Ruth Shirey, professor emerita in the Department of Geography and Regional Planning at Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP), and an expert and authority on geography education, died unexpectedly and suddenly at her home in Indiana, Pennsylvania on February 20, 2015, at the age of 72.
Shirey was born in 1942 and raised in Johnstown, PA. She received a B.A. in geography education from IUP in 1965 before completing an M.A. and Ph.D. in geography at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville in 1968 and 1970 respectively. Her field research took her to Latin America and she produced a thesis entitled “An Analysis of the Location of Manufacturing: Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula, Honduras.”
She began her teaching career at the Tennessee Technological University in 1968 before returning to IUP in 1970 to become a faculty member, where she remained until her retirement in 2007.
Shirey taught courses across the spectrum of the discipline including the geography of Latin America, the geography of Pennsylvania, physical geography, climatology, physiography, industrial geography, the geography of energy, the history of cities and planning, and cultural geography.
At Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Shirey provided leadership as department chair of Geography and Regional Planning from 1977 to 1988, and interim associate dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences from 1987 to 1989. Her excellence at IUP was recognized by the Graduate School in 1996 with an award for Outstanding Commitment to Sponsored Programs, and by the College of Humanities and Social Sciences in 1998-1999 with an award for Outstanding Service.
Shirey was a widely respected and beloved leader in the field of geography education. Over her career, she wrote numerous articles and books on geography education, and was awarded more than $1.8 million in external grant funds. Her sustained efforts over many decades enhanced geographic literacy in elementary, secondary, and postsecondary schools.
From 1988 to 2002, she served as the executive director of the National Council for Geographic Education (NCGE), simultaneously coordinating efforts to develop and implement national geography education standards in cooperation with teaching colleagues from across the education spectrum.
In the early 1990s, she served as project administrator for the National Geography Standards Project, a groundbreaking effort that led to the articulation of content standards for geography education nationwide. She also served as the coordinator of the Pennsylvania Geographic Alliance during this same time period, conceiving and organizing geography teaching workshops for educators from across Pennsylvania.
Because of her tireless work, Shirey was very well known and admired among geographers in the United States and internationally, and was honored with the National Council for Geographic Education’s George J. Miller Award for Distinguished Service (1996), the Pennsylvania Geographical Society’s Distinguished Service Award (2001), and the Association of American Geographers’ Ronald F. Abler Distinguished Service Award (2013).
Shirey was also internationally-minded. In 1988, she participated in a Fulbright faculty exchange with the University of Poona in India. Back home at IUP she was known for inviting international students to her home for holiday meals, and for making them feel welcome at the university while far away from home. She was also very proud of her role on the “Committee to Save John Sutton Hall” in the 1970s, which played a pivotal role in preserving the building which is the focal point of the IUP campus today.
The role of women in science and academia was another passion. Shirey was elected to the Society of Woman Geographers in 1980, and after her retirement she served as the chair for the Society’s Fellowship Award Committee.
In 2008, IUP honored Shirey with a Distinguished Alumni Award for achievements in academia and for contributions to geography education, research and administration, as well as efforts to advance geographic literacy in the United States.
Shirey was very active in the Association of American Geographers. Having joined in 1965 she was due to receive recognition of her 50 years of continuous membership at the Annual Meeting in Chicago in April 2015. She was also a member of the Conference of Latin Americanist Geographers and the Gamma Theta Upsilon International Honor Society.
Until her untimely death, Shirey continued her active community life through work with the League of Women Voters and the Indiana County Democratic Party, as well as her continued association with Department of Geography and Regional Planning, most recently assisting with fundraising for the department’s facilities in a new building.
Ruth will be greatly missed by her colleagues at IUP, her many students, and by all those in the geography community whom she inspired. She will be remembered for her groundbreaking accomplishments in geography education, her many contributions to the Department of Geography and Regional Planning, and her dedication to Indiana University of Pennsylvania.