A New Academic Year

This Labor Day weekend marks the return to University instruction for many geography faculty and students, and as an educator, I welcome you all back to our academic community and wish you a successful new academic year. Many of us are returning from field and lab research, writing, and conferences, wondering where the summer went and why we are considered nine-month-employees! The answer is we are year-round members of our academic communities. Last week I wrote the final Department Chair’s welcome of my term to the UT Austin Geography community. As my term closes, I am passing the administrative baton to a wonderful colleague, to whom I give my thanks and wish all the best. I am excited for the new beginning of rejoining my fellow professors and to have more time to devote to scholarship, to my students, and to the AAG. I thank those faculty, students, and staff who helped along the journey, and thank the department chairs who will carry our missions forward.

Every September, my family also celebrated the ritual known as back-to-school. Like my current household, we lived on the academic calendar: My Father is a retired junior high school teacher, and my Mother retired after a career that included elementary, junior high, and school district librarianships. The excitement of a new school year was signaled by the faint odor of dry grasses, star thistle, and oak leaves rehydrating in the cool, dewy September mornings of northern California. My educator parents encouraged me to follow any profession I desired, and gave me the confidence as a young girl to embrace science. My mother bought me my first microscope for my birthday while I was an elementary school student. In my windowsill, I grew protozoa from the science kit and studied them, along with rocks and minerals collected with my parents, under that microscope. Parents and teachers comprise an important partnership to inspire young students to succeed, and I encourage all of us to actively engage our students in Geography in the classroom and in research, to do outreach, and to practice inclusion.

For our non-academic professional Geography community, I pause to thank you for your research partnerships, your innovation and entrepreneurship, and for the internship opportunities and inspiration you offer to our students. I owe my career in water resources to an internship with the California Department of Water Resources. Geography professionals are also our university alumni, and as such are members of our extended academic communities; we thank you for your support and salute your successes. Looking ahead to Fall 2018, we have many AAG regional division meetings to attend. I encourage professional and academic geographers and students to take full advantage of these opportunities to exchange ideas and renew connections with friends, colleagues, alumni, and alma maters. We members of the AAG Executive Committee will be fanning out to attend the regional meetings, stretching from Keene, NH, to Reno, NV, and we look forward to connecting with all of you there. Please also remember that registration for the AAG Annual Meeting in Washington DC is now open.

Professional Meetings and Inclusiveness

An extremely important matter of AAG concern is creating and maintaining an inclusive, professional environment for meeting attendees. At our Spring meeting in New Orleans, the AAG Council created a task force to address harassment at AAG Meetings. They will have their first meeting in Washington, DC, in mid-September to consider data gathering, best practices, and policies that other professional societies employ for their meetings, to make the AAG Annual Meeting a safe space for all participants. The Task Force will report back to the AAG Council later this Fall. Derek Alderman’s January 2018 Presidential Column, co-authored with Lorraine Dowler, provides an excellent summary of the issues and resource links. This new Task Force is empowered by the AAG Professional Conduct Policy and AAG Statement on Professional Ethics. We also have a Standing Committee on AAG Annual Meeting Disciplinary Matters, and it has acted when called upon. We need to make our policies more visible, create safe spaces at our meetings, and provide a clear path of due process, to proactively reduce the number of incidents of inappropriate behavior, and to deal with those that do happen with firm consequences. In a future column I will report back on the progress of this Task Force.

Reflections on Rio: Geographers as Global Ambassadors

Speaking of conferences, this August I attended the World Congress of Soil Science in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Four Thousand soil scientists assembled under the theme of “Beyond Food and Fuel.” This conference called to attention the importance of soil as both a natural and cultural resource, and its multiple functions ranging from ecosystem support to biogeochemical cycling, to archiving environmental change and cultural history. Exhibits and activities included geographically curated Brazilian soil profiles, soil art, and a student “soil judging” competition with teams from around the world. We are reminded by this gathering of scientists that much of Geography studies the Critical Zone we humans inhabit. Rio is a city of contrasts, from wealthy to impoverished communities all perched side by side in a stunning geological and biogeographical setting, including the coastal Atlantic shore. More drama is added by granitic domes looming around the city and offshore as islands. Lush greenery clings to the steep slopes, as do houses, highways, and bike paths. The living natural heritage is preserved in The Botanical Garden of Rio de Janeiro. Not a week and a half after our return from Rio, however, it is shocking to see that Rio, Brazil, and in fact the world has just suffered a huge loss of cultural and scientific heritage with a fire destroying the National Museum of Brazil over the September 1 weekend. Sources have compared this fire to that which destroyed the ancient library of Alexandria in 48 BC. Helping Brazil to rebuild cultural and scientific heritage lost from this tragedy will take time and a global effort. I urge Geographers to assist in this recovery, and I offer my deepest condolences to our Brazilian hosts.

Geo-existential Legislation: S.2128 The Geospatial Data Act

Alerted by the AAG, one of my last official acts as Geography Chair at UT Austin, and an early action as AAG President, involved writing a letter to a Texas Senator, requesting support and sponsorship of S.2128, the Geospatial Data Act (GDA) of 2017. This legislation will be voted on in a Senate sub-committee soon. The AAG, led by our Executive Director, has worked tirelessly for many years to support Geographers’ professional access to participate in federal research and contracts involving mapping and geospatial data analysis. This important current legislation has the potential to save U.S. taxpayers millions of dollars by reducing duplication in geospatial data activities across all federal agencies, and has been endorsed by numerous prominent geospatial and geography organizations, including the AAG; the National States Geographic Information Council (NSGIC); and the United States Geospatial Intelligence Foundation (USGIF). It has also been supported by private-sector leaders, including Google, Esri, Boundless, and many others. If enacted, the GDA will improve coordination between the numerous agencies that use geospatial data as a critical asset in many endeavors, including responding to disaster situations such as Hurricanes Harvey and Maria, which impacted Gulf and Caribbean coastal communities a year ago. You can follow this and other policy issues affecting Geography on the AAG Policy Page. As always, feel free to write to your legislators and share your opinion on this and other matters. Thank you!

Please share your own ideas with me via email: slbeach [at] austin [dot] utexas [dot] edu

— Sheryl Luzzadder-Beach
President, American Association of Geographers
Professor, and Fellow of the C.B. Smith Sr. Centennial Chair in U.S.-Mexico Relations
Geography and the Environment, The University of Texas at Austin

DOI: 10.14433/2017.0043