geography and Health Research, Geographic Technologies and Sustainable Development, Space-Time Integration in GIScience, and Geography and the Humanities. Dr. Richardson has created new opportunities for geographers and GIScientists to play a role in health and medical research, and published these in the article titled "Spatial turn in health research" in Science in 2013. Doug Richardson embodies the ideals of Tom Wilbanks' own research, which also spanned the public, private, and academic spheres.



Tom WilbanksThe Wilbanks Prize for Transformational Research in Geography has been established in memory of the late Dr. Thomas (Tom) Wilbanks, a former AAG President and long-standing AAG member, who earned the admiration and respect of colleagues around the world for his many years of scholarship and research bridging the academic, public and private sectors.

Wilbanks was a groundbreaking scientist at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, where he conducted research and published extensively on sustainable development, energy and environmental technology and policy, responses to global climate change, and the role of geographic scale in addressing these issues.