Roger M. Downs, professor of geography at Pennsylvania State University, will receive the 2017 AAG Presidential Achievement Award, which honors individuals for their long-term, major contributions to the discipline. Past President Sarah Witham Bednarz will confer the award during the close of her Past President’s Address at the AAG annual meeting in Boston. She remarked, “Downs is a scholar, excellent administrator, and guiding light for geographers interested in teaching and learning.”

He is recognized for his groundbreaking research in the development of spatial cognition in children, spatial thinking with and through geospatial technologies, and the nature and development of expertise in geography. He has worked closely with colleagues in psychology and other behavioral sciences to explore the intersections of geography and the cognitive sciences producing leading-edge work on cognitive mapping and spatial behavior.

Downs’ greatest contribution to the discipline, however, has been through his leadership and deft administrative skills which facilitated a renaissance in geography education. He was a member of the Planning Committee for the 1994 National Assessment Governing Board’s Geography Consensus and has been a driving force in the development of the National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP) assessment in Geography since then. He was writing coordinator of the team that developed the National Geography Standards: Geography for Life (1994) and chaired the group that revised the Standards in 2012. From 2001 to 2005 he led the National Academy of Science/National Research Council Committee on Support for Thinking Spatially producing the seminal document, Learning to Think Spatially which linked geographic information science and spatial thinking. From 1993 to 2012 as chair of the Geography Education National Implementation Project (GENIP) Downs played an influential role in every aspect of efforts to enhance the quality and quantity of geography education in the United States. As chair of The Geographical Sciences Committee of the National Research Council, he promoted geography education as vitally important to the health of the discipline at large.

He served as head of the Department of Geography at Penn State from 1994 to 2007. Previously he taught at Johns Hopkins University and held a key sabbatical position at the National Geographic Society as Geographer-in-Residence 1995-1996. He holds a B.A. (First Class Honors) and a Ph.D. in Geography from the University of Bristol, UK. He received the Distinguished Geography Educator Award from the National Geographic Society in 1996 and the Gilbert M. Grosvenor Award from AAG in 1997.