Healthy Departments Initiative

Convening of Care

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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