Brooke Hatcher

By Emily Frisan

Since childhood, Brooke Hatcher has been fascinated with climatology. Growing up on a horse farm in the Blue Ridge Mountains shaped her love for earth, nature, and weather. Now as a geospatial/remote sensing lead, she measures changes on Earth and brings visualizations from data to life. From her job as a senior geospatial analyst at New Light Technologies to her volunteer storytelling work with URISA as vice chair of outreach, or her recognition by Geospatial World as a Young Geospatial Professional to Watch in 2024, Hatcher credits her positive experience in the industry to the examples of powerful women in the field, including her first professional mentors at MAXAR Catherine Ipsan and Amanda Monse, who showed her that she, too, can “become a master in this field.”

Hatcher discovered her passion for geospatial information systems in an undergraduate geography course. “Being able to visualize patterns and spatial analysis, like seeing the charts over time of rain gauges, was seeing nature in a new way,” she says.

 

Educational journey in and beyond the classroom

Hatcher received her undergraduate degree in geography from the University of Mary Washington. Like many geographers, she stumbled upon the discipline almost by coincidence. She excelled in history during high school but hesitated to pursue a career in the subject because she was unsure about potential job prospects. She began her undergraduate degree as a biology major but soon realized a career in the lab wasn’t suitable, either.

Hatcher began her professional career creating digital nautical charts for Leidos, which opened the world to features humans can’t see with our eyes, like hydrolines and ocean depth. Following her experience at Leidos, an opportunity opened at MAXAR where Hatcher would go on to create global products for clients, such as the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency. This was the first time she began to gain experience in Landsat and Sentinel 2.

“You’re seeing the ocean in a whole new way,” Hatcher explained. “It was really beautiful to have my first job working on digital nautical charts, then working at MAXAR with land cover and creating remote sensing products with five-meter resolution.”

After gaining a few years of professional experience, Hatcher decided to pursue her master’s degree in geography. After considering her options, she got her degree online at North Carolina State.

As a geospatial engineering consultant, Hatcher continues to learn and keeps up with the latest news and information in the industry. In her professional career, she continues to read peer-reviewed papers and professional blogs and consult tutorials on platforms like YouTube and Udemy.

From Local to Global: How Geography and Opportunities Expands Horizons

Hatcher’s career is focused on developing geospatial solutions and products for disaster response with FEMA and World Bank, working on predictive damage assessments, assessing the potential impact on communities and critical infrastructure, and sharing disaster geospatial data through interagency communication efforts. As a geospatial analyst and a geographer, Hatcher’s jobs involve collaborating with other experts in many other areas, including glaciology, meteorology, paleotempestology (the study of hurricanes), and specialization in biohazards.

The resulting collaborations are mutually beneficial. Geographers “need to know that information… [and] we help work with them to make their vision come to life. We’re translating for them by creating maps,” Hatcher states.

Specifically, FEMA hired Hatcher for remote sensing and image processing, creating products to assist during disasters. Remote sensing techniques can penetrate hurricanes or wildfire smoke to extract information about structures that have been damaged.

“It was so rad,” Hatcher recalls. “It reflects geography in a beautiful way.”

In her latest role at New Light Technologies, Hatcher frequently works with user interfaces (UI) and user experience (UX) to build web applications that help clients understand the community’s profile, such as which areas are going to be most vulnerable, and who are at the most risk of disasters. She explains, “We need to really make sure that the final product is visualized to a specific community, playing into the history and culture, so that it respects the community, and they understand it enough to feel comfortable giving feedback.”

Beyond the Map: Community Impact

Beyond technical skills, important geographic skills include being able to conduct and analyze qualitative and quantitative data. “We don’t always need maps,” she states. “The reason why we need some maps is because we can’t see anything when people are dying, or buildings are being destroyed.”

Therefore, even when making predictive risk products, qualitative skills are important to understand the ability to organize various types of data, understand the importance of scales, whether there are invisible boundaries, which ones take priority, and how this affects the results of the map or product. It’s essential to have a deep understanding of community demographics and vulnerability.

“After doing this for five or six years, I am convinced more than ever, the most effective data is at the community level. We can work globally, but it just strips so much quality and quantity of data. Also, when reporting or responding to a disaster at the community level, there is passion associated with it because that’s your home.”

Being a geographer, Hatcher finds it fascinating to understand why certain geographies are so unique in the world, and how they have shaped rare communities throughout history. “It is important to preserve these unique geographic properties, even outside of my job. I am passionate about creative traveling and exploring these unique places.”

From the Pacific Northwest, Cascades, or the nation’s capital, Hatcher hopes to use her geospatial and web design skills to inspire women to take risks, explore the world, and “make geography hip.” Although her goals are constantly changing, she is dedicated to finding her purpose, and path, and is passionate about capturing the stories, art, culture, problems, and risks of the small and unique communities.

Learn more about what a degree in geography can do for you by reading more AAG Career Profiles and discover the resources we offer for your professional development journey.

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Member Profile: Kenneth Martis

Ken Martis created the map to visualize the political party division of the 80th Congressional Congress.
Credit: Kenneth C. Martis, Ruth A. Rowles, cartographer, Gyula Pauer, production cartographer (full image shown below)

As a graduate student at the University of Michigan in 1972, Ken Martis stumbled on one of the greatest information vacuums in political geography — the lack of documentation for congressional districts since the founding of the United States. He decided then and there to fill the gap. His quest would result in groundbreaking research, nine books, and a lifelong calling.

“I had just chosen a dissertation topic,” Martis recalls, “which was mapping roll call votes in the United States Congress. I was focused on voting patterns on natural resources, conservation, and the environment through time, starting with the earliest congresses through the environmental issues of the 1960s.” To get started, Martis went to the university library — one of the biggest in the nation at the time — to find national-scale district maps for the last 170 years. The reference librarian took him through the card catalog. Then the Guide to Reference Books. They could find nothing. “She was as puzzled as me. She told me to give the staff a chance to look into it, and to return the next day. So I did. I was met by the librarian and the head of the reference department. They’d turned up nothing, not even for landmark eras like Abraham Lincoln’s time.”

 

“I realized I could be the first person in American history to map every congressional district from the First Congress forward,” he says. “It was humbling, and exciting.”

Martis is now Professor Emeritus in the Geology and Geography Department at West Virginia University. He is the author or co-author of award-winning books that have fundamentally shaped our awareness of political patterns in the United States. His first historical political atlas was The Historical Atlas of United States Congressional Districts: 1789-1983, with maps by cartographer Ruth A. Rowles. This book was the first to map every congressional district and analyze every apportionment change for every state for all of United States history. It won numerous honors, including the American Historical Association’s Waldo G. Leland Prize for the best reference book in all fields of history for the period 1981-1986. He went on to write eight additional volumes with partners, including a historical atlas of congressional political parties, a historical atlas of congressional apportionment, and the 2006 Historical Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections 1788-2004. He has continued to document the American political landscape with co-edited works on the pivotal 2012, 2016, and 2020 elections.

Geography as Lifeline

Martis’s four grandparents and father were Slovakian immigrants from Austro-Hungary in the early 1900s. He was also the first in his family to finish high school, attend college, and attain advanced degrees. “My mother saved my grade school report cards,” he says. “They show I was a poor to average student, except in one area; geography! I loved it.”

His love of geography saved his academic career in college at the University of Toledo. After several semesters he describes as “disastrous” and himself as “barely surviving,” Martis took geography courses with engaging professors, and found his academic passion. One Toledo geography professor in particular, Dr. Donald Lewis, took Martis under his wing. “I have told him several times, he is my number one influence in becoming geographer.”

I realized I could be the first person in American history to map every congressional district from the First Congress forward.” 

The selection of geography courses and excellent professors were no accident. “The Department of Geography at the University of Toledo is a story unto itself,” says Martis. In 1958, the university appointed a new president, arctic geologist Dr. William S. Carlson. Carlson earned his B.A., M.S., and Ph.D. from the University of Michigan, where his graduate advisor was geologist William Herbert Hobbs, president of the Association of American Geographers in 1936. In 1963 President Carlson finalized the creation of a new stand-alone Department of Geography and hired full-time tenure-track faculty. Martis was among the first beneficiaries of this investment.

“Your journey in life is marked by the many choices or paths you select,” he says now. “Nevertheless, the mere existence of the path is predicated by hundreds of choices previously, mostly by people you will never know. What if William Carlson had chosen another advisor in the 1930s? Or what if he chose to remain President of the University of Delaware in 1958? What if Professor Lewis had not taken me under his wing? I believe there is no journey to geography for me if there was no Hobbs, no Carlson, no Lewis, and no establishment of Toledo geography.”

 

Ken Martis created the map to visualize the political party division of the 80th Congressional Congress.
The Eightieth Congress of the U.S., 1947-1949. Republicans are represented in blue, Democrats in red. Credit: Kenneth C. Martis, The Historical Atlas of Political Parties in the United States Congress: 1789-1989, p. 201. Ruth A. Rowles, cartographer, Gyula Pauer, production cartographer.

 

At San Diego State University, Martis discovered political geography. Mentored by Dr. Jim Blick, he was able to complete his thesis even as he lived through the uncertainty of preparing to report to the U.S. Army in the middle of the Vietnam War. After a two-year stint in the Army, he applied to the University of Michigan, under dissertation supervisor George Kish. As his career advanced, mentors and colleagues such as Stanley Brunn, Ruth Anderson Rowles, J. Clark Archer, Gerald Webster, and Fred Shelley collaborated and supported his participation in American electoral geography beyond Congress to presidential elections, gerrymandering, specific elections, and the highlights of political eras and history.

Over his nearly 50 years as a professor at West Virginia University, Martis has seen great growth, including the addition of a Ph.D. program. A critical factor in the department’s development was the incorporation of GIS into the program during the 1980s and 1990s, led by Gregory Elmes and Trevor Harris. WVU also gave faculty the academic freedom to pursue their research interests, and proximity to research resources helped, too: Morgantown is about four hours from the National Archives and Library of Congress, where Martis spent many hours over the years.

Martis’s research continues to have lasting impacts in the public arena. Using modern GIS technology and historical digital boundary databases, UCLA has worked with Martis’s maps to create highly detailed district lines  that are now the standard in congressional boundary history. Martis’s work has been used by investigative journalists and attorneys to show the history of anti-democratic gerrymandering. He has also been a consulting volunteer with the League of Woman Voters and Common Cause in their effort for fair maps, and served on the organizing committee for the AAG redistricting webinars in 2021.

“I consider myself a historical political geographer with a passion for maps,” says Martis. “I am 11 years past retirement. I am still doing geography. It looks like I always will.”

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Member Profile: Neal Lineback

Neal Lineback's SUV and RV displaying Geography in the News logos
The GITN Mobile, outfitted by Lineback for geographic adventures.

As an adventuresome boy growing up in the 1940s and 50s in Forsyth County, North Carolina, Neal Lineback became a geographer before he knew what it was. Working summers for his uncle, a surveyor, since Neal was 11, he learned about topography and mapping by cutting brush and helping identify property lines, eventually training to operate the surveyor’s transit for observations.

“I was constantly exposed to maps and surveys. I loved maps and cartography and spent days plotting bicycle and car trips,” Lineback recalls. By the time he was 14, he had plotted an 80-mile backroad bicycle trip with a friend to earn Boy Scout merit badges. The trip was interrupted by Hurricane Hazel, the deadliest, costliest hurricane of the 1954 season. “We had to camp out in a dilapidated house at the foot of the Blue Ridge as the hurricane brought driving wind and rain,” says Lineback. “Our parents had no idea where we were.” Fortunately, the boys arrived at their destination unharmed the next day, and earned their badges.

At sixteen, Lineback bought a used Model A Ford for $100, intent on driving to Alaska. He changed his mind after the car broke down while he was still in North Carolina, resold it for the same amount he bought it for, and turned his attention to a more formal education. In the meantime, he worked a year in manufacturing as a millwright before he seriously began his college education.

Then as now, geography was a “discovery major.” It was not until his second year at East Carolina College that Lineback met two young and dynamic geography faculty, “Fritz” Gritzner and Louis DeVorsey and departmental chair Robert Cramer. “Thanks to them, I realized I had already been a geographer for 10 years and didn’t know it. Maps were my life and still are.”

In 1963, Lineback took his first teaching job, as a high school teacher in Henry County, Virginia. “I was told I was the first trained geographer to teach in the state. I entered the classroom with four things on my desk: a roll book, an out-of-date geography textbook from the 1950s, a 1930’s world map, and a paddle.” The Vietnam War was ever-present, and Lineback soon found the need to keep himself and the 30 students in five classes — many of them boys who might be drafted — up to date on the Southeast Asia daily news. That’s when he first had an epiphany about the work that would become a passion project of public scholarship: Geography in the News, which finally came to fruition nearly 25 years later and continued for more than 1,200 published articles. (In 2023, Lineback transferred the trademark and archives of Geography in the News to AAG, which is developing a repository of the articles and publishes highlights from the collection.)

College Teaching, Atlas of Alabama, and Field Work in Syria

Lineback went on to receive his Ph.D. from the University of Tennessee and also taught there for two years as a graduate student and adjunct instructor before taking up a post at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. For 18 years, he served as editor of The Atlas of Alabama (1973, The University of Alabama Press) and several computer atlases, among the first of their kind. He served as department chair for 12 years, and also did field work as a hydrologist in Syria, studying the Figeh spring, which brings water to Damascus.

In 1986, when Lineback became chair of the Department of Geography and Planning at Appalachian State University, he was finally able to bring GITN to life. His idea for GITN’s  journalistic approach to blending geography and current events met with the enthusiasm of dean William Byrd. What clinched it was when Lineback met political and environmental geographer Harm de Blij. “I told him that I was contemplating starting work on Geography in the News that summer. He listened intently, then said, ‘Great idea! If you don’t do it, I know of someone who will.’ I immediately pitched the idea to my local newspaper, The Watauga Democrat.

The column was a hit with local readers and was increasingly requested by teachers. Within four years, Lineback had signed a contract to publish GITN online with Maps.Com in Santa Barbara, California. The Internet made it still easier to produce the column and send maps and text by email from coast to coast weekly.

I took considerable pride in involving both my undergraduate and graduate students in GITN and other work, particularly to the point of making sure their names were on my research papers and published maps.”

 

Using Geography to Delve Beneath the Headlines

How did Lineback address breaking issues in the news with thorough, thoughtful geographical perspectives week after week? The process went something like this: The first draft for the week would be written every Sunday evening, in time to meet his graduate or undergraduate cartographer on Monday morning for instructions for a map. Then he sent the draft to his long-time University News Bureau editor. Lineback used his lunch hour between classes to edit the article. After a few days of edits back and forth, Lineback would be ready to email the final version to California by 10 a.m. Friday. By this time he was doing 52 articles a year, never missing a week.

“I wrote them on vacation in Mexico, during Christmas week with the family, on a two-week cruise ship speaking tour around Scotland, Ireland, Portugal and Spain, and on fishing trips to Cape Hatteras. “Nobody else would be so stupid,” he laughs now. “It was almost non-stop for more than 20 years.”

The 27-year success of “Geography in the News” has given Lineback his greatest source of achievement. At its height, through school adoptions, subscriptions and media publications, the column enjoyed an estimated weekly readership far exceeding three million in the early 2000’s, winning awards from the AAG, SEDAAG, Travelocity and more, including a 2-year run on the NGS Newswatch blog.

Portrait of Neal Lineback and his daughter Mandy Lineback Gritzner, who has followed in her dad’s footsteps and become a geographer.
Neal Lineback and daughter Mandy Lineback Gritzner, who has followed in her dad’s footsteps and become a geographer.

 

During the last five years he teamed with his daughter, geographer Mandy Gritzner. “A Godsend,” he says. He continued to teach two or three classes per semester, preside as Department Chair, and serve on AAG and University committees, as well as writing for research projects, including a co-author of Global Change in Local Places, funded by NASA through the AAG. He debuted the World Geography Bowl to SEDAAG (1990) and two years later at AAG after witnessing it as a simple game among North Carolina college students and realized that it could be a thrilling exercise for both geography students and faculty. It was immediately a resounding success. The World Geography Bowl is now a popular event at the AAG annual meeting.

In his experiences, “Geography departments should adopt the academic model of a three-legged stool: promoting well-rounded faculty who carry out good teaching, provide good academic service to their disciplines, and accomplish/publish research in their field,” says Lineback. “In all of these tasks, they should involve their students. I took considerable pride in involving both my own undergraduate and graduate students, particularly to the point of making sure their names were on my research papers and published maps. University teaching shouldn’t go on solely in the classroom.”

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Fred Shelley

AAG mourns the passing of Fred Shelley, a beloved teacher and mentor in the geography community, who passed away on October 19, 2023. He was a longtime professor at The University of Oklahoma in the Department of Geography, and chair of the department from 2004 until his retirement. 

Dr. Shelley was born on July 22, 1952, to Fred Shelley and Catherine (Murphy) Shelley. He was a 1970 graduate of Albert Einstein High School in Kensington, Maryland, and earned his bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Clark University in 1974. He went on to earn an M.A. in Geography from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1977, and a Ph.D. in geography from the University of Iowa in 1981. 

A political geographer, Dr. Shelley contributed significantly to the study of voting patterns, electoral politics, and voter responses to hot-button issues such as nuclear power. He also did valuable research into groundwater issues in the West. Equally significant were his contributions as a professor, inspiring students and bringing attention to the possibilities of geography for their research and careers. 

“When I was a “baby” geographer, Fred was kind and encouraging and importantly to me, just interested in what I was researching and presenting,” remembers 2023-2024 AAG Council Member and Executive Committee Member Marcia England. “He made many junior scholars feel like they mattered and were a vital part of geography and its future. He cared about geography and it was such a motivating and exciting thing to see as a graduate student (at a different university from his) that struggled with what they were doing and why at times. I will miss him greatly.” 

“Dr. Shelley was my master’s advisor and good friend afterwards,” says Ryan Weichelt, chair of the Department of Geography and Anthropology at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. “By far Fred’s enduring legacy is his dedication to his students. His commitment to political geography and electoral geography was instrumental for the proliferation of the electoral studies in geography. Fred, along with other electoral geographers, set in motion the creation of numerous Atlases dedicated to U.S. Elections, that continue to this day.”

Beyond research and students, Weichelt notes, Fred Shelley was a “diehard sports fanatic” who especially loved baseball and basketball. “His love for the Oklahoma Thunder was well known. I will never forget watching the 2001 World Series with him. We watched every game together of that historic series.”

Dr. Shelley is survived by his wife Arlene M. Shelley, their son Andrew P. Shelley (wife Lindsey; daughter Hartley Rundell), stepson Edward M Stapleton (wife Melanie; daughter Jenna; son Jackson), brother Larry Shelley (wife Julie Jensen; son David Shelley), and sister Anne Shelley (partner Michael Moffitt).   

 

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Karen Bakker

On August 14, 2023, geography lost a vital voice, Dr. Karen Bakker. She was a professor at the Department of Geography at University of British Columbia since 2002, having earned her Ph.D. at Oxford University, where she was a Rhodes Scholar. She leaves an astonishing record of achievement: as Fellow of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study 2022-3; as recipient of a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship 2022, a SSHRC Connection Award and Trudeau Fellowship in 2017; and as Stanford University’s Annenberg Fellow in Communication, and Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada’s College of New Scholars. She is the author of more than 100 academic publications and seven books.

In 2005, she was recognized with the AAG Glenda Laws Award for her uncompromising commitment to advance understandings of the nature of governance, the significance of natural resources, and the importance of distributive justice in contemporary societies. She organized many panels and presentations at AAG meetings, particularly on the topic of water governance. She also supervised more than 30 graduate students and postdocs, secured funding for indigenous scholars in the department, and oversaw the work of scores of undergraduate students.

In recent years, Dr. Bakker brought her geographical fascinations with environmental perception and scientific world-making to the realm of sound. In The Sounds of Life (Princeton 2021), she builds a prismatic portrait of planetary ecology through the medium of chirps, buzzes, and low cetacean moans. The book garnered immediate critical acclaim, including from the very scientists it featured. It also reaches a broad public through her April 2023 TED Talk. Her next book, Gaia’s Web, (upcoming with MIT Press), explores how interconnected digital and natural networks will impact biodiversity conservation, environmental governance, and cultivate greater empathy for other species. Both books drew from her Smart Earth Project seeking to mobilize digital technologies to address some of the most pressing challenges of the Anthropocene.

Karen Bakker will be remembered too, for her fierce public engagement. She founded the Program on Water Governance at UBC, where she produced insightful analysis about the environmental, social and economic impacts of large dams like Site C and on a range of critical issues including water security, water privatization, Indigenous water sovereignty, and the human right to water. Research results from these studies have circulated widely in the media, and connected diverse academic, policy, and practitioner worlds.

At UBC, and in the community, Dr. Bakker was an outspoken advocate for equity issues, leading the pay equity process as the Chair of the Faculty Association Status of Women committee. She also frequently engaged local politicians on social and environmental issues of concern to the community — hosting meet-the-candidate nights and engaging in debate on key issues.

The faculty and staff of UBC has said, “We will remember Karen as multi-faceted and superbly talented in all realms. Writing, speaking, researching, or chatting about any topic imaginable, Karen always had interesting things to say and could offer incisive commentary and engaged banter — whether it be about cooking, gardening, stand up paddle boarding, or the local food cart scene in Vancouver. Indeed, alongside her academic pursuits she authored award winning books about feeding children healthful food under her nom de plume Karen Le Billon.”

Dr. Bakker was a committed mother, partner, and friend who transformed fields of knowledge related to water governance, neoliberal natures, and digital environmentalism. She also transformed those who worked alongside her. Her immense energy, passion, and intellect will be dearly missed. We join the UBC faculty in its statement, “We grieve together with her family, friends, and all the communities of which she was a part.”

This remembrance draws deeply from “Remembering Karen Bakker” on the University of British Columbia website, and is used with modifications and permissions from Dr. Bakker’s partner Phillip Le Billon.

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Member Profile: Pinki Mondal

Photo of Pinki Mondal conducting fieldwork in Vietnam with student collaborators.
Pinki Mondal conducting fieldwork in Vietnam with student collaborators. She says she feels a special calling to work with students.

Photo of Pinki MondalAs a child, Pinki Mondal eagerly awaited her father’s arrival home from long trips around the world, working for one of India’s mercantile navy companies. Her earliest geography lessons came in special moments with him: “When he used to come back home, we would sit down with a map like an Atlas, and he would ask me, ‘give me a country name.’ And my job was to point that out on a map.”

This first exposure to the study of geography sustained her, despite formal classes in elementary school that were less of a thrill. “I was not a great fan [of geography class],” she confesses. “The focus is so much on memorizing facts that sometimes it takes the joy out of it, out of the learning process.”

Fortunately, a dedicated geography teacher named Rita Chakraborty took note of Mondal’s lack of enthusiasm. When Mondal was in fifth grade, Ms. Chakraborty “would ask me, ‘why don’t you draw a map? Whatever you want.’” For each of the questions on an exam, Mondal was allowed to draw and connect her answers instead of just answering textual questions. “I would draw a map of that study area and point out my answers on that. I was not great at drawing, but that brought the joy back and it just stayed on. I think she realized that that’s the connection I have with geography: Identifying different places in different parts and just drawing that would give that joy back to me. I don’t know how she did it. But she did that. And I just kept doing it and I just loved it.”

Map image by Pinki Mondal showing radar data to study highly diverse landscapes in Vietnam.
Mondal uses radar data to study highly diverse landscapes. This image is from fieldwork in Vietnam in 2019.

 

Mondal studied geology, chemistry, and mathematics as an undergraduate at the University of Calcutta and got her master’s degree in applied geology from Jadavpur University.  For her M.S. thesis, she worked with satellite images of the Sundarbans, “an immensely complicated and human-modified coastal system in India and Bangladesh,” she says. Part of a World Heritage Site, the Sundarbans are known for one of the world’s largest mangrove forests and the confluence of major rivers, with tidal waterways, mudflats, and small islands that host intricate coastal ecologies, including hundreds of birds, the endangered Bengal tiger, and other threatened species. It has also been home to millions of people for thousands of years. “The beauty of this landscape, viewed through the eyes of a satellite, just blew my mind,” Mondal recalls. “I knew at that moment that studying environmental geography was going to be the rest of my academic career.” She went on to get a doctorate in geography from the University of Florida, and now specializes in fragile coastal systems as assistant professor and director of Environmental Science at the University of Delaware.

Translating Science to the Public

As an Elevate scholar, Mondal hopes to become adept at distilling the core messages from her research so that she can better connect with a wider audience.

“I never thought of using some of my more technology-heavy work for such communications, but through Elevate I now have the training to get the core messages out, even from a more specialized piece of work.”

— Pinki Mondal

Recently, Mondal has translated the findings of her work with students and colleagues on the encroachment of salt water on croplands in Delaware, due to sea level rise. This climate-driven impact is threatening corn crops along with a centuries-old way of life for local farmers. Mondal used her media training from Elevate to field many interviews for print and viewing.

Aside from her work as a public scholar, Mondal enjoys mentoring and collaborating with students. “For undergraduate students, this is often about introducing them to the beauty of satellite imaging of our beautiful planet,” she says. “For graduate students, it is about being part of their journey of growing from a student into a scholar.”

She believes that geographers are uniquely suited to get the word out about climate impacts and solutions. “Through geography, I learned to connect the dots between space and society using satellite remote sensing. But I feel that all geographers, physical or human, strive to do just that — making the connection between our physical and human worlds. At the end of the day, Earth is an interconnected system where we need to understand how humans are changing their environments and how that is forcing our ‘normal’ to a new normal. Without geographic knowledge — the why or what of where — we won’t be able to synthesize the place-based knowledge for a global understanding.”


This article is part of a series of Member Profiles focused on AAG Elevate the Discipline scholars. Elevate the Discipline is an annual program that provides training opportunities and resources to help geographers connect their work to public and policy arenas. Find out more about Elevate the Discipline.

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Member Profile: Mark Ortiz

Group photo including Mark Ortiz with other members of the North Carolina Climate Justice Collective (NCCJC) Leadership Team
Mark Ortiz (left) pictured with other members of the North Carolina Climate Justice Collective (NCCJC) Leadership Team in 2017. He has been a member of the Leadership Team of NCCJC since he was a graduate student at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Photo of Mark OrtizMark Ortiz was almost finished with his bachelor’s degree at the University of Alabama, doing a self-designed major in environmental studies, when he realized that geography offered him the space to study nature and society in connection with one another. “I started reading work in critical geography and political ecology and felt that it was a natural fit where I could pursue the intersectional questions that interested me,” he says. He went on to earn his master’s and Ph.D. in geography from UNC-Chapel Hill. 

Now, as a Presidential Postdoctoral Scholar in the Penn State Department of Geography, and an incoming assistant professor there, he focuses on transnational youth movements, the global politics of climate change, and youth popular and social media cultures. He also challenges himself to translate his knowledge to action, engaging students and community members in his work, serving with numerous youth and intergenerational climate justice organizations, and being an expert panelist and consultant on youth empowerment for international organizations such as IDEO and the U.N. Foundation, as well as a delegate to U.N. climate change and sustainable development meetings around the world.

“What I’ve been really impressed by with the youth movement and the young folks that I’ve worked with is that there’s a real spirit of building across traditional boundaries, boundaries that they’ve kind of inherited from older decision makers or adults and really trying to build new alliances and solidarities, which I think is really important.”

— Mark Ortiz

Ortiz has also observed that young climate activists and scientists have a shared goal:  to translate scientific findings into creative demonstrations that engage the public and illustrate what’s at stake. Ortiz sees his role, among others, as helping more people to access, interpret, and understand what is happening to the Earth’s climate, and to help “create imaginative knowledge products” such as stories, multimedia, and more.

“I am interested in dismantling the barriers that I feel separate the university — the “Ivory Tower” version of it — from our communities,” he says. In research and practice, he pushes at those barriers, which “often result in uneven and extractive relationships that benefit the university but have limited tangible benefits for communities.” He feels a sense of responsibility to make his work more legible to broader audiences, and to create stories with the young people whose activism he studies.

He was drawn to apply for Elevate the Discipline to advance his work in finding new approaches to storytelling that will better represent the global diversity of voices in contemporary youth climate activism. Recently, Ortiz’s vision resulted in the Penn State announcement of a landmark initiative, which he created and directs: The Global Youth Storytelling Initiative. The initiative will be carried out in collaboration with students Rasha Elwakil (undergraduate) and Timothy Benally (master’s student), as well as a Youth Advisory Board and Intergenerational Council.

Ortiz’s leadership style draws on the lessons he has learned as a community organizer, as well as the principles of feminist care ethics and the movement for “slow scholarship.” He sees himself as an introverted person with a deep interest in community and coalition-building. Far from being at odds, these two elements of his nature bring together his special attribute as both scholar and collaborator. “My calling and my approach are grounded in listening and bridging. I think I have an ability to facilitate unlikely alliances and to slow down discussions, to avoid and deconstruct assumptions and build slower, more deliberate partnerships.” He believes that higher education institutions must invest in such a slowing down if they are to have the credibility to engage in community-based work.

Group photo including Mark Ortiz with other members of the North Carolina Climate Justice Collective (NCCJC) Leadership Team
Mark Ortiz (left) pictured with other members of the North Carolina Climate Justice Collective (NCCJC) Leadership Team in 2017. He has been a member of the Leadership Team of NCCJC since he was a graduate student at UNC-Chapel Hill.

 

“One of my mentors always talks about things moving at the speed of trust rather than the speed of tenure,” he says. “That means thinking about partnerships differently and stepping back from the framework of speed.”

Ortiz has been excited at how the Elevate program has helped him to build his network of mentors and collaborators across the discipline. “Already I’ve met people in the cohort who have been supporters and offered advice and guidance in various ways. I’m interested in paying this forward to as the Elevate program continues.”

“As critical human geographers, we’ve always had a different approach to science.” he says. He sees geography as an inherently vital, interdisciplinary space of inquiry for the many actors and interconnected questions of climate response, human rights and needs, and solutions that are equitable and just. “My graduate training as a geographer included classes in climate science, law and policy, social movement studies, and critical youth geographies frameworks, all of which have equipped me with conceptual tools to speak with a wide variety of potential collaborators across a range of disciplines.”

“I notice that a lot of disciplines are beginning to pick up language that has long been used by geographers, especially critical human geographers. This creates a real opportunity for geography to be at the leading edge of efforts to define and act on climate and society questions and issues.”


This article is part of a series of Member Profiles focused on AAG Elevate the Discipline scholars. Elevate the Discipline is an annual program that provides training opportunities and resources to help geographers connect their work to public and policy arenas. Find out more about Elevate the Discipline.

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Donald J. Zeigler

An Exemplary Geography for Life Explorer

Don Zeigler’s colleague, Jonathan Leib, reports that Don knew at an early age that he wanted to be a geographer. While in high school he joined the American Association of Geographers (AAG) and was a member for the rest of his life. His career began with teaching high school geography for three years. After earning his Ph.D. in 1980 from Michigan State University, he became a professor in the Department of Political Science and Geography at Old Dominion University until he retired in 2016. He was department chair from 1990 to 1994.

In 1986, in cooperation with the Virginia Department of Education, Don wrote a proposal to create the Virginia Geographic Alliance (VGA). He worked to secure funding from Gilbert Grosvenor, Chairman of the National Geographic Society (NGS) and Gerald Baliles, Governor of Virginia. He helped lead the VGA for more than 30 years and the organization continues to serve students, K-12 educators, and higher education faculty across Virginia.

Don was president of the National Council for Geographic Education (NCGE) in 1997. He was president of Gamma Theta Upsilon, the international geography student honor society in 2009 and 2010. During the 1990s he worked to create the Advanced Placement Human Geography (APHG) program. In addition to a term as Chief Reader, he led annual readings and conducted workshops, institutes, and travel seminars for high school teachers. Thanks to his consistent efforts APHG is offered in thousands of high schools across the United States.

The first National Standards in Geography in the United States, published in 1994, were aptly named “Geography for Life.” The title encompasses the profound meaning of places and environments in every human life and recognizes that each person is engaged in a lifetime adventure of meaning making through exploration, discovery.

Don was an exemplary “geography for life” explorer. Earth was his primary source of inquiry, his knowledge, analytic skills, and diverse perspectives. All his senses were on alert as he traveled widely and attentively across many time zones, cultural landscapes and physical environments. He developed a keen sense of place while immersed in unique places, always knowing that the places were all interacting in a complex web of global physical and cultural systems. He could skillfully trace and explain those multiple interactions.

Wherever he found himself, he was a keen observer of his surroundings. He saw details others missed or disregarded, he listened intently to other people and to sounds in the environment. He tasted and touched his way across many countries. In his mind he carried an extensive atlas of mental maps to draw upon when doing research or presentations. He developed his own geographic information system and personal navigation system before the widespread use of computer-based GIS and GPS. Don had an extensive repertoire of five-minute lectures through which he explained complex concepts in simple terms or provided a detailed description of a landscape he had experienced.

Although we may be sometimes alone in our explorations, we are also embedded in communities in particular times and specific places. We need geographic knowledge, skills, and perspectives to inform us as we journey together seeking our own wellbeing and the wellbeing of our life companions.

Geography is for life and for a lifetime. Don embraced this perspective and lived it out in several professional and personal communities. He invested many years serving and leading geography organizations. Examples include, Gamma Theta Epsilon, 53 years; Association of American Geographers, over 50 years; National Council for Geographic Education, over 50 years; Old Dominion University, 36 years; Virginia Geographic Alliance, 36 years; and Advanced Placement Human Geography, over 20 years.

Don received numerous well-deserved state and national awards for research, teaching, and service. Among the major honors he earned are a State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) Outstanding Faculty Award in 2006, Gilbert Grosvenor Honors in Geographic Education in 2009, the inaugural AAG Harm J. de Blij Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Geography Teaching in 2016, and NCGE George J. Miller Award for Distinguished Service in 2017.

During his career, Don taught more than 50 different courses at the graduate and undergraduate levels. They included large lecture sections, graduate research seminars, foreign area field studies, transects across Virginia for teachers, world geography and history webinars, and televised courses for students, teachers, and the public. Additionally, he served as Fellow at the American Centers of Oriental Research, Amman, Jordan in 2001, Fulbright-Hays Scholar, Morocco, in 1989, Visiting Scholar, Aleppo University, Aleppo, Syria in 1993.

In his personal and professional life, Don offered no negative judgments of others, praised generously, criticized sparingly, and seldom complained. He always offered others support, encouragement and compassion. As he spent his life exploring Earth’s diverse and constantly changing environments, I am certain that along with his backpack, he carried an attitude of gratitude at every latitude.

Don Zeigler inspired us with his unfailing humility, grace, and enthusiasm for the next exploration. As “geography for life” explorers, let’s follow his example.


Submitted by Robert W. Morrill, Professor Emeritus, Geography, Virginia Tech

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Dennis James Dingemans

Dennis James Dingemans was born and grew up in rural southern Minnesota, graduating from Albert Lea High School. He received his B.A. in History from the University of Chicago and then drove his 1949 Cadillac to San Francisco.

In 1968, Dennis was part of a diverse cohort accepted into the geography graduate program at the University of California Berkeley. Carl Sauer enjoyed Dennis’s stories about his Dutch immigrant father and growing up in Midwestern farming country, yet Dennis was attracted to the urban geography and planning courses at UCB. He became an advisee of Jay Vance. His dissertation (1975) was a study of how the morphology of the East Bay suburbs was being changed by the spread of townhouses, a house type from the central city. In short, his work focused on a piece of Vance’s model of a “city of realms.”  In addition to supping at Vance’s table of urban and transportation geography, Dennis also found his ideas shaped by Professors Glacken, Hooson, Luten, Parsons, Pred, and (in planning) Webber. A summer study tour to Yugoslavia reinforced an interest in the geography of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union.

Dennis spent his professional career (1972-2005) at the University of California Davis. He taught topical courses on urban and economic geography, regional courses on Eastern Europe, China, and the world, and techniques courses on quantitative methods and urban field geography.  He won teaching awards from the UCD Academic Senate and the National Council for Geographic Education, and his lively lectures sprinkled with humor and bon mots were popular. He taught freshman seminars on Davis, the Bay Area, and Northern California, incorporating field experiences and works of both nonfiction and fiction, a favorite being Ecotopia.

Dennis’s research included work on townhouses, land use controls, redlining, defensible space, billboards, gasoline purchasing behavior, and (with his wife and fellow geographer Robin Datel) historic preservation and ethnic and immigrant geographies in American cities. The latter interest emerged from supervising the dissertation of his advisee Susan Hardwick on patterns of Russian settlement in the Sacramento region. Field inventories and cultural landscape slides were hallmarks of Dennis’s engaging scholarship. Dennis did a lot of university service, recognizing it as an important way to grow awareness and understanding of geography on campus. He served on and chaired numerous college and academic senate committees. He was a popular adviser for several programs in addition to Geography—International Relations, Community Development, and Environmental Planning and Management.

The Association of Pacific Coast Geographers, the AAG’s westernmost division, was Dennis’s favorite professional organization for fostering and enjoying the discipline that shaped his life. He gave 22 papers at annual meetings stretching across five decades. He served on many committees, co-organized the 1987 annual meeting, led field trips, mentored student participants, co-edited the APCG Yearbook, and was vice-president and president of the association.

Dennis lived an important life of service outside academic circles. He served on the City of Davis Design Review Commission and Planning Commission, as well as other city-appointed committees related to housing and economic development.  He worked for or against numerous local ballot measures related to planning, housing, open space, transportation, and energy issues. For a decade he served as Director of the Hattie Weber Museum of Davis, the local history museum, creating space for visitors to share their own stories. Dennis led the museum’s long and successful campaign to preserve Davis’s only WPA-financed building. He guided field excursions under the auspices of the Yolo County Historical Society, providing geographical perspectives on local people and places.

In addition to Dennis’s contributions to geography via his research, teaching, and service, his interest in the discipline was shared with his two sons. Theodore, a paleoecologist, earned a Ph.D. in Geography from the University of Nevada Reno and Franklin, a data engineer, obtained a B.A. in Geography from UC Berkeley.

Submitted with permission by Robin E. Datel and the Davis Enterprise

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Judith Keller

By Mikelle Benfield

AAG Summer 2023 Intern, Annie Liu, sat down with Judith Keller to find out more about what it’s like to have a career as a geographer in academia. For Dr. Keller, this wasn’t even an initial consideration, but it’s become a fulfilling career path. Read more to learn how Dr. Keller has navigated (and is still navigating) academia as a professional geographer, from her inspirations to her current research, to her advice on whether or not to pursue a PhD.

How would you describe your current position and the primary responsibilities associated with it? 

“I’m a postdoctoral researcher at the geography department at Heidelberg University and at the Heidelberg Center for American Studies, and I’m currently at the very beginning of my postdoc. I’m still figuring out this new role, but I can say that my main focus is on research and writing. I’m not obliged to teach, but I usually teach one class per semester because it’s just something that I enjoy doing. And then there’s always small things happening at the department and in our program where I’m involved in organizing different little events, where we invite guest speakers, things like that.

“I also do science communication every now and then. I’ve been in podcasts. I’ve published some work with The Conversation, which is an online news outlet for academics. And then here in Heidelberg we’ve also done tours on Urban Development for school kids and various groups. I’m also an editor with the Radical Housing Journal.”

Can you talk a little bit more about your research interests and what you’re researching in particular right now? 

“I’m an urban geographer and my main focus is on housing and housing development. I’m particularly interested in looking at how people’s housing biographies influence their political biographies and tracing their ways into housing activism. That’s what I hope to do or focus more on during my postdoc: to have sort of a political ethnography of housing rights movements.”

When you say “biography,” what are you meaning by that?

“There is the term ‘housing biography,’ which is basically tracing people’s movements through time. At certain life stages, they’re more likely to live in certain housing situations than in others. Like, as a student, you might share an apartment. Later in life, you might settle down, invest in real estate, things like that. We can trace those movements. But there are also certain ruptures within that housing biography because of displacements, evictions, or foreclosures. I want to look at what happens when there is such a break. What does it do to people’s political biography and to their sense of home and belonging and ontological security?”

When you look back at your education trajectory, how did you discover geography and how did you realize it connected with your passions and goals?

“It definitely started with my dad. He used to be a big geography nerd without ever formally studying it. So, geography has been with me for most of my life and it has always been something that I enjoyed doing. But it took me quite a while to figure out that it was something you could pursue as a career.”

“I remember towards the end of my high school years when I was looking into what would I go on doing after, my mom was like, ‘So why don’t you major in geography?’ And I was like, ‘Well, that makes a lot of sense!’ And I know this sounds a bit cheesy now, but then I never looked back. And that’s how it all got started.”

“During my studies, I thought that I wanted to become a teacher. I never intended to stay in academia. And then one thing led to another. I became a research student in our department. And then while I was still trying to figure out what to do with all of it, I got offered a Ph.D. position. And that’s my way into professional geography.”

Talk more about the second part of that question, talking about aspirations.

“Even when I was in high school, we were taught that geography is always about creating sustainable futures: ecologically, economically, and socially. And all of my life I have been very concerned with issues of social justice. And then I realized I could become a professional geographer and make it part of my professional life. I can use my own interests and my talents best.”

“It’s something that I always treasure about geography: that it allows me to connect my concerns for social and spatial justice with my everyday work as a researcher and as a teacher here at the university.”

“Compared to other career paths, geography is always concerned with real life issues and is trying to produce real life solutions, especially in a field like Urban Development and housing. That’s why I rarely feel like I’m trapped within the ivory tower that is academia, because I always see my work as having real-life impact … beyond my professional life.”

How has your education in geography prepared you to be a researcher? What geographic knowledge do you think is important and useful to know for your research? 

“I was a research student and that has been quite crucial because it gave me a very accurate picture of what academic life and research look like in the day-to-day. When I decided to stay in academia, I did so very intentionally. I knew the pros and cons of the job.”

“As a student, I was always able to take interdisciplinary courses so I could bridge all my various interests … I could look into how geography relates to cultural studies or to history. One of my favorite classes was called “Planning and Protest,” and it was taught by an urban geographer and a historian. It looked at how protest movements and riots influence urban planning in the U.S. I always think it’s so cool to learn about different disciplines and how researchers from different disciplines work and do their research because we all use different methods and frameworks.”

“I think what’s most important is that we teach students methods and a certain way of thinking through and with data. Learning about methodology has been most crucial for my career. And it’s not only about how to apply certain methods in the field, but also about critically reflecting on positionality and on ethical issues in the field.”

Are there any specific methodologies that are super important to your work, or specific theories and practices?

“I mostly do qualitative research. I’ve worked a lot with interviews and participatory observations. I think particularly participatory observations have had quite an impact on my work because most of my research takes place abroad. And so just being there, being in the field and being in this very specific and different setting has always informed my research outcomes. It’s exciting to go into the field and learn things that you could never learn when you’re just staying at home in front of your computer. It has certainly been foundational to my work.

Do you have a favorite part of your job?

“I really enjoyed the mix of research, writing, reading, and teaching. You always learn and process information in different ways and I often find that something that you might understand theoretically only makes sense when you put it into practice or when you go into the field. I really need this sort of mix.”

“More generally, I’d say that I love that within academia we have a very high degree of flexibility and independence. I treasure that I can work remotely whenever I want to or that I can have a late start into my day if I don’t feel well. I can just follow my energy flow and see where it takes me on certain days. I can travel a lot and explore new places, and I think that really makes it all worthwhile.”

What advice do you have for geography students and early career researchers?

“You really have to love academia in order to do it wholeheartedly. I see a lot of people who are not in a Ph.D. program or a postdoctoral program for the right reasons or who expected it to be something else, and then it makes them feel miserable. You have to be very intentional about your decision, or else it’s just going to be very stressful and exhausting. I truly believe that there’s so many wonderful jobs out there that you don’t have to bully yourself into doing a Ph.D. or pursuing a certain degree if it’s not for you.

“If you decide to do a Ph.D., my advice would be to always stay true to yourself.”

“It’s very hard not to get distracted by the long publication lists that you see in other people’s bios. You have so many people around you that work overtime all the time, and you feel like, ‘Oh, is that something I should do? Am I doing enough?’ It distracts you from focusing on yourself and your own path — and that should be enough.”

“Always take some time off. There’s a terrible tendency in academia to always keep going. But you have to take your weekends. You have to take your vacation days. Go to a yoga class, read a book, start a new hobby, and I’m almost certain that you will have more energy and be more productive than the person who is working 24/7.”

What were the deciding factors for you to keep pursuing academia?
“It’s really the mix of various things that we do in our day to day. I feel like every single day is different. I’m almost certain that I will never get bored in this job. Some days you’re teaching. The next day you might focus on reading and writing. Then sometimes you have periods that you spend in the field. You organize conferences or workshops. You meet new people and very interesting people too. And you always keep learning. That’s why it can never really get boring.”

Any final wisdom that you want to impart?

“It’s important to celebrate the things that we achieve throughout our career. If you had a great day, if you managed to publish a paper, if you just reached your personal goal of writing two pages today … enjoy the little things.”

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