AAG Holds Workshops on Student Recruitment at Regional Division Meetings

AAG President David Kaplan recently outlined the need among geography programs to actively recruit students and to develop further community connections to AP Human Geography teachers. Geography faculty and chairs at colleges and universities, however, share difficulties attracting students to major in geography (or related) degrees mainly because students are unfamiliar with the discipline or associated career paths. To address President Kaplan’s call and better understand how the AAG could assist geography programs with student recruitment, staff members Coline Dony, Emily Fekete, and Mark Revell developed a workshop that built on existing AAG Resources (The Guide to Geography Programs, Profiles of Professional Geographers) and knowledge about existing recruitment strategies across our programs. The “AAG Geography Student Recruitment and Career Resources” Workshop was offered at four Regional Division meetings throughout the Fall: the Great Plains/Rocky Mountain meeting, the Association of Pacifiic Coast Geographers meeting, the Mid-Atlantic Division meeting, and the Southeast Division meeting.


These workshops attracted about 60 members, including program chairs, faculty, and students. Each workshop was introduced by AAG staff with an overview of possible recruitment strategies. Participants were prompted to first think geographically about their program and campus, leveraging our discipline’s very own expertise! For example, geography programs should understand where their own students come from (which schools feed into their college), and where their graduates go (how far and for what positions). The workshop went over a handful of on-campus strategies, such as connecting with undergraduate counselors and ways to showcase career possibilities, which could be implemented relatively easily. Other, more ambitious strategies that look beyond the college campus were also provided, including connecting to AP classrooms as a potential avenue to recruit students. This led to a broader discussion on the need to bolster ties with K-12 geography education in the US and on AAG’s active efforts in this area (e.g., Powerful GeographyEncoding Geography). Funding opportunities that can support those more pioneering and collaborative efforts around education research were also highlighted. Finally, important advice was provided on how to best leverage social media to reach different audiences (e.g., students, parents, or college administrators) and on how to manage social media accounts.

The overview of on- and off-campus approaches was followed by a break-out session providing workshop participants the opportunity to reflect on these suggestions, share their own outlook with us, and raise additional opportunities or challenges. During this break-out session, each group was also charged to create an actionable recruitment plan that would fit their program. Throughout these workshops, AAG staff learned that there is no “one size fits all” strategy to effectively recruit students. Techniques that work in Pennsylvania won’t necessarily work in Montana. By improving your understanding of your program’s “catchment area” (e.g., where are students coming from and where are they going) it will be easier to think critically about strategies. For example, if your program draws largely from a handful of high schools, you should reach out to those schools directly or offer to get involved in their AP Human Geography or AP Environmental Science programs. If your university draws from a community college, try to engage or collaborate with their faculty. Perhaps you can invite students to campus for Geography Awareness Week. If your college or university is drawing from students on a more national scale, you could consider contacting your registrar to see who has completed the AP Human Geography or Environmental Science exams on your campus and proactively reach out to these students. Finally, chairs and faculty need to think ahead and be aware of major demographic shifts impacting the overall demand for a college education in their area or across Institutions of Higher Education in general.

Despite these geographic and administrative differences, there are, however, some tactics that any program can implement to begin developing a recruitment plan. First among these is to ask your majors directly what made them choose geography as a major. Understanding how students make this choice will make your strategies more successful. Second, strive to develop good relations with college or university administrators. An active presence on social media could support this effort. Next, make sure to keep your faculty aware about ongoing events on your campus to leverage opportunities that could have an impact on your program. Fourth, actively connect with the undergraduate counselors and external advisors on your campus and perhaps consider using available funds to send the geography advisor to the AAG Annual Meeting to attend the Jobs & Career Center sessions for a day so they can familiarize themselves with the discipline. Finally, remember that student recruitment and program building takes sustained effort and time. Programs need to stay proactive about recruitment, make sure to assess strategies for their effectiveness, and understand that recruitment never ends (each year a new crop of students needs to be recruited).

We all care about geography and believe in the value of geographic education. If we work towards promoting and changing the cultural perception of geography as a subject, we can work towards building a more sustainable discipline.

While current funding only allowed staff to attend four Regional Division meetings, the workshop will also be offered at the Virtual 2020 AAG Annual Meeting. The free workshop titled “Geography Student Recruitment Workshop: strategies to attract more majors to your geography program” will be offered Wednesday, April 8, 2020, from 1:45 PM – 3:00 PM MDT. To attend the session please join here. A related session of interest to participants “What’s in a Name? Undergraduate Student Perceptions of Geography, Environment, and Sustainability Key Words and Program Names” is being offered by Justin Stoler, University of Miami, beforehand on Wednesday, April 8, 2020 from 11:10 AM – 12:25 PM MDT. In addition to the AAG Annual Meeting, the virtual workshop will be also held Wednesday, May 20, 2020 from 2:00 to 3:30 PM EDT. Those interested in participating in the free online event can register here.


*Funding for travel to present the AAG Student Recruitment and Career Resources Workshop at the four regional meetings outlined above was provided by the National Science Foundation (Award# 1837577). .