Convening of Care

Fred Shelley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Karen Bakker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Member Profile: Mark Ortiz

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

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

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

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

— Mark Ortiz

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


Building Vibrant Departmental Cultures, Part One

Dr. Olga Kalentzidou teaches a hybrid course on the geography of Indiana’s foodways. Credit: Kayte Young, WFIU Public Radio
Dr. Olga Kalentzidou teaches a hybrid course on the geography of Indiana’s foodways. Credit: Kayte Young, WFIU Public Radio

Photo of Rebecca Lave

A familiar story with an unfamiliar ending

The Geography Department at Indiana University Bloomington was nearly dissolved in the early 2010s. Neither enrollments nor research productivity were an issue. Instead, we were almost taken down by personal distrust and conflict, and by intellectual disagreements between physical and human geographers.

Thus far, this story is likely familiar: many of the departments that closed over the last few decades were plagued by similar cultural and intellectual issues. What’s different is the next part of the story: a decade later, IU Geography is a cohesive, thriving department. We have built a culture that values and respects a broad range of geographic scholarship, and works to support students, staff and faculty professionally and personally. Our reputation on campus as a collegial, highly functional department has given us credibility and administrative goodwill, and drawn FTE (Full-Time Equivalent) transfers from less collegial departments.

There are many paths to this outcome, but in this and two upcoming columns, I want to share a few things that were most effective for us, in hopes one or more of them might be useful for you:

  • Re-organizing to avoid traditional divides among physical/human-environment/human geography;
  • Building a culture of respect and care for students, staff and faculty; and
  • Creating more horizontal and transparent policies and administrative structures.

Organizing around problem areas rather than traditional geographic divides

With just seven faculty members remaining when the dust settled in 2012, we had a choice about how to move forward: either to specialize in a way that capitalized on the strength of some faculty but would force others out of the department, or to build an interdisciplinary vision that capitalized on all of our strengths. Happily, we chose the latter option.

Our goal was to make the interdisciplinary character of geography a strength rather than a source of conflict. We wanted there be clear intellectual benefits for our hydrologist to have a political ecologist of water in the department, and vice versa. To do that, we abandoned the classic physical/human-environment/human geography divide and instead arranged ourselves by problem areas: cities, development and justice; climate and environmental change; food and agriculture; and water resources (we also have a methods-focused cluster in GIS/RS). In each area, the goal was to include a range of courses and faculty that spanned physical, human-environment, and human geography.

Long-term payoff

No one here at IU Geography would argue that the process of overcoming traditional disciplinary divides is complete. In some areas (e.g., climate and environmental change) we were able to achieve our interdisciplinary vision immediately. In other areas (e.g., cities, development and justice) it took until this year to have the full range of faculty.  But we have succeeded in building ties that bridge physical/human-environment/human divides via grant proposals, courses, and interdisciplinary committees for graduate students. Our undergraduates now draw connections between our classes that we had never considered ourselves.

While we still keep an eye on the balance of faculty across the traditional physical/human-environment/human divide, organizing by topic drops the tension level in hiring decisions and graduate admissions. The topic structure is also far more legible to undergraduates, who may care a lot about food and agriculture but have no investment whatsoever in the divide between physical and human geography.

As a long-term champion of integrating critical biophysical and social research, I will close by noting that IU Geography’s topical organization brings our departmental structure in line with the world around us. If you believe in the core claim of the Anthropocene that our world is now inextricably eco-social, then our intellectual structures should be, too.

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 rlave [at] indiana [at] edu to enable a constructive discussion.


Donald J. Zeigler

An Exemplary Geography for Life Explorer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


National Science Foundation Provides Grant to Promote Ethos of Care in Research


American Association of Geographers, University of Colorado Colorado Springs to Collaborate

The National Science Foundation has awarded the American Association of Geographers (AAG) and the University of Colorado Colorado Springs (UCCS) a collaborative grant to organize a convening around Strategies to Mitigate Implicit Bias and Promote an Ethos of Care in the Research Enterprise (NSF Awards #2324401 and #2324402). Under the direction of Principal Investigators Risha RaQuelle, Ph.D., Chief Strategy Officer at AAG, and Emily Skop, Ph.D., Professor of Geography and Environmental Studies at UCCS. The combined funding for the project is $99,569.

The convening, which will take place in Washington, DC, September 19-20, 2024, will lay the groundwork for alternative standards in the research enterprise — defined as the systems and activities that lead to funding and research — by asking participants to reconsider their work through an “ethos of care” framework. Based on work that Dr. Skop and her collaborators published in a recent Inside Higher Ed opinion piece, an ethos of care seeks to enhance practices and processes within the research enterprise and enable collaborators to confront and address the accepted norms of power and bias, and to “resolve to disrupt and transform those norms in a mutually beneficial, evolving and inspiring manner.”

For this convening, the Principal Investigators will invite 30 participants from three different, key perspectives within the research enterprise: funding officers at colleges and universities, department chairs, and early-career geographers. They are especially eager to see participants from Emerging Research Institutions (ERIs), Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs), and community colleges, who are often under-resourced yet most qualified to address the much-needed change to align institutional research activities with the goals of belonging, access, justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion (BAJEDI).

As an Emerging Research Institution, UCCS will be a close partner, under the direction of Dr. Skop, in planning the 2024 convening, along with the National Organization of Research Development Professionals (NORDP). These partners will develop an “Ethos of Care” credential, and convene campus funding professionals, higher education leaders, and early-career faculty, especially those from marginalized backgrounds, in a convening of up to 30 participants. They will develop an agenda and format that supports participants in sharing and exploring their experiences navigating or supporting the research enterprise, and recommend practices that are expected to broaden and strengthen the research enterprise workforce. Participants will be the inaugural cohort to earn the “Ethos of Care” credential.

Afterward, AAG and its partners will facilitate diverse working teams and BAJEDI champions to use their new credentials, and empower them to share beyond the initial convening, helping to disseminate its results and to transfer and scale its outcomes.

“Time and care are a vital part of rigorous, ethical research,” said AAG’s Principal Investigator Risha RaQuelle, Ph.D., chief strategy officer at AAG. “Evidence-based strategies that encourage diverse perspectives in the research enterprise are essential. It’s those perspectives that lead to new discoveries.”

“Convenings like this advance knowledge in surprising ways,” said Gary Langham, Ph.D., executive director of AAG. “The BAJEDI lens gives us a powerful analytic tool to enable systemic reform of scientific research, improving study design, methodology, analysis, and, most importantly, our approach to colleagues, participants, and communities.”

The newly funded project seeks collective answers among scholars of all backgrounds, ages, and experience. The focal point of the project is meant to create systemic, positive change that will, in turn, foster engagement of underrepresented scholars and professionals in the research enterprise. Outreach to find participants will start in 2024, and AAG welcomes inquiries from interested potential participants. For more information, contact Risha RaQuelle, Chief Strategy Officer.

This award is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Award No. 2324401 and Award No. 2324402. Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.


Michael Camponovo

By Annie Liu, AAG Intern

Being the GIS Outreach Coordinator for the University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s Geography and Sustainability Department , as well as having various “other duties as assigned,” Michael Camponovo approached this new position by defining what he thought outreach should mean and who to outreach to. Groups like incoming students, current students, geography professionals, and the public are all prime targets for conducting outreach to ensure the department’s success in recruiting and retaining students. He then needed to decipher what to communicate and how to build relationships with the communities in question and decided to do so, oddly enough, the lens of a business.

Michael’s most recent degree is an M.B.A. from the University of Tennessee (UT), so he “had to think about the department like a business, which is normally something you don’t want to hear in higher ed… but [he] actually found it a really enlightening and fun exercise.” He discovered that thinking about returns on investments for his time, effort, and energy delivered the best results for outreach.

First, Michael thought about the supply and demand of students—where were the students coming from and how many did the Geography and Sustainability Department need. After some trial and error, he found that the best use of his time was working with and recruiting students who are already enrolled at UT.

Michael then had to ask himself, “What am I selling and what’s the quality of the product?” The answer was clear.“ … What we’re selling is an education, and most students one way or the other want some sort of career once they come out of the program.”

By “selling” a geographic education, he needed to focus on post-graduation outcomes for students, so he spent a lot of time working with professional partners. Michael is heavily involved with the Tennessee Geographic Information Council (TNGIC), the Tennessee statewide GIS professional organization, where he serves on the board, organizes conferences, and heads committees. By being involved, he stays knowledgeable about the skills that students need to be taught to be hired while simultaneously building an extensive network, so he is able to recommend students to employers.

On top of being a GIS Outreach Coordinator, Michael also teaches GIS and the geography major capstone course for seniors.

Using Networks to (Re)Discover Geography

“I never thought of myself as a geographer. I had a career before what I do now, where I was a public school teacher, and it turned out that after a couple years of doing that, I decided it wasn’t a good fit for me and I wanted to go back to school and do something different. I had such an unpleasant time being a public school teacher that I was really desperate to find something that brought me happiness and joy.”

Michael was reminded that he liked his GIS classes during undergrad and that it brought him the joy he was looking for, so he reached back out to his professor who happened to be another active member of TNGIC for advice. Since he already had a master’s degree in education for teaching, he only had to obtain a GIS certificate to start working in the field.

Unfortunately, this was right at the start of the 2008 financial crisis, which meant that no one was hiring. Fortunately, he had an opportunity to move to New Mexico with his wife for her pharmacy program, and the University of New Mexico had a paid research assistantship for GIS where Michael realized he was more of a geographer and not just solely a GIS person.

The Power of Mentorship

Michael emphasized the influence of amazing mentors he’s had throughout his time in higher education that he wouldn’t have been introduced to otherwise. He may have two master’s degrees, but what prepared him the most for his current position was his experience as a research assistant at UNM and the mentors he had there.

“I had an amazing mentor, Karl Benedict at UNM, and he was the head of the Earth Data Analysis Center (EDAC). I started out doing work for him like writing metadata and coding and that sort of stuff. They liked what I was doing and they had an opportunity to hire me full time. And so I went to work for them and I had two more amazing mentors, Shirley Baros and Mike Ingalls, and they took me under their wing and coached me up from being a student with potential to being a geospatial advocate for the State [of New Mexico].”

Michael’s new responsibilities required him to communicate to non-GIS people that GIS is helpful with natural hazard mitigation. He says he gave 20 presentations the first year of working at the EDAC, and now he gets paid to talk to people.

What geographic knowledge do you need for your current position?

Being the GIS Outreach Coordinator, Michael seems to know, and needs to know, a little bit of everything about geography. Why? So he can reach the maximum number of people with various interests in geography. He also needs to know what the high-level trends for technical skills are in geography to ensure post-graduation success for students. An example of Michael’s success is the geography department at UTK using ArcGIS Online earlier than most other programs, leading to students learning about StoryMaps and Dashboards earlier as well.

“The thing that has served me the best through my whole career is I’ve got a really good foundational knowledge of geospatial concepts, and I’m really good at Googling things. Because I have the right vocabulary, that makes it easier and more efficient for me to Google things … and quickly find the information that I need.”


What is your Favorite part of the job?

Michael’s face lit up at the question. For him, this was an easy question.

“Getting to watch my students succeed. It’s very satisfying to look at and get to experience all the different ways my students are successful. I’m at the point now where I’ve been doing what I’ve been doing about seven years, that I go to the state GIS Conference, [and] my former students are there representing companies like in the business Expo area. The students that I had are now at the point where they’re the people promoting their company or their services. I’ve got students who go on and work for the State Department, doing work at embassies! How cool is it that? I got to interact with these students and help them along their path! So yeah, for me that’s easily the best part.”

Any advice for those starting out their careers (or having a career crisis) if they want to have a position like yours?

Michael Camponovo stands near the University of Tennessee Knoxville's information table during GIS Day 2019Michael is a big advocate of just going out there and talking to people! He recommends talking to people for those interested in any career ever. “The biggest thing is informational interviewing. Talk to people, find out what they do and find out if that’s a good fit for you.”
More specifically, to get a GIS Outreach Coordinator position at a large research university, Michael says, “You have to have a really awesome department head who thinks that this is a job that’s worthwhile to have.”

One also needs patience and empathy. “The last several years have taught us that you never know what’s going on behind the scenes. You never know what people are struggling with.”
For those interested in outreach, Michael says to stay curious and able to learn new things from different people. Also, as emphasized earlier, be someone who loves talking to people.
Closing out his interview, Michael quotes his favorite career consultant, Don Asher, author and public speaker, who says, “We all hear it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. [But] it’s not who you know, it’s who knows you.”

Michael continues, “Because I know Annie, [that ]means that I can be an advocate for Annie when she’s not in the room to someone else. So I’m vouching for that person. I’m putting my credibility on the line by saying that this person could be a good fit for you, and you really need that. And you don’t get that unless you talk to people and meet people and put yourself out there.”


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