Career Profile: Kidane-Miriam Tadesse

Kidane-Miriam Tadesse is Assistant Professor of Geography at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in geography and psychology from Haile Selassei University (1969), a master’s from Kansas State University (1974), and a Ph.D. from the University of Iowa (2001) focusing on urban geography, planning, and environment. In his home country of Ethiopia, he served as Minister of Urban Development and Housing, Commissioner of Construction and Physical Planning, and Advisor to the Organization of African Unity. His thirty-five year career spans from teaching high school geography to working with global international organizations such as the United Nations Environment Program and the World Bank. Tadesse has traveled in more than thirty countries on every continent and speaks four languages. He now resides in Edinboro, Pennsylvania with his wife and three children.

This profile was published in 2003. Tadasse is currently still a Professor of Geography at Edinboro University. 

AAG: How did your journey with geography begin?

Tadesse: Before I came to the U.S., I worked for about two years teaching geography at the senior high school level. I competed for a United Nations fellowship and was one of six applicants from Ethiopia to receive one – that’s when I came to the U.S. Three years into my Ph.D. program here, I went back to Ethiopia for fieldwork. I was given an employment assignment by the government while I was conducting my fieldwork.

AAG: What led you to return to the U.S. to finish your doctorate?

Tadesse: In 1991, my personal and professional life took a dramatic turn (due to broader changes in Ethiopia), and after two years of working through these issues, I began work as a consultant with the African Union. After this, I was fortunate to come back to the U.S. and finish the program I started years ago. Now I’ve come to Edinboro where I’m teaching geography courses again.

AAG: So you have come full circle back to teaching.

Tadesse: I always say that education is the most important investment in anyone’s life.

AAG: What has geography represented to you throughout your various roles?

Tadesse: I tell my students that with a geography training you can go into many fields and make many contributions to society. My own tour of duty as teacher, researcher, planner, manager, adviser, and policy maker provides an excellent testimony to the multifaceted role that geographers can play.

AAG: Which of your contributions are you especially proud of?

Tadesse: Really, creating a national system of regional development in Ethiopia as a national planner. When I was appointed, I was given only two people—a geographer and an economist. By the time I left, the planning department had seven regional commissions filled with professional staff, many of them geographers.

AAG: And that infrastructure stayed in place after you left.

Tadesse: Yes, I am particularly proud of what I could do in service to society.

AAG: In what ways do you think geographers should serve society?

Tadesse: Geographers have a lot to offer to the understanding and resolution of problems in society, yet there is so much more to do. Geographers should play a major role in policy and program formulation and critical evaluation of alternatives.

AAG: How do you see universities and the public sector working together better?

Tadesse: There are plenty of opportunities: for community outreach, for academic research on specific problems, for research that focuses on local problems—also to engage students in defining, analyzing, and understanding societal problems by tying in the conceptual aspects of geography.

AAG: Are you able to incorporate this in your teaching activities now?

Tadesse: I’m working on certain issues with the local municipal administration, like inviting the Edinboro [city administrator] to my classroom, to see if my students could be engaged in the analysis of local problems.

AAG: You first joined the AAG in 1974. Why did you choose to be a member?

Tadesse: To help promote the profession. I think the AAG does a good job in bringing geography to the mainstream of the public educational system and to light in American society. By belonging to the association, members not only support these goals but also the propagation of geography as an important tool for understanding the world.

AAG: Thank you for those kind words. What suggestions do you have for us to help promote geography?

Tadesse: I would like to see more geographers exploring new possibilities for engagement and being active in society.

Dr. Patricia Solis, 2003