Patrick Shabram

Professor of Geography at Front Range Community College, Larimer Campus

EducationM.A. in Geography (San Jose State University), B.A. in Geography (University of Colorado Boulder)

What attracted you to a career in education?
I’ve spent a number of years working in private industry, yet early on began to teach part-time as an adjunct. I had spent several years teaching on the side before realizing that it is my passion. At age 42, I made the switch to full-time.

How has your education/background in geography prepared you for your teaching career?
Typically, a Master’s degree is needed to teach at a community college, along with teaching experience. Many of my colleagues have Ph.D.’s, but education is not sufficient for a position like this; without classroom experience, getting a full-time position is nearly impossible. Starting off as an adjunct or teaching as a graduate student is necessary. Personally, I brought experience from my consulting and research work in the private industry, which I believe improved my chances of securing my full-time position.

What do you do in the wine industry?
The federal government has a system in place for recognizing unique regions for viticulture, both to serve as a benefit for consumers and to protect geographic names in the industry. If a winemaker wants to use one of these geographic names on their label, 85% of the grapes used to make the wine needs to come from within the boundaries of that region (e.g., Napa Valley or Russian River Valley). To establish an area as a unique American viticultural area (AVA), a petition to the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) is necessary. These petitions require details that identify why the area is geographically unique as a winegrowing region, as well as identify boundaries that best encompass these characteristics. I do studies that look at climate, soils, topography, viticulture and viticultural practices, and other aspects of the area to determine what makes the area unique (or determine if the area does not meet TTB requirements) and recommend boundaries. The findings are often used by growers, wineries, or grower associations to support petitions for new AVAs or to modify the boundaries of existing AVAs.

What geographic skills and information do you use most often in your work? What general skills and information do you use most often in your work?
I teach several different classes, but since I most commonly teach introductory physical geography, a well-rounded knowledge of earth sciences is essential. Technical skills in GIS, Google Earth, and other applications and online resources help in creating and running laboratories. When I interact with local organizations on building and promoting internship opportunities, an understanding of careers that are out there also helps.

Writing skills should never be overlooked. There tends to be administrative work with my job requiring the ability to present written ideas clearly and concisely.  The same goes for my work in the wine industry—that work is about 40% writing.

Are there any skills or information you need for your work that you did not obtain through your academic training? If so, how/where did you obtain them?
Networking. The importance of networking was engrained in some of my employment outside academia, where I was commonly expected to attend networking events. Someone might wonder why I need to network now, since students come to me, and I don’t really need to find new business or a new job. I’ve found a lot of excellent opportunities for collaboration, however, through my contacts at other institutions. These opportunities all have been about students. I’ve worked on grants, helped students find jobs, helped solve transfer issues, learned new teaching techniques, and found interesting subject matter all through my contacts at other colleges, non-profits, and private companies.  As an example, FRCC is in the third year of a student-focused collaborative grant with an NSF facility all as a result of networking with professionals outside my college.

Do you participate in hiring, screening, or training of new employees? If so, what qualities and/or skills do you look for?
Yes, I’ve served on several hiring committees, hired an assistant for an NSF grant, and currently help hire and manage our part-time faculty. I look for student-focused candidates; the common mistake candidates make for community college positions is focusing too much on research and not on education. Unless their research is in education, candidates need to be able to put emphasis on students and classroom experiences.

What do you find most interesting/challenging/inspiring about your work?
Seeing my students’ lives change. I’ll have students get in touch with me after having left FRCC to tell me how their time here made a difference in their lives. There’s nothing more satisfying than seeing a former student graduate from the four-year college they transferred to, and to then see the kinds of great careers they go into.

What advice would you give to someone interested in a job like yours?
Get teaching experience in any way you can. Don’t just stand in front of a room and lecture, but really think about education and your pedagogy. Strive to be a great educator.

The other advice is to be geographically flexible. If you are looking to land a job in your hometown, you may be waiting a long time.

What is the occupational outlook for career opportunities in your field, esp. for geographers?
It is competitive, but not like in other disciplines. There are usually only one or two full-time geographers at a community college, and full-time faculty tend to stay, so a position at any given college doesn’t come along very often. Someone with a degree in geography tends to have a lot of good options though, so we sometimes find we are competing for the best candidates. Chances are someone looking for a full time position won’t find a job right away, but since I’ve been here, we’ve seen a number of our adjuncts take full time positions at other institutions.