Member Profile: Marissa Isaak Wald

Photo of Marissa Isaak Wald

Marissa Isaak Wald opens up the world for her geography students at Central New Mexico Community College (CNM), often starting from home. Whether it’s case studies of New Mexico’s rivers and mountains or lessons on the reasons and means for human habitation in the Southwest, Wald often initiates local and regional study, using current events to widen the scope, showing her students how to use spatial thinking and tools to understand and act on issues at all scales: climate change, urban development, war, and, especially in the last several years, public health. 

CNM offers an Associate of Arts degree in Geography and Environmental Studies, one of at least 210 geography degree-granting community colleges in the United States. It also has transfer agreements with many 4-year universities, including a cooperative relationship with the University of New Mexico, which accepts CNM students to continue toward a geography bachelors’ degree. As one of two full-time professors teaching geography, Wald teaches world, human, and physical geography. 

“I think of all my classes as recruitment tools into the field,” she says. “What’s the best way to recruit? You share the absolutely most fascinating parts of the discipline. So in 2021, in political geography, we spent a lot of time on electoral geographies, and Census, and these kinds of questions, because it was the issue of the day. This year, I might spend more time on geopolitics because we have war in Ukraine. I take whatever I find most interesting and help my students dive deep into it with me. We [geographers] are our own best recruiting tool.” 

Wald also cares about the elements of her classroom beyond subject matter. One empowering skill she works on with students is how to ask good questions. 

“It is a muscle that’s atrophied, for a lot of students, whether beaten down in prior education settings or just because there was no opportunity, so they need a lot of practice, and they don’t know it from the beginning.” She encourages students to think deeply about “what is a good question? What are answerable questions? What questions are located in place? I want students to think spatially, find relationships between seemingly unrelated things, and to understand systems that affect our whole planet.”  

Such critical inquiry calls for an atmosphere of trust. “I’ve been thinking a lot about relationships, and how important they are in higher education, and how we sort of pretend that they aren’t.” Wald draws from bell hooks’ work on connection and power in the classroom, and also recently completed a fellowship year in which she studied trauma-informed scholarship.  

“An epiphany that I had last year,” she recalls, “Was that we used to teach with the assumption that some percentage of people in our classroom have experienced trauma; now we must teach with the assumption that we are all traumatized individuals.” Wald works to make her classroom a welcoming place for people of vastly different life experiences. ”You need to create relationships of safety before you get into geographic thinking.” 

COVID-19 has made that classroom ever more varied: “I teach physical geography, lab, world, regional, human geography, in all the modalities: in-person, online, hybrid, real-time hybrid, asynchronous, all of those things.” In one semester, each of Wald’s five classes might be in a different modality, with up to 30 students per class. To make it all work, “I try to focus on the core contributions of the discipline.”  

Wald says that when she went on the job market, she consciously applied only to community colleges. One reason was a love of teaching—community colleges emphatically focus on teaching and learning. Another was professional boundaries and work-life balance, without the added pressure to pursue and supervise research for publication. The students, of course, are a big part of why she enjoys the work. 

“I have brilliant students,” she says. “And my students have incredible lived experience. Just recently I taught a firefighter who worried about missing work during fire season.” Wald has taught members of the military, people in their 60s returning to school, and 16-year-olds earning dual degrees. Her students are also diverse in background and ethnicity, a common feature for many community colleges. 

She’s enthusiastic about the keystone role of community colleges in equitable access to education. “Community colleges are the on-ramp to higher education for many Black, Latinx, Indigenous, and other minoritized students,” she said. “If you’re interested in attracting more diverse students to become geographers, community colleges need to be part of the mix.”  

Prospective instructors need to understand the crucial role today’s community colleges in higher education, before seeking out a career at a CC. “This job is not a second-place prize for someone who would rather be at a four-year institution,” says Wald. “You have to learn what community colleges are before you decide to do this. People should approach getting a job at a community college with the same rigor with which they approach a job at a four-year college.”  

“Being a teacher is a radical act,” she says. “I think of myself as a radical actor for many reasons, such as giving students opportunities that wouldn’t exist for them otherwise, and letting them into the ‘secret language and hidden curriculum’ of higher ed,” for example, by teaching them the ins and outs of requesting a recommendation letter. 

Wald keeps a poem by Shel Silverstein pinned to a wall outside her office, sending out a friendly signal to those who might need or want a place in her classroom: 

If you are a dreamer, come in,
If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar,
A hope-er, a pray-er, a magic bean buyer…
If you’re a pretender, come sit by my fire
For we have some fla-golden tales to spin.
Come in!
Come in! 

Find out more about the rise of community college geography programs. 

Check out AAG’s Community College Affinity Group and 80+ other specialty and affinity groups. 

    Share

Member Profile: Greg Hill 

Photo of Marissa Isaak Wald

Marissa Isaak Wald opens up the world for her geography students at Central New Mexico Community College (CNM), often starting from home. Whether it’s case studies of New Mexico’s rivers and mountains or lessons on the reasons and means for human habitation in the Southwest, Wald often initiates local and regional study, using current events to widen the scope, showing her students how to use spatial thinking and tools to understand and act on issues at all scales: climate change, urban development, war, and, especially in the last several years, public health. 

CNM offers an Associate of Arts degree in Geography and Environmental Studies, one of at least 210 geography degree-granting community colleges in the United States. It also has transfer agreements with many 4-year universities, including a cooperative relationship with the University of New Mexico, which accepts CNM students to continue toward a geography bachelors’ degree. As one of two full-time professors teaching geography, Wald teaches world, human, and physical geography. 

“I think of all my classes as recruitment tools into the field,” she says. “What’s the best way to recruit? You share the absolutely most fascinating parts of the discipline. So in 2021, in political geography, we spent a lot of time on electoral geographies, and Census, and these kinds of questions, because it was the issue of the day. This year, I might spend more time on geopolitics because we have war in Ukraine. I take whatever I find most interesting and help my students dive deep into it with me. We [geographers] are our own best recruiting tool.” 

Wald also cares about the elements of her classroom beyond subject matter. One empowering skill she works on with students is how to ask good questions. 

“It is a muscle that’s atrophied, for a lot of students, whether beaten down in prior education settings or just because there was no opportunity, so they need a lot of practice, and they don’t know it from the beginning.” She encourages students to think deeply about “what is a good question? What are answerable questions? What questions are located in place? I want students to think spatially, find relationships between seemingly unrelated things, and to understand systems that affect our whole planet.”  

Such critical inquiry calls for an atmosphere of trust. “I’ve been thinking a lot about relationships, and how important they are in higher education, and how we sort of pretend that they aren’t.” Wald draws from bell hooks’ work on connection and power in the classroom, and also recently completed a fellowship year in which she studied trauma-informed scholarship.  

“An epiphany that I had last year,” she recalls, “Was that we used to teach with the assumption that some percentage of people in our classroom have experienced trauma; now we must teach with the assumption that we are all traumatized individuals.” Wald works to make her classroom a welcoming place for people of vastly different life experiences. ”You need to create relationships of safety before you get into geographic thinking.” 

COVID-19 has made that classroom ever more varied: “I teach physical geography, lab, world, regional, human geography, in all the modalities: in-person, online, hybrid, real-time hybrid, asynchronous, all of those things.” In one semester, each of Wald’s five classes might be in a different modality, with up to 30 students per class. To make it all work, “I try to focus on the core contributions of the discipline.”  

Wald says that when she went on the job market, she consciously applied only to community colleges. One reason was a love of teaching—community colleges emphatically focus on teaching and learning. Another was professional boundaries and work-life balance, without the added pressure to pursue and supervise research for publication. The students, of course, are a big part of why she enjoys the work. 

“I have brilliant students,” she says. “And my students have incredible lived experience. Just recently I taught a firefighter who worried about missing work during fire season.” Wald has taught members of the military, people in their 60s returning to school, and 16-year-olds earning dual degrees. Her students are also diverse in background and ethnicity, a common feature for many community colleges. 

She’s enthusiastic about the keystone role of community colleges in equitable access to education. “Community colleges are the on-ramp to higher education for many Black, Latinx, Indigenous, and other minoritized students,” she said. “If you’re interested in attracting more diverse students to become geographers, community colleges need to be part of the mix.”  

Prospective instructors need to understand the crucial role today’s community colleges in higher education, before seeking out a career at a CC. “This job is not a second-place prize for someone who would rather be at a four-year institution,” says Wald. “You have to learn what community colleges are before you decide to do this. People should approach getting a job at a community college with the same rigor with which they approach a job at a four-year college.”  

“Being a teacher is a radical act,” she says. “I think of myself as a radical actor for many reasons, such as giving students opportunities that wouldn’t exist for them otherwise, and letting them into the ‘secret language and hidden curriculum’ of higher ed,” for example, by teaching them the ins and outs of requesting a recommendation letter. 

Wald keeps a poem by Shel Silverstein pinned to a wall outside her office, sending out a friendly signal to those who might need or want a place in her classroom: 

If you are a dreamer, come in,
If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar,
A hope-er, a pray-er, a magic bean buyer…
If you’re a pretender, come sit by my fire
For we have some fla-golden tales to spin.
Come in!
Come in! 

Find out more about the rise of community college geography programs. 

Check out AAG’s Community College Affinity Group and 80+ other specialty and affinity groups. 

    Share

Member Profile: Tim Fullman

Photo of Marissa Isaak Wald

Marissa Isaak Wald opens up the world for her geography students at Central New Mexico Community College (CNM), often starting from home. Whether it’s case studies of New Mexico’s rivers and mountains or lessons on the reasons and means for human habitation in the Southwest, Wald often initiates local and regional study, using current events to widen the scope, showing her students how to use spatial thinking and tools to understand and act on issues at all scales: climate change, urban development, war, and, especially in the last several years, public health. 

CNM offers an Associate of Arts degree in Geography and Environmental Studies, one of at least 210 geography degree-granting community colleges in the United States. It also has transfer agreements with many 4-year universities, including a cooperative relationship with the University of New Mexico, which accepts CNM students to continue toward a geography bachelors’ degree. As one of two full-time professors teaching geography, Wald teaches world, human, and physical geography. 

“I think of all my classes as recruitment tools into the field,” she says. “What’s the best way to recruit? You share the absolutely most fascinating parts of the discipline. So in 2021, in political geography, we spent a lot of time on electoral geographies, and Census, and these kinds of questions, because it was the issue of the day. This year, I might spend more time on geopolitics because we have war in Ukraine. I take whatever I find most interesting and help my students dive deep into it with me. We [geographers] are our own best recruiting tool.” 

Wald also cares about the elements of her classroom beyond subject matter. One empowering skill she works on with students is how to ask good questions. 

“It is a muscle that’s atrophied, for a lot of students, whether beaten down in prior education settings or just because there was no opportunity, so they need a lot of practice, and they don’t know it from the beginning.” She encourages students to think deeply about “what is a good question? What are answerable questions? What questions are located in place? I want students to think spatially, find relationships between seemingly unrelated things, and to understand systems that affect our whole planet.”  

Such critical inquiry calls for an atmosphere of trust. “I’ve been thinking a lot about relationships, and how important they are in higher education, and how we sort of pretend that they aren’t.” Wald draws from bell hooks’ work on connection and power in the classroom, and also recently completed a fellowship year in which she studied trauma-informed scholarship.  

“An epiphany that I had last year,” she recalls, “Was that we used to teach with the assumption that some percentage of people in our classroom have experienced trauma; now we must teach with the assumption that we are all traumatized individuals.” Wald works to make her classroom a welcoming place for people of vastly different life experiences. ”You need to create relationships of safety before you get into geographic thinking.” 

COVID-19 has made that classroom ever more varied: “I teach physical geography, lab, world, regional, human geography, in all the modalities: in-person, online, hybrid, real-time hybrid, asynchronous, all of those things.” In one semester, each of Wald’s five classes might be in a different modality, with up to 30 students per class. To make it all work, “I try to focus on the core contributions of the discipline.”  

Wald says that when she went on the job market, she consciously applied only to community colleges. One reason was a love of teaching—community colleges emphatically focus on teaching and learning. Another was professional boundaries and work-life balance, without the added pressure to pursue and supervise research for publication. The students, of course, are a big part of why she enjoys the work. 

“I have brilliant students,” she says. “And my students have incredible lived experience. Just recently I taught a firefighter who worried about missing work during fire season.” Wald has taught members of the military, people in their 60s returning to school, and 16-year-olds earning dual degrees. Her students are also diverse in background and ethnicity, a common feature for many community colleges. 

She’s enthusiastic about the keystone role of community colleges in equitable access to education. “Community colleges are the on-ramp to higher education for many Black, Latinx, Indigenous, and other minoritized students,” she said. “If you’re interested in attracting more diverse students to become geographers, community colleges need to be part of the mix.”  

Prospective instructors need to understand the crucial role today’s community colleges in higher education, before seeking out a career at a CC. “This job is not a second-place prize for someone who would rather be at a four-year institution,” says Wald. “You have to learn what community colleges are before you decide to do this. People should approach getting a job at a community college with the same rigor with which they approach a job at a four-year college.”  

“Being a teacher is a radical act,” she says. “I think of myself as a radical actor for many reasons, such as giving students opportunities that wouldn’t exist for them otherwise, and letting them into the ‘secret language and hidden curriculum’ of higher ed,” for example, by teaching them the ins and outs of requesting a recommendation letter. 

Wald keeps a poem by Shel Silverstein pinned to a wall outside her office, sending out a friendly signal to those who might need or want a place in her classroom: 

If you are a dreamer, come in,
If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar,
A hope-er, a pray-er, a magic bean buyer…
If you’re a pretender, come sit by my fire
For we have some fla-golden tales to spin.
Come in!
Come in! 

Find out more about the rise of community college geography programs. 

Check out AAG’s Community College Affinity Group and 80+ other specialty and affinity groups. 

    Share

Member Profile: Lesley-Ann Dupigny-Giroux

Photo of Marissa Isaak Wald

Marissa Isaak Wald opens up the world for her geography students at Central New Mexico Community College (CNM), often starting from home. Whether it’s case studies of New Mexico’s rivers and mountains or lessons on the reasons and means for human habitation in the Southwest, Wald often initiates local and regional study, using current events to widen the scope, showing her students how to use spatial thinking and tools to understand and act on issues at all scales: climate change, urban development, war, and, especially in the last several years, public health. 

CNM offers an Associate of Arts degree in Geography and Environmental Studies, one of at least 210 geography degree-granting community colleges in the United States. It also has transfer agreements with many 4-year universities, including a cooperative relationship with the University of New Mexico, which accepts CNM students to continue toward a geography bachelors’ degree. As one of two full-time professors teaching geography, Wald teaches world, human, and physical geography. 

“I think of all my classes as recruitment tools into the field,” she says. “What’s the best way to recruit? You share the absolutely most fascinating parts of the discipline. So in 2021, in political geography, we spent a lot of time on electoral geographies, and Census, and these kinds of questions, because it was the issue of the day. This year, I might spend more time on geopolitics because we have war in Ukraine. I take whatever I find most interesting and help my students dive deep into it with me. We [geographers] are our own best recruiting tool.” 

Wald also cares about the elements of her classroom beyond subject matter. One empowering skill she works on with students is how to ask good questions. 

“It is a muscle that’s atrophied, for a lot of students, whether beaten down in prior education settings or just because there was no opportunity, so they need a lot of practice, and they don’t know it from the beginning.” She encourages students to think deeply about “what is a good question? What are answerable questions? What questions are located in place? I want students to think spatially, find relationships between seemingly unrelated things, and to understand systems that affect our whole planet.”  

Such critical inquiry calls for an atmosphere of trust. “I’ve been thinking a lot about relationships, and how important they are in higher education, and how we sort of pretend that they aren’t.” Wald draws from bell hooks’ work on connection and power in the classroom, and also recently completed a fellowship year in which she studied trauma-informed scholarship.  

“An epiphany that I had last year,” she recalls, “Was that we used to teach with the assumption that some percentage of people in our classroom have experienced trauma; now we must teach with the assumption that we are all traumatized individuals.” Wald works to make her classroom a welcoming place for people of vastly different life experiences. ”You need to create relationships of safety before you get into geographic thinking.” 

COVID-19 has made that classroom ever more varied: “I teach physical geography, lab, world, regional, human geography, in all the modalities: in-person, online, hybrid, real-time hybrid, asynchronous, all of those things.” In one semester, each of Wald’s five classes might be in a different modality, with up to 30 students per class. To make it all work, “I try to focus on the core contributions of the discipline.”  

Wald says that when she went on the job market, she consciously applied only to community colleges. One reason was a love of teaching—community colleges emphatically focus on teaching and learning. Another was professional boundaries and work-life balance, without the added pressure to pursue and supervise research for publication. The students, of course, are a big part of why she enjoys the work. 

“I have brilliant students,” she says. “And my students have incredible lived experience. Just recently I taught a firefighter who worried about missing work during fire season.” Wald has taught members of the military, people in their 60s returning to school, and 16-year-olds earning dual degrees. Her students are also diverse in background and ethnicity, a common feature for many community colleges. 

She’s enthusiastic about the keystone role of community colleges in equitable access to education. “Community colleges are the on-ramp to higher education for many Black, Latinx, Indigenous, and other minoritized students,” she said. “If you’re interested in attracting more diverse students to become geographers, community colleges need to be part of the mix.”  

Prospective instructors need to understand the crucial role today’s community colleges in higher education, before seeking out a career at a CC. “This job is not a second-place prize for someone who would rather be at a four-year institution,” says Wald. “You have to learn what community colleges are before you decide to do this. People should approach getting a job at a community college with the same rigor with which they approach a job at a four-year college.”  

“Being a teacher is a radical act,” she says. “I think of myself as a radical actor for many reasons, such as giving students opportunities that wouldn’t exist for them otherwise, and letting them into the ‘secret language and hidden curriculum’ of higher ed,” for example, by teaching them the ins and outs of requesting a recommendation letter. 

Wald keeps a poem by Shel Silverstein pinned to a wall outside her office, sending out a friendly signal to those who might need or want a place in her classroom: 

If you are a dreamer, come in,
If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar,
A hope-er, a pray-er, a magic bean buyer…
If you’re a pretender, come sit by my fire
For we have some fla-golden tales to spin.
Come in!
Come in! 

Find out more about the rise of community college geography programs. 

Check out AAG’s Community College Affinity Group and 80+ other specialty and affinity groups. 

    Share

Member Profile: Trang VoPham — Understanding the Spatial Context of Cancer

Photo of Trang VoPham
Trang VoPham

Medical geographer Trang VoPham appreciates “the seamlessness between the disciplines” of geography and epidemiology, particularly in the application of geospatial methods, including GIS, to charting and confronting public health risks.

VoPham, who simultaneously pursued a Ph.D. in epidemiology and a masters degree in geospatial methods, now conducts research at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Washington. Her focus is understanding the influence of environmental factors associated with place or location on the incidence of disease in humans. On any given day, VoPham might find herself mapping measures of air pollution, analyzing demographic data across census tracts, or reading the latest publications on cancer. 

Much of her recent research has been aimed at uncovering environmental factors associated with liver cancer. In the United States, VoPham notes that a high proportion of liver cancers are unexplained. Aflatoxins produced by different fungi are known to be important environmental causes of liver cancer in some parts of the world but there is an emerging awareness that chronic exposure to air pollution may also result in elevated risk. 

Because cancers result from complex interactions of genetic, behavioral, and environmental factors, VoPham’s work is highly interdisciplinary. For example, in a study funded by the Prevent Cancer Foundation, she is working with investigators with expertise in geospatial science, environmental epidemiology, and health psychology to provide participants with their own air pollution sensors and an associated smartphone app that visualizes air quality in their vicinity. 

During the study, the research group will provide participants with information about harmful health effects of air pollution and offer them general strategies and specific cues for reducing their exposures. In doing so, the research group aims to empower people with information to take control of their own health and then assess whether they act on that information.

When asked about the lessons of the COVID-19 pandemic for her own research, VoPham didn’t hesitate: “The COVID crisis has been a clear reminder to me of health disparities and the importance of addressing them in my work,” regardless of whether they are associated with geography, race/ethnicity, or some other factor.

Screenshot of Plume Labs tool used by Trang VoPham
Plume Labs tool used by Trang VoPham
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The Future Is Here: Sophia Garcia and the Intersections of GIS, Redistricting, and Social Justice

Photo of Sophia Garcia padding a raft in river rapids

We’re celebrating the accomplishments of geographers during Geography Awareness Week (November 14-20) and beyond. Find out more about this year’s theme, “The Future Is Here: Geographers Pursue the Path Forward” at our GeoWeek StoryMap, and follow the celebration at #GeoWeek or #GeoWeek2021.

Photo of Sophia GarciaSophia Garcia, the GIS and Outreach Director for Redistricting Partners in Sacramento, CA, understands how maps can start necessary conversations. In her current role, she sees redistricting efforts and community involvement as the “perfect intersection of talking about community, uplifting the community and letting them know what’s happening.” In her work she focuses on the imperative that we bring light to the redistricting process, engage communities, and empower them to get involved.

Garcia graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Studies from Wellesley College in 2015, and now works for Redistricting Partners from her base in Bakersfield, California. Garcia came to her current role from her previous work as a GIS Analyst for the Dolores Huerta Foundation, where she saw firsthand how she could uplift the work of her colleagues and community organizers through mapping. GIS software has great potential to start a dialogue and Garcia knows this:

Data is more than just numbers; there’s a story behind what’s happening.

Although she grew up with a father who worked in the GIS field (she attended her first ESRI User Conference when she was 10 years old, and mainly remembers the refreshments), Garcia did not see the full potential of GIS until college. Along with her classmates, she was tasked with figuring out how people living in a certain census block could do something sustainable surrounding food and grocery shopping. After knocking on doors and having conversations with people in the neighborhood, she found that not everyone had access to the nearest grocery store because of factors such as affordability, distance, and access to transportation.

Photo of Sophia Garcia padding a raft in river rapids
In addition to her work with GIS and redistricting, Sophia is a skilled rafter and rafting guide.

 

Because of the geographic nature surrounding the factors of access to food and sustainability, Garcia had an “aha moment” and realized the stories of everyone she had talked to could be conveyed using a map. She started to work with GIS on the project, and eventually went on to intern with the GIS departments in Kern County to learn more about the different ways that the departments utilized GIS.

At Redistricting Partners, Garcia has been very successful in using mapping technologies and outreach to emphasize the real-world implications of redistricting, and advocate for a more fair process. She was part of the group that sparked the passage of the California Assembly Bill No. 849, which mandates rules to increase transparency in the redistricting process in cities and counties across California. This bill, which Garcia hopes to see similarly implemented in other parts of the country, requires localities to have specific redistricting websites and mandates redistricting to be talked about during long public meetings, among other components.

When asked how younger geographers can explore new, interdisciplinary possibilities in geography, Garcia urges them to find a project they are passionate about and make use of mapping technology which is often available from ESRI to college and K-12 students. She recognizes that you can categorize pretty much any data geographically, and urges young geographers to “find whatever you’re passionate about, or mad about, or excited about, and learn to map it, make it as a poster, share it with someone, and you can have a discussion about it.”

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A Day in the Life of a Geographer

 

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