Association of American Geographers
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October 2017

Lisa Brownell, Program Manager, Ohio Historic Preservation Tax Credit at Ohio Development Services Agency

Education: Ph.D. in Geography (University of Kentucky), M.A. in Geography (University of Kentucky), B.A. in Individually Designed Interdepartmental Major with focus on Community Planning (University of Minnesota)


Describe your job. What are some of the most important tasks or duties for which you are responsible? I am responsible for managing the Ohio Historic Preservation Tax Credit program. I work with applicants at all stages of the process, administer the application, oversee the competitive scoring, and work closely with the state historic preservation office, our partner in the program. 

What attracted you to this organization? They pay me to go out and poke around abandoned buildings! What could be more fun? And then I get the joy of seeing these buildings rehabbed and brought back to a place of value in their communities.

Historic buildings and landscapes have always been so compelling to me as well as the ways that communities value and engage with places. This job sometimes means hours putting numbers in boxes but overall lets me help communities reinvest in places they love.

How has your education/background in geography prepared you for this position? A background in historic/cultural geography has helped me to understand urban development patterns and historic architecture. The big picture/holistic approach that geography offers has been valuable as we work in cities and places that experience conditions that are the result of a wide variety of variables. Instead of looking at the scale of just the building, or even the specific architectural elements of the building, I can help my team look at the broader neighborhood, city, and regional scales to understand a project or a problem better.

What geographic skills and information do you use most often in your work? What general skills and information do you use most often i your work? Geographic skills: Using and making maps, spatial thinking, and understanding how places are nexuses for all sorts of flows and forces and meanings (economic, cultural, historical, politics, environment, memory, power, settlement patterns, etc.).

General skills: Problem solving and listening are big. Looking at big picture needs and translating that to day to day policy and procedure. The ability to help others learn but also to keep learning and being teachable are skills that are very important.

Are there any skills or information you need for your work that you did not obtain through your academic training? If so, how/where did you obtain them? Local knowledge and familiarity with local stories and meanings plus how things “work” in different places. This came from experience and from reading, watching, working with people in the places, and listening over time.

Patience and people skills came from working in childcare, having my own children, and from working as an academic advisor.

What advice would you give someone interested in a job like yours? Persevere. As a geographer in a field full of historic preservation folks (most with either history, planning, or architecture backgrounds) you have to work hard to educate others what a geographer can bring. Folks don’t understand that geographers know cities and buildings and economic development. We have to show them that we bring a holistic understanding of places that is valuable.

Intern, volunteer, get involved, and get to know people in the field. It’s a small field and there aren’t a ton of job openings.

What is the occupational outlook for career opportunities in your field/organization, esp. for geographers? I’d say it’s good, in the sense that geographers make great candidates in historic preservation/government program admin. But it’s not a large field so the opportunities are somewhat limited.


Marcello Graziano, Assistant Professor, Department of Geography, Central Michigan University

Education: Ph.D. in Geography (University of Connecticut), M.Sc. in International Economics (University of Turin), B.Sc. in Foreign Trade and Economics (University of Turin)


What attracted you to a career in education? The opportunity to combine independent research with teaching was the main reason behind my choice to pursue an academic career. Working within a university allows me to continue researching on my favorite topics, while interacting with students and policymakers, and contributing to the welfare of my communities.

How has your education/background in geography prepared you for this position? I had quite an eclectic training, changing three departments throughout my doctorate. My geography background has helped me to think and to operate across disciplines, integrating space and time, and always considering the role of space and place in understanding the relationship between local and global dynamics.

What geographic skills and information do you use most often in your work? What general skills and information do you use most often in your work? Spatiality and Place/Regionality are broad, geography-specific concepts I use in my work. These become ‘applied’ when dealing with space-dependent analyses in econometrics, or economic analysis looking at regional development.

As an economic geographer (broadly speaking), I utilize mainly my economic and policy analysis skills during my work, particularly those associated to sustainability and energy uses. Additionally, I have to thank my humanistic background for giving me the ability to read and to analyze quickly massive amounts of information.  

Are there any skills or information you need for your work that you did not obtain through your academic training? If so, how/where did you obtain them? I had quite a comprehensive training, but I benefited from my additional work as Research Assistant in the School of Business, where I mainly learned how to link research results to policies and investment decisions. 

Do you participate in hiring, screening, or training of new employees? If so, what qualities and/or skills do you look for? I had the opportunity to sit on a panel for hiring a postdoctoral fellow. In terms of qualities/skills, I look for a strong background in the discipline, which endow the applicant to work easily across focuses/disciplines, along with integrity and enthusiasm for the research. An additional deal-breaker is honesty: candidates trying to forge a competence are the first to be discarded. I prefer someone who does not know and is ready to learn, than someone trying to please. 

What do you find most interesting/challenging/inspiring about your work? Interesting? The opportunity to support real-world policies and decision-making, working with stakeholders from several different backgrounds.

Challenging? The way academia is funded, both for research and for personnel. Shrinking research budgets in Western Counties, along with an overuse of temporary posts make it difficult to pursue long-term, game-changing research.

Inspiring? Working alongside some of the most dedicated, prepared, and professional folks I have met both in academia and in the private sector. Also, the opportunity to see students grow and build their path through life. 

What advice would you give to someone interested in a job like yours? Be tough, be professional, and don’t lose sight of your own happiness. Think of yourself as a Society’s MD: you need the same passion and integrity as a surgeon needs when on the operating table. Also, be flexible in terms of ‘where’ you look for positions: departments are increasingly interdisciplinary, and positions can be found globally in places and institutions that will support you. 

What is the occupational outlook for career opportunities in your field/organization, esp. for geographers? Good. The ability geographers have to work through multiple perspectives make them quite desirable, whether in positions related to environmental sciences/management, GIS applications, or economics. Furthermore, the increasing ease of access to spatial technologies makes economic geographers particularly well-suited both to fill academic and private-sector positions.  

Career Profile Archives

October 2017

August/September 2017

The geographer profiles within the sections below are from interviews that were conducted before 2012 

 Education Careers

 Business Careers

 Government Careers

 Nonprofit Careers