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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AAG Appoints New Director to GISCI Board

white GISCI logo on light green background

Photo of Darcy BoellstorffPhoto of Michael ScottIn August, AAG member Darcy Boellstorff, Ph.D., GISP stepped onto the GIS Certification Institute (GISCI) Board of Directors. She replaces Michael Scott, GISP, geography faculty and Dean of the Henson School of Science and Technology at Salisbury University. Scott previously served for ten years as one of AAG’s two representatives. 

Boellstorff currently is both a professor and Chair of the Department of Geography at Bridgewater State University in Bridgewater, Massachusetts. Now in her third term as department chair, she has had a focus on guiding the department through undergraduate program curriculum changes, with the goal of making geography more accessible to students by highlighting the concepts of sustainability, climate resilience, conservation, and global systems.  

Boellstorff’s work has focused on increasing the visibility of geospatial tools and applications across disciplines and university administration. In summer 2024, her department will offer a new GIS graduate certificate program through the university’s College of Continuing Studies. The development of this program is focused on aligning learning outcomes with regional employment outlook and skills needs, and outside professional GIS certification pathways for new GIS professionals to pursue.  

The GIS Certification Institute (GISCI) is a non-profit organization that promotes the advancement of proficient GIS professionals through its international GISP® (Certified GIS Professional) certification program. The Institute fosters rigorous professional and ethical standards, community engagement, and professional mentoring within the GIS industry. GISCI’s member organizations include the American Association of Geographers (AAG), National States Geographic Information Council (NSGIC), University Consortium for Geographic Information Science (UCGIS), and the Urban and Regional Information Systems Association (URISA). More information about the GISCI is available at www.gisci.org 

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Program Profile: California State University Long Beach

Group photo of CSULB MSGISci students
Group photo taken by a drone of MSGISci students at the River Ridge Ranch field site (with Scott Winslow, UAV and GIS Lab Manger front left and Dr. Wechsler front 2nd from left).

AAG staff recently sat down for a virtual interview with California State University Long Beach (CSULB) faculty members Dr. Suzanne Wechsler, professor and department chair; Dr. Lily House-Peters, associate professor and undergraduate advisor; and Dr. Paul Laris, professor and former department chair. When asked how their department demonstrated the value and relevancy of geography, a theme quickly emerged — actions speak louder than words.  Everything the department does is exemplary of demonstrating the importance of geography.

The department is keen on community engagement that provides research and learning opportunities for both students and faculty, adapts their program to ever-evolving geospatial technology and industry standards, and emphasizes the importance of field experience in the coursework across the program’s various concentrations. It’s obvious that CSULB’s Department of Geography is demonstrating the value and relevancy of geography daily, not only to their students, but to their university colleagues and local community members as well.

“One of the things that’s kept us going and relevant is that we’re always trying something…we’re constantly trying out and innovating,” says Laris. His response reflects the overall spirit of a department where innovation is the norm. As Wechsler puts it, being nimble and responsive is what has fostered the program’s success.

Professor and student perform field work with coastal sage scrub.
Professor Laris gives student Alexandra Trujillo a few tips on how to use a quadrat to sample coastal sage scrub vegetation at the PVP Land Conservancy.

 

Student and professor perform fieldwork together.
Student Cannon Hanson and Professor Laris prep a site for line transect sampling of coastal sage scrub habitat.

 

Creating stand-out programs to foster student success

Suzanne Wechsler has carried on this tradition in her current role as department chair where her responsibilities include directing the M.S. in Geographic Information Science (MSGISci) program. The M.S. was created 12 years ago when it was discovered that M.A. students were dropping out because they’d found work in the geospatial industry before they graduated. The problem was, that while students were obtaining excellent geotechnical skills within the M.A. program, they were taking internships that turned into the jobs they wanted, leaving them with little time or motivation, to complete their thesis. Wechsler and her colleagues realized there was a need to provide an analytical and application-based training for these students to fully prepare them for a career in the highly competitive geospatial industry, rather than the more theory-based approach of the M.A. program.

It’s about being agile and responding to the moment as best as possible, and you can’t do that without a core faculty that are dedicated and get along well…[and]…work together to…figure out how to address the moment.

—Suzanne Wechsler

The result is a vibrant graduate program which includes both a traditional Master of Arts (M.A.) and a Master of Science in Geographic Information Science (MSGISci) that received an Honorable Mention for the AAG’s Program Excellence Award in 2019, among other ranked achievements. Students can expect a small, yet strongly networked cohort environment, research and publishing opportunities with faculty that focus on local and global issues, and lectures from community leaders, activists and industry professionals to inform on current best practices and skills.  Research partnerships are built into seminars and culminating activities provide students with opportunities to gain specialized skills and competencies, and, for example, to investigate how issues such as social and environmental justice play out in community settings.

Wechsler adds that equally important to the research experiences we facilitate is the network and community we strive to develop while students are in our program, and after they graduate. With over 200 MSGISci graduates 96% of whom are working in the geospatial field, these networking opportunities are an especially important component of our program. We hope that by building a sense of community while students are here encourages them to stay connected and serve as a network and resource for future graduates.

CSULB students performing GPS data collection
MSGISci students prepare GPS units for data collection at the River Ridge Ranch study site in Springville, CA.

 

How campus visibility maintains relevancy

The value of geography is enhanced by interdepartmental relationships within the university, according to Laris. Geography faculty often collaborate on cross-listed courses with other departments or stay on the university radar through the reception of grants including an NSF REU. Additionally, some programs such as the M.S. in Geographic Information Science generate income, attract students to the university, ultimately highlight the discipline’s relevancy.

“…we’re [the geography department] a good team player,” says Paul Laris. But it’s Suzanne Wechsler  who places the credit for this success. “That’s largely due to leadership,” she says. “Paul was instrumental in fighting for geography’s place within the college.”

Building this highly felt presence within the university is something that has taken time, but it has become a win-win for the department. At the end of the day, the department leadership’s dedication has benefitted the students, faculty, and long-lasting relevancy of geography.

Put me in, Coach!

The department’s overall success reflects its outstanding faculty. To be successful, both Laris and Wechsler emphasize the importance of creating an environment where faculty are enriched and able to succeed. Drawing on their experiences, the department chair is tasked with the difficult balancing act of distributing teaching loads at a University with a heavy teaching load (12 units per semester) combined with research and service expectations.

“I’m a sports guy,” Laris confesses with a smile. But with the confession comes an important analogy: “If your team’s going [to] do well, you’re only going to do as well as each of your players. If you put them in a position where they can do the best they can do, then maybe you’ll succeed in a place like Cal State Long Beach.”

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Connecting with Our Community to Bridge Divides and Raise Our Voices

Marilyn Raphael and her panelists Tianna Bruno, Guillermo Douglass-Jaimes and Kelly Kay posed for a photo after the 2023 AAG Presidential Plenary, Toward More Just Geographies. Credit: Becky Pendergast, AAG
Marilyn Raphael and her panelists Tianna Bruno, Guillermo Douglass-Jaimes and Kelly Kay posed for a photo after the 2023 AAG Presidential Plenary, Toward More Just Geographies. Credit: Becky Pendergast, AAG

Photo of Marilyn Raphael by Ashley Kruythoff, UCLA

It is now almost a month since our Annual Meeting in Denver concluded and I can still feel the glow. More than 6,000 AAG members converged on Denver ready to re-engage with their geography family. We were at first tentative about being with people in person, yet eager to restart the social-intellectual experiment that these meetings embody. I met many more members than I would normally — not simply old friends and colleagues, as delightful as that was, but also new members, in particular, early career geographers (students, postdocs). Everyone, from seasoned AAG members to brand-new ones to AAG staff, expressed to me how happy they were to be meeting and to be in conversation with each other.

I’ll mention three (of many) special moments:

There was one conversation that I overheard while having a quiet coffee, in which the members were saying how much they were enjoying the meeting, expressing the excitement of realizing that the author whose work you were citing in your presentation was actually sitting in the audience and that the meeting was totally worth the effort that it took to get there. I couldn’t help myself I had to go over and introduce myself as their President and confess that I had overheard them. They were delighted.

Another experience that I will cherish came at our opening reception on Thursday. I was greeted by a quartet of young African geographers who came together to meet me and be photographed with me. They were so excited that their president was a Black woman, they wanted it on record. Their excitement drove home to me how important diversity and inclusion are to inspiring and encouraging young people, not just in our discipline but in their decisions and ability to persist in their work and lives.

A third was attending [part of] the Bridging the Digital Divide networking session, which brought a number of students to the Denver meeting. I mention this because it is an initiative that AAG created in 2020 in “to quickly address the technology needs of geography students at minority-serving institutions, as COVID-19 disrupted their learning environments.” Actions like these move us towards a Just Geography, and the presence of these students at the meeting drove that point home.

The highlight of my meeting experience was the Presidential Plenary I led: Its theme, you will remember, was “Towards a Just Geography.” The plenary brought together ideas that AAG, and you as its members, have been working on for some time. The three panelists, geographers at different stages of their careers, suggested directions arising from their own study, experiences, and hopes. They reflected on the spatial and temporal dimensions of justice, the potential of critical physical geography, and the importance of mentoring our early-career geographers. These are only three facets of what is a multifaceted concept. However, the ideas passionately expressed by the panelists demonstrated a renewed understanding of how transformative the work of addressing justice must be, challenging our mindsets, frameworks, and assumptions.

This call for a renewed understanding stayed with me as I sat in on a number of themed sessions over the ensuing days. As I listened to the presentations, I was struck by the urgency of the voices of geographers as they discussed their work. I saw not only the value of their interdisciplinary and cross-cutting perspectives on the grand challenges of the world, but also the real need for the taking those perspectives into the public realm.

To meet that need, AAG has launched a major initiative, Elevate the Discipline, aimed at amplifying geographers’ voices with training and resources for media relations, public scholarship, and advocacy. In addition, AAG recently completed its Strategic Plan for 2023-2026, which features eight areas of innovation and effort. Woven directly into the new plan are the Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion initiative goals, which will receive a significant infusion of members’ input and guidance this year with the launch of seven new working groups. I’d like to tell you more about these areas of AAG’s work and encourage you to get involved.

Apply: Elevate the Discipline program. May 5 is the last day to apply for AAG’s first-ever Elevate the Discipline training cohort. Elevate the Discipline is designed to provide training, learning resources, and a platform for geographers to be heard in the media, as voices for public policies, and in advocating for change.  In addition to the week-long training program this summer, AAG is developing webinars to be provided in 2024, and has curated a free suite of resources available year-round. This year’s theme for the week-long training is “Climate Change and Society,” which is particularly relevant to the focus on justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion.

Join: Working Group for AAG’s Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI) initiative. If you attended the Annual Meeting, you may already have had a chance to find out about the seven JEDI working groups that AAG is forming to enable members to advise and collaborate on the AAG JEDI plan. The groups will address governance, communications, focused listening, membership, reports, advocacy, and training. There are still spaces open on some of the committees, and you can use this link to apply.

In an article for ArcNews last year, I called for renewed efforts to suit our methodologies and research to the very real human needs and inequities that the climate crisis reveals: “There is so much more that physical and climate scientists, including geographers, need to learn about how we practice and use our science. We have made great strides in our understanding of the physical nature of climate and climate change. However, our understanding is limited by the fact that we do not incorporate the human element well enough.” Something similar can be said for our efforts to communicate what’s at stake: Do geographers have the tools they need to not only translate their research to public information, but also to connect the science with social impacts and possibilities? Both the JEDI working groups and Elevate the Discipline are powerful, member-driven opportunities to help AAG illuminate and amplify the social and physical dimensions of this current moment on our planet.

DOI: 10.14433/2017.0130


Please note: The ideas expressed in the AAG President’s column are not necessarily the views of the AAG as a whole. This column is traditionally a space in which the president may talk about their views or focus during their tenure as president of AAG, or spotlight their areas of professional work. Please feel free to email the president directly at raphael [at] geog [dot] ucla [dot] edu to enable a constructive discussion.

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In Denver and Beyond, Moving Toward More Just Geographies

Aerial view of downtown Denver with mountains in the background. Credit: CANUSA Touristik via denver.org
Aerial view of downtown Denver with mountains in the background. Credit: CANUSA Touristik via denver.org

Photo of Marilyn Raphael by Ashley Kruythoff, UCLAOur annual meeting is just around the corner, and I am excited. This is our first opportunity to meet in person since 2019, and AAG members are showing up! In March, more than four thousand geographers are going to descend on Denver, CO, the Mile High City, bringing with them the “spirit of Geography” More than fifteen hundred geographers will join remotely. Together, this means that well over 50% of our membership will be gathering to share research, ideas, and catch up, with one another for our largest gathering since 2020.

The theme of the meeting, Toward More Just Geographies, sprang from the ideas espoused in my nomination statement, back in 2020 when I talked about what we needed to do to create a stronger, more just AAG and discipline, and in the process, make Geography a force for positive social change. The heart of the theme is that the reality of a just geography is on the horizon, something that we must work towards, continually, but perhaps something that we never fully achieve. This is not setting us up for failure but a recognition that justice is not a finite, unchangeable thing, rather it is something that is constantly evolving towards an ideal. Hence, it’s towards a just geography. Member response to this theme has been heartwarmingly high — 471 of our 1,283 sessions are Just Geography themed.

Set against a backdrop of the numerous responses submitted to the appeal for member ideas on what a just geography means to them, the Presidential Plenary, scheduled for Friday, March 24 at 6:30 PM Mountain Time, is structured as a panel, featuring Tianna Bruno of UT-Austin, Guillermo Douglass-Jaimes of Pomona College, and Kelly Kay of UCLA. Our speakers will reflect on how we can approach a Just Geography in the tools that we use (GIS), in the framing of our research questions, and in our mentoring of students and early-career geographers. These reflections are not intended to represent the only ways in which we can approach a Just Geography, indeed, the member responses are rich with ideas on that subject.

Our intention is for these discussions to continue beyond the time allotted to the plenary and across all the days of the meeting. To facilitate this, AAG staff are creating at the meeting site, space where a curated set of the ideas discussed at the plenary as well as those contained within the member responses to the appeal are projected so that people could come in, sit or walk around and see the statements and spark conversations.

And there’s more! Beyond the immediate Presidential Plenary plans, in this meeting there are clear examples of the ways in which the AAG is moving towards a Just Geography. We are changing the way in which AAG’s conferences interact with the community, becoming less extractive while moving towards long- and short-term community engagement. This goes beyond the customary, popular offerings among our members to encourage mentoring, career development, and professional celebration and recognition. This year AAG also moves to connect with our host community, for example by once again offering a land acknowledgment on our website and during the meeting, and for the first time providing free registration to any member of the 48 tribes and nations with ancestral ties to the land defined by the state boundaries of Colorado. Several participants have taken up this offer. AAG works with and will make a monetary contribution to the work of the Denver Indian Family Resource Center (DIFRC), which works to protect the rights and serve the needs of Native American and Alaskan Native families in the Denver area. The DIFRC will also be on a panel of other Indigenous-led Denver advocacy groups on Friday, March 24 at 11:45 AM MT to discuss Denver as an Indigenous place. This session is co-sponsored by the Indigenous People’s Specialty Group.

The move towards justness is everywhere in AAG 2023’s programming. As noted above, one in three sessions is devoted to our theme of Toward a More Just Geography. A focus on just geographies is also a factor in our choice of honorees such as this year’s Honorary Geographer, Rebecca Solnit, who has worked conscientiously from an intersectional view of activism for climate action. AAG has given one of its highest recognitions to a person whose work arguably centers on justness. You can see Ms. Solnit alongside AAG members Farhana Sultana and Edward Carr on Saturday, March 25, at 10:20 AM MT, discussing the new book to which Sultana and Carr are contributors, Not Too Late: Changing the Climate Narrative from Despair to Hope. Ms. Solnit will deliver the Honorary Geographer lecture on Sunday, March 26, at 11:45 AM MT. Local independent bookseller Boulder Book Store will sell copies of Ms. Solnit’s books onsite for signings.

Reducing our carbon footprint: Working with AAG’s Climate Action Task Force, we are applying the lessons we’ve learned to a less carbon-intensive meeting this year. The past three years have forced us to become more adept at organizing the virtual experience and now we are learning how to manage a more travel-intensive experience while continuing to reduce our carbon footprint. This is in line with a key commitment made by the AAG in 2020 to estimate and report the carbon footprint of the annual meetings, using the baselines that were established then. Our goal is to reduce the carbon footprint of our meeting by 45% by 2030, relative to 2010 values. Our meeting in Denver is likely to be on track for meeting that goal, something that unfortunately, is not as likely with our planned meeting in Honolulu. As laid out by AAG executive director Gary Langham recently, this is another aspect of the work we have been doing, which includes divesting from fossil fuels as well as making sustainable choices for our management and office space.

This year, AAG is investing significant resources in making the Denver meeting hybrid, increasing accessibility to members. At a time that many other organizations are pivoting back to in-person-only meetings, AAG has made a commitment to continue to offer virtual and hybrid experiences so that presenters and participants could take part without traveling to Denver, thereby increasing accessibility to the meeting. AAG has worked with other institutions to test “nodes,” the most active of which will be at Montreal, but there are others forming in other locations, such as UC-Fullerton in California. The organizers of these nodes are trailblazing for future meetings; as technology improves and costs drop over the years, we can look forward to these approaches becoming the norm for AAG meetings. Find out more about this year’s nodes.

Personal choices also matter. AAG is encouraging our meeting participants to make low-carbon travel choices to attend the meeting, and low-carbon transportation choices on the ground. We encourage you to signal us about your travel decisions using the #AAG4Earth hashtag, or to reach out to us at helloworld@aag.org.

All of these steps towards making a meaningful and memorable meeting, while small individually, move us along the path towards a Just Geography.

Visit the AAG 2023 website to learn more, register, or plan your participation.

DOI: 10.14433/2017.0127


Please note: The ideas expressed in the AAG President’s column are not necessarily the views of the AAG as a whole. This column is traditionally a space in which the president may talk about their views or focus during their tenure as president of AAG, or spotlight their areas of professional work. Please feel free to email the president directly at raphael [at] geog [dot] ucla [dot] edu to enable a constructive discussion.

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The State of Geography: Patterns and Trends by Racial and Ethnic Identity

In December, AAG released the State of Geography report, which provides an overview of broad trends in degree conferral at the undergraduate and graduate levels, both within geography and in comparison with general trends in other social sciences and in academia overall.

Last month, we examined the data for trends and indicators in terms of gender identity. This month, we look at how well graduation trends are doing in terms of representation of students across racial and ethnic groups that have been historically excluded from geography. 

As President Marilyn Raphael noted in her February 2023 President’s column, “The [State of Geography] report confirms some of the concerns about our field’s lack of diversity, offers signs of change, and leaves us with important questions about the nature and constraints of the data,” which is drawn from the National Center for Education Statistics, Classification of Instructional Programs (CIP) codes.  

In the report and this article, AAG is using the term “historically excluded populations” to designate the students in these categories. American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian, Black or African American, Hispanic or Latinx, Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander, Student Visa Holder, Race/Ethnicity unknown, and Two or More Races. We also used the term to follow the practice of AAG’s JEDI committee, which uses the term intersectionally, acknowledging that multiple modes of discrimination can combine (e.g. racism, sexism, ableism, classism), and describing the persistent barriers of the discipline, be they formal or perceived:  

“Geography is not perceived as a welcoming discipline for women, queer and trans people, oppressed racial/ethnic groups, and other individuals from historically excluded populations. There are several interconnected reasons for this. First, modern geography’s roots in white, Western, patriarchal, settler colonial, and cis-heteronormative understandings of the world mean that the discipline has long reflected and perpetuated systems of oppression. Second, there are systematic and structural barriers that limit the recruitment and retention of diverse faculty and students. Third, marginalized faculty and students do not necessarily see geography as relevant or reflective of their realities, and as a result, they do not see in it prospects for a well-defined, practical, and impactful career. Together, these elements create impressions of geography that range from antiquated to hostile. While these perceptions exist today, they should not mark geography’s future. Receptivity will only improve if we become intentional about embedding JEDI into standard practices within the AAG and the broader geography discipline.” [Source: AAG 3-Year Justice Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Plan, 2021] 

The State of Geography report is among AAG’s efforts to embed JEDI into standard practices within our organization and to encourage their adoption throughout the discipline. 

Signs of Promise  

Even as growth in overall degree conferrals has dropped in geography for roughly the past decade, the graduation rate of students in historically excluded populations has grown during the same time. In fact, during the past 25 years, the percentage of degree-earning geography students who are from historically excluded populations has more than doubled, from 14.8% in 1994-1995 to 36.4% in 2020-2021. The trend is most pronounced in graduate studies, particularly PhD programs. Our analysis included student visa holders among the categories because NCES counts them among the race and ethnicity categories they track. This group of students makes up a large proportion of students at the graduate levels, and themselves form a diverse cohort of many racialized identities within and beyond an American context, although it is hard to identify specific racial or ethnic groups in this category.  

At the bachelor’s degree level, the proportion of students in many racial or ethnic categories increased, with the greatest gains among students of more than one race and Latinx or Hispanic students. There was little growth in bachelor’s degree conferral among American Indian and Alaska Native students or Black/African American students.  

In fact, there appears to be almost no growth in bachelor’s degree conferrals for Black students since 2010. Given total growth, the percentage appears to be declining for percent growth of Black students, a phenomenon that adversely affects the number of Black PhD graduates and, consequently, Black geography faculty.   

Trends in Geography Bachelor’s Degrees Conferred by Race and Ethnicity 
Figure 22. Trends in Geography Bachelor’s Degrees Conferred by Race and Ethnicity

 

At the master’s and doctoral levels, U.S.-based diversity drops dramatically, while student visa holders become a significant proportion of degree recipients. The increase in student visa holders, proportional to other student groups, during the past decade suggests that international students–who often have quite different understandings and experiences of race—may be more attracted and welcomed to U.S. geography than U.S. students of color. 

There appears to be an inverse correlation between the level of degree and the diversity of the students pursuing the degree. Diversity is greatest at the undergraduate level, drops at the master’s level, and drops still further at the doctoral level. 

Figure 24: Trends in Geography Master’s Degrees by Race and Ethnicity

 

Figure 26: Trends in Geography Doctoral Degrees by Race and Ethnicity
Figures 24 and 26: Trends in Geography Master’s and Doctoral Degrees by Race and Ethnicity

 

How Geography Compares Among Disciplines 

Because geography is an interdisciplinary science, we compared student choices of major among several social science and physical science disciplines. As a graduate degree sought out by students from historically excluded populations, geography holds its own among the social sciences at the master’s level, with slightly better representation at the PhD level than most other social sciences (with the exception of economics). At the bachelor’s level, however, geography has a lower rate of representation among these students than most other social sciences, except for history. 

Geography fares similarly to other physical sciences in the amount of representation from historically excluded groups in bachelor’s degrees, master’s degrees, and PhDs. Representation increases from bachelor’s to master’s to PhD. 

Overall, geography is behind virtually all other fields of study we examined across all degree types, in terms of racial and ethnic representation. From 1997 to 2019, Jordan et al. (2021) found that “geography [doctorates] consistently trailed the social sciences and the academy,” a gap that has been widening.  More than half of computer science degrees, to cite one example, are conferred on students from minoritized backgrounds—across all levels of degree. This indicator has relevance for GIS studies within geography: computer science and data analysis, perhaps data visualization, are a popular degree for students of many backgrounds, and GIS programs can leverage this popularity, combined with greater efforts to attract and retain students from diverse backgrounds. 

Detail from Figure 20. Minoritized students (in red), as an overall proportion of bachelor’s degrees in (L to R) geography, business management and related services, and computer science. The values rise from left to right.
Detail from Figure 20. Minoritized students (in red), as an overall proportion of bachelor’s degrees in (L to R) geography, business management and related services, and computer science.

 

Concluding Thoughts 

The growth in geography degrees among students from historically excluded populations is good news for the discipline: it is they who have contributed any new, positive growth to the field in recent years. That growth is nowhere near the levels needed for full, representative equity, however. While it offers a signpost to a more diverse geography, the overall lack of diversity is also a reminder that we must redouble our efforts. 

In developing the report, we encountered several unknowns, such as the “race/ethnicity unknown” category and the student visa category. As noted in our article on gender, qualitative information is also not available. Gaining qualitative insight is crucial because an increase in graduates from groups previously excluded does not mean that racial bias and inequality do not exist. Jordan et al. (2021) identify four drivers of inequity in doctorate programs: 

  1. lack of dedicated funding for underrepresented minority doctoral students,  
  2. minimal prior exposure to academic and professional geography,  
  3. passive recruitment strategies, and  
  4. pervasive whiteness of departments. 

[Exploring Persistent Racial and Ethnic Representation Disparity in U.S. Geography Doctoral Programs: The Disciplinary Underrepresentation Gap] 

In her 2002 article “Reflections on a White Discipline,” geographer Laura Pulido looks at her own experience as a student and faculty member of color within geography programs. Finding that “the study of race is both marginalized and fragmented within geography,” she ultimately moved from geography into a newly organized American studies program that acknowledged ethnicity and race. She writes, “Although other issues also existed, comfort and intellectual community were the key reasons I made the move.” These studies indicate that pragmatic factors such as funding and active recruitment should be coupled with a strong commitment and follow-through for the representation of many identities, and a welcoming and supportive intellectual environment for engaging critical questions around race, ethnicity, and identity. 

As we previously noted in our article on gender identity and degree conferral, NCES data do not lend themselves to being examined intersectionally, that is, with an acknowledgment of the complex ways discrimination and marginalization can function across multiple identities. Separating out race and ethnicity from gender cannot be done: we are all a combination of various identities and experience our lives through the lenses of those identities, including our experience of exclusion. Quoting the JEDI Committee once again, “…there are systematic and structural barriers that limit the recruitment and retention of diverse faculty and students [and] marginalized faculty and students do not necessarily see geography as relevant or reflective of their realities, and as a result, they do not see in it prospects for a well-defined, practical, and impactful career.” Although the numbers indicate that more students of differing identities are finding their way to geography, especially for advanced degrees, we must find ways to build on this positive trend: to actively working toward structural change in the discipline and to find out more about what attracts students of differing identities and experiences to geography, and what contributes to their decision to pursue advanced study.  

Get Involved in the Next State of Geography Report:

We look forward to further expanding on our findings in the State of Geography Report in the future, with data from a variety of sources, including NCES, AAG surveys, and AAG member expertise. We welcome questions, ideas, or suggestions about the findings at data@aag.org.   

Read the full report
Further Reading

Peake, L.J. & England, Kim (2020). (What Geographers Should Know About) The State of U.S. and Canadian Academic Professional Associations’ Engagement with Mental Health Practices and Policies, The Professional Geographer, 72:1, 37-53, DOI: 10.1080/00330124.2019.1611455 

Brinegar, S.J. (2001). Female Representation in the Discipline of Geography, Journal of Geography in Higher Education, 25:3, 311-320, DOI: 10.1080/03098260120084395 

Kinkaid, E. & Fritzsche, L. (2022). The Stories We Tell: Challenging Exclusionary Histories of Geography in U.S. Graduate Curriculum, Annals of the American Association of Geographers, 112:8, 2469-2485, DOI: 10.1080/24694452.2022.2072805 

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Reflections on the State of Geography 

Photo of a female graduate wearing cap and gown holding out a rolled up diploma
Credit: Felipe Gregate for Unsplash

Photo of Marilyn Raphael by Ashley Kruythoff, UCLA

Over the last few weeks I have been reading the AAG’s recently released report on the State of Geography. The report observes trends in post-secondary geography education in the United States over the period 1986-2021. These include trends across degree categories, and growth trends among students from populations historically excluded from the discipline. By historically excluded populations, I mean people who have been racialized/minoritized and excluded due to systems of white supremacy. The report confirms some of the concerns about our field’s lack of diversity, offers signs of change, and leaves us with important questions about the nature and constraints of the data collected by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). Here I highlight what I think are some of the important takeaways from this report.   

What it reveals

A quick overview of the trends shows that the number of geography degrees grew quickly from the 1990s through 2012, but since then, that number has steadily decreased due largely to a decline in bachelor’s degrees. By comparison, masters’ and doctorate degrees have continued to grow. This negative trend in undergraduate geography degree conferral since 2012 reflects a broader downward trend across social sciences, unlike in physical sciences where fields like atmospheric science and conservation are both growing strongly. This is noteworthy because these fields are often found within or combined with geography departments. 

 

Comparative bar chart showing the growth in women graduates across physical sciences, relative to geography; from the AAG State of Geography report, 2022
Growth in women graduates across physical sciences, relative to geography

 

While the number of degrees conferred has fluctuated over the years, the field itself remains predominantly male and white, although women are making inroads at the graduate level. The strength of this finding is undermined by the binary representation of gender in NCES’s and other scientific institutions’ data collection. When I use the term “women” on its own here, I’m referring to a data category and not to individual or collective gender identities that the data do not reflect. With that said, the data show that people reported as women remain underrepresented in geography studies. They do have higher representation in graduate studies (particularly PhDs) than in bachelor’s programs, and a higher rate of growth in PhDs than in master’s or bachelor’s degrees. They also show more consistent positive growth in degree conferral than people identified as men. Overall, besides anthropology and sociology, geography is similar to other social sciences in gender makeup, remaining mostly identified as male. 

It is encouraging to see that students in historically excluded populations appear to count for most of the new growth in the discipline, especially at the graduate level. Since 1994, growth in the number of geography degree conferrals has more than doubled among this population, and people identifying as Hispanic or Latinx make up the most rapidly growing proportion at the bachelor’s degree level. Geography degrees are not conferred equitably at any level of the discipline. However, this population’s numbers have grown relative to the total number of combined geography degrees conferred. In fact, it appears that people from historically excluded populations are contributing to any growth that geography is experiencing.  Despite this trend, representation in geography PhD degrees is similar to that of other higher education fields, lagging in bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Growth overall has not increased among African American, Native American, and Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander students in recent years.  

What it does not reveal

The report gives a picture of the state of geography in the US but also raises questions about the data. The way in which the data were collected/organized limits what can be known. For example, the way the data are organized tends to sidestep intersectional understanding of the discipline and students’ paths through it. Separating out race and ethnicity from gender is a superficial exercise that does not reflect lived reality.  

Interpretation of the data should consider that the emphasis on STEM education in the United States has coincided with a decline in social science and humanities majors. Did this affect students’ choice of a geography degree? Perhaps. Geography is not consistently considered a STEM field in US degree-giving institutions. Thus, the emphasis on STEM may mean that students seeking a science career might not major in geography at institutions where it is not considered STEM. Nonetheless, overall trends for master’s and PhD programs show us that geographers seem to be finding their way to the discipline after they earn other bachelor’s degrees.  

We also know that the NCES data categories themselves have limitations, especially as geography is such an interdisciplinary field and so rapidly advancing in GIS and other technologies. Many geography programs, in fact, need to or decide to apply non-geography categories to courses and degree paths. In particular, it’s possible that many geography-related programs, (social sciences, environmental sciences, etc.) are reporting GIS degrees or those with heavy loads of GIS coursework under the Computer Science and IT code. The large number of GIS-centric programs in the new AAG Guide database, paired with relatively low numbers of cartography and GIScience degrees conferred, could be evidence of this.   

Where to go from here

Studying degree conferrals alone gives us statistical insights that can create the foundation for understanding the discipline’s trends, but it also inspires more qualitative questions about how a geography program’s design, curriculum, approach to recruitment, and faculty/student support can contribute to attracting and retaining a wider variety of students. The AAG is aware of the need for data that have more comprehensive categories and go beyond the quantitative into factors that are more holistic. For example, the AAG is interested in pursuing data that will provide a more detailed picture of gender identities, racialized and ethnic identities, and the disciplinary experiences and conditions that students are encountering. Later this year we will be asking for the geography community’s input into these data. Please respond when you see the call.   

I encourage you to read the Report.  

I’d like to thank the AAG staff members who prepared the State of Geography report, notably Mikelle Benfield and Mark Revell, for their data analysis, visualizations, and insights. 

DOI: 10.14433/2017.0125


Please note: The ideas expressed in the AAG President’s column are not necessarily the views of the AAG as a whole. This column is traditionally a space in which the president may talk about their views or focus during their tenure as president of AAG, or spotlight their areas of professional work. Please feel free to email the president directly at raphael [at] geog [dot] ucla [dot] edu to enable a constructive discussion.

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The State of Geography: Patterns and Trends by Gender Identity

In December, AAG released the State of Geography report, which provides an overview of broad trends in degree conferral at the undergraduate and graduate levels, both within geography and in comparison with general trends in other social sciences and in academia overall. For the next several months, we—the authors of this AAG report–will examine how these trends manifest, with similarities and differences, among students of differing gender identities, as well as those in racialized categories of identity who have been historically excluded from geography. 

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) data for Classification of Instructional Programs (CIP) codes form the basis of the State of Geography report. Simply looking at these data, shows immediately how conclusions and even the formulation of questions are constrained by the limits and assumptions in how data are framed and collected. While acknowledging the ways in which the data themselves can shape expectations, we use the information from NCES both to examine the status quo and to push further into new avenues for change and for strengthening the discipline’s equity and representation. 

CIP data about gender is based on only the two normative choices: male and female. These categories effectively erase the presence of the transgender and nonbinary people who are pursuing geography degrees. AAG’s own data-gathering, based on voluntary identification of gender by our members, demonstrates that at least 2% of our members identify outside the normative binary. Because the two conventional classifications of gender are so rigid, people who identify differently from “man” or “woman” have to be miscategorized to be counted, their gender identities erased by design. As AAG uses these terms in the absence of better options, we acknowledge the flaw in the data and the need to push the field to more accurately capture the range of genders in future reports. 

Still a Man’s Field, But Promising Indicators of Change

The bottom line is that geography remains a male-centered field. However, NCES data and other sources indicate that while people identified as women are underrepresented in total geography degrees conferred, they have more consistent positive growth in degree conferral than people identified as men. The higher representation of women in geography graduate programs than in undergraduate programs could indicate that many women (and any nonbinary people classified in the data as women) find their paths to geography after earning their bachelor’s degrees in other fields. They also appear to have a higher representation in doctorate programs, where the data categories of men and women have reached close to 50:50 parity, and on two occasions students identified as women have achieved 52%.  

Comparative bar chart showing the ercentage of total degrees conferred by Geography and Geography-related CIP code by gender and degree type, 1986-2021 (Figure 8 from the report)

 

This proportional change is partly due to a decline in degrees for those identified as men, and partly due to a growth in degrees among students identified as women. The 2012 inflection point, possibly related to the Great Recession that began in 2008, is visible in Figure 7. The pronounced decline in geography degrees during 2012 was not as severe for degree-holders identified as women, compared with those identified as men.  

 

Line chart showing the number of degrees (combined bachelor's, master's, Ph.D.) conferred by Geography and Geography-related CIP codes, 1986-2021 (Figure 7 from the report) 

How Geography Compares with Peer Disciplines

Gender proportions for bachelor’s and master’s degrees in geography remain relatively stable in their make-up since 1986, even though other social science degrees at these levels have diversified more visibly by gender during the past several decades. The pattern of higher attainment of doctoral degrees by students identified as women is similar in all social sciences and geography.  

In the physical sciences, the gender mix is also showing signs of being more inclusive of people identified as women, this time at all levels from undergraduate through doctorate. Studies in natural resources and conservation in particular show a larger participation of students identified as women relative to other physical sciences related to environmental studies and to geography.  

Studies in natural resources and conservation in particular show a larger participation of women relative to other physical sciences related to environmental studies, and to geography.

Overall, although there are positive developments in gender equity within geography, especially at the doctoral level, it still lags behind sibling disciplines such as meteorology, geology and earth sciences, natural resources and conservation, and anthropology in attracting more gender-diverse pool of candidates. 

Success Is Not Only in Numbers

The data available to us add to our understanding of the state of gender diversity in geography and academia from 1986 until now. How can we gain further insight, not only into changes in the gender representation in our discipline, but the factors that lead to greater success in diversity and inclusiveness? 

An important research goal is to better meet the reality of gender in data collection and studies. Major institutions must transform their data efforts to better include the full spectrum of gender, and they must hear from their research communities to demand this transformation. For example, AAG recently signed on to a joint letter to the National Science Foundation to hold it accountable to previous promises for data collection efforts for sexual orientation and gender diversity. In terms of attainment goals, while it is tempting to let success rest with a desirable ratio, such as the number of degree conferrals, it is better to see such a number as potentially encouraging and a cue to strive further with programming and approaches that promote greater gender representation across the entire career spectrum, including greater support for and access to tenure-track and leadership opportunities.  

Numbers alone are not the issue; they are only the indicators of issues, but they are an important starting point. AAG is looking at ways that we can bring about greater quantitative knowledge of the full spectrum of gender diversity in geography. We also know that there are important qualitative considerations underlying the trends we see in geography. For example, we know that the experience of pursuing a degree can be very different across genders. Faculty representation and experience is both an important part of this and its own area worth examining. The work of Brinegar (2001) indicates that gender representation of both faculty and students matters to successful outcomes. Beyond representation, we need to better document how women, trans, nonbinary, and gender-nonconforming people are either empowered and supported or frustrated and discouraged as members of departments, as teachers, mentors, and colleagues. 

 Experiences in the classroom set the tone: Kinkaid and Fritszche (2022) analyzed 32 class syllabi for graduate-level Introduction to geography classes for the prevalence of many influencing narratives and assumptions, including those related to gender. The researchers found that “seemingly minor decisions about framing, content, and organization” led to reaffirmation of exclusionary ideas about geography, but with some examination and reframing, can also lead “toward more inclusive and diverse imaginaries of the geographic tradition.” 

The role of care and support in the academy and professional societies has been studied by Peake and England (2020), Mullings, Parizeau and many others, including the gendered aspects of mental health and wellbeing. Support for mental health and wellbeing, in turn, has a direct impact on the success of geographers of all genders. Career-related questions that additional data could address include: What are the career prospects for geography graduates of all genders, within and outside of academia, in the private sector, and in government? What do we know about pay parity and advancement opportunities? Are goals for gender equity being developed with intersectional experiences in mind, with attention to the experience students and faculty who are Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC), who or different nationalities and citizenships, and with access and accommodations for disabilities, to name only a few considerations?  

Early trends are also of interest. Data exist from gender trends in AP Human Geography class enrollment in high school, where it seems likely that more people identified as female than male are signing up. Could this open the door wider for undergraduate choices of major? Especially intriguing in this regard is the deepening trend among those identified as women—and we might discover if we collected more detailed data, people of diverse gender identities—to study and contribute to the study of natural resources, climate, and conservation, food security, critical studies, and the like. Is there enough awareness and incentive for these studies to be pursued through geography? 

Thinking creatively about how to address these questions through data will take a collaborative effort from all of us. In 2023 and beyond, AAG looks forward to working with our members and geography departments to enhance our understanding of and take action on these questions.  

Next month, AAG’s State of Geography series continues with articles on categories of race and ethnicity, as well as data needs. 

Get Involved in the Next State of Geography Report:

We look forward to further expanding on our findings in the State of Geography Report in the future, with data from a variety of sources, including NCES, AAG surveys, and AAG member expertise. We welcome questions, ideas, or suggestions about the findings at data@aag.org.   

Read the full report
Further Reading

Peake, L.J. & England, Kim (2020). (What Geographers Should Know About) The State of U.S. and Canadian Academic Professional Associations’ Engagement with Mental Health Practices and Policies, The Professional Geographer, 72:1, 37-53, DOI: 10.1080/00330124.2019.1611455 

Brinegar, S.J. (2001). Female Representation in the Discipline of Geography, Journal of Geography in Higher Education, 25:3, 311-320, DOI: 10.1080/03098260120084395 

Kinkaid, E. & Fritzsche, L. (2022). The Stories We Tell: Challenging Exclusionary Histories of Geography in U.S. Graduate Curriculum, Annals of the American Association of Geographers, 112:8, 2469-2485, DOI: 10.1080/24694452.2022.2072805 

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Stanley W. Toops

With heavy hearts we mourn our dear friend and colleague Stanley Toops, who passed away yesterday of a failing heart. We’re proud Stan called Miami home for 32 years, but he was a man of the world — a quintessential geographer — whose curiosity knew no bounds. He visited so many places and touched so many people through his teaching, research, mentorship, and friendship. We highlight some accomplishments and memories below.

Stan was a Midwesterner, born and bred, from Milton, Iowa. He attended Drake University, earning a B.A. in Geography and Political Science in 1979, and later an Advanced Chinese Certificate from Middlebury College in 1982. Stan went west for his graduate work in Geography at the University of Washington, earning an M.A. in 1983 and Ph.D. in 1990 (with a dissertation “The Tourism and Handicraft Industries of Xinjiang: Development and Ethnicity in a Minority Periphery”). Through his education and research, he became fluent in Chinese and knowledgeable of Uyghur, but could greet you in a variety of other languages.

Stan joined Miami that same year with a joint appointment in the Department of Geography and International Studies. For 32 years he shared his insights and experiences with thousands of students in classes on world regional geography, geography of East Asia, introductory and capstone international studies courses, and more. He enlivened the classroom with anecdotes from his travels, and sometimes with song (a capella renditions of national anthems). He supervised many graduate students, encouraging bold topics and field research across the globe. Former students attest to his depth of knowledge, infectious passion for learning, and encouraging them to critically engage with the world. Colleagues likewise appreciated his dedication to and impact on curricula in Geography and International Studies. Education at Miami will never be the same without him, but so many have been touched by his gifts as a teacher.

Stan was an innovative and productive researcher. He was a classic area studies geographer, focused on East and Central Asia, and particularly China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. His research in geography and international studies exploring the interplay of culture and development earned him diverse publications (and a travel ban by the Chinese government, a badge of honor if there ever was one). He remained an active researcher across his career, with scores of articles, chapters, and books to his credit. Notably, he was a key contributor to the Routledge Atlas of Central Eurasian Affairs (2012) and lead editor of the International Studies: An Interdisciplinary Approach to Global Issues (now in its fifth edition, 2022). His geographical perspective lent important value to diverse conversations spanning borders and disciplinary boundaries. Stan left an important and lasting mark as a scholar.

All of these contributions earned him tenure and promotion in 1996 and the esteem of colleagues across campus, and a much celebrated and well-earned retirement in 2022. Stan moved back west to enjoy retirement at a new home in Federal Way, Washington (with Mt. Rainier on the horizon), but kept in touch with Oxford friends.

But we’ll remember Stan especially as a wonderful colleague and friend. He was incredibly smart, but also profoundly modest and personally warm. He was a regular presence around Shideler Hall, often found in his office surrounded by a towering mess of books and mementos. He spoke gently, but his tenor singing voice carried across the halls. Each day he sported a different, place-themed T-shirt or necktie, many of which he shared with us upon retirement. And in an increasingly busy and distracted campus, Stan took the time for careful and thoughtful conversation with undergraduates, graduate students, and his colleagues. They don’t make colleagues like Stan every day, and his loss leaves a big hole in Shideler Hall and our hearts.

We offer our sincerest condolences to his wife Simone Andrus, their much-loved dog Egg, and Stan’s extensive family and network of friends and collaborators in Iowa, Ohio, Washington, and across the globe. We feel his loss acutely but are thankful for his many years of collegiality and friendship, and proud of his deep contributions to Miami University, Geography (in Oxford and beyond), and everyone who knew him.

Stan’s life was cut far too short, but he lived it very fully. As a quintessential geographer would.


Provided by Marcia England and the Miami University geography department.

 

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