Family travels set Sharp siblings on the path to geography

Thursday, January 24, 2013 - 9:08am


For Jonathan and Sarah Sharp, the drive from their hometown of Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania to Penn State is nothing compared to the other trips they’ve taken together.

Countless family road trips have led them to forty-eight States (they’re missing only North Dakota and Hawaii) and about seven Canadian Provinces. They also have stamps from Spain, Greece, and the Dominican Republic in their passports. All these miles of travel sparked an interest in world cultures, climates, and landscapes that eventually led the Sharps to Penn State’s Department of Geography.


Sharp Siblings in Greece

 Sarah and Jonathan Sharp in Greece on a trip they took with

Penn State Brandywine. Photo provided by Sarah Sharp.



For Jonathan (senior, geography with a minor in climatology) a lifelong lover of all things geographical, that choice was easy to see.

“I saw that Penn State was well ranked for the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences and is well recognized for the geography program,” Jonathan said.

For younger sister Sarah (junior, geography), her path to the Department of Geography is somewhat different.

“I picked Penn State because I wasn’t sure what major I wanted at first, and I knew they had a ton of options,” said Sarah, who entered the College of EMS after beginning her Penn State career in the Division of Undergraduate Studies.

“Our family road trips started my interest in geography,” said Sarah. “They led to my interest in travel, and I like to learn about different cultures. Geography has a lot of options in those areas.

Jonathan, on the other hand, has always loved geography.

“I’ve liked geography since I was two or three years old. I even came in third place in the national geography bee when I was in eighth grade!” said Jonathan.

“We would even catch him reading atlases!” said Sarah.

The transition to college from high school isn’t always easy, but the Sharps had each other for support every step of the way. Both Jonathan and Sarah have transitioned to University Park from Penn State Brandywine, and neither sibling has noticed a change in their relationship since they’ve been in college.

“Going to college together isn’t much different than going high school together,” said Sarah.

However, Jonathan was able to point out one crucial difference.

“It’s a lot bigger here! But we still see each other a lot and we’ve had a couple classes together,” said Jonathan.

Like many siblings, the Sharps engage in a friendly sibling rivalry.

“I always say she copied me,” said Jonathan of Sarah’s choice to study geography also. “It’s a good major though, so I’m happy she picked geography.”

“We also help each other,” said Sarah. “We are only taking one class together this semester, but we work together on homework and projects. John has had more experience in geography than me, so there are times he can help me.”

Although the two have a shared interest in geography, the Sharps are also exploring their own interests and hobbies while at Penn State. Jonathan is a member of the golf club, while Sarah is taking advantage of the Parks and People study abroad program offered by the Department of Geography.

“I’ll be in South Africa spring semester 2013,” said Sarah. “We are going to work on a nature reserve and do some traveling.”

For these world travelers, a trip to another continent might be somewhat routine. But perhaps a more exciting journey might be what happens after graduation. Sarah will look to Jonathan to pave the way, as he will be graduating in May.

Although he has not completely finalized his post-graduation plans, Jonathan is excited for what the future has in store for him.


“I’m thinking about going to grad school, maybe even here at Penn State,” said Jonathan. “Whatever I do, I’m looking into options in climatology and the physical aspect of geography.”

Sarah will be returning to Penn State as the lone Sharp sibling in the fall, but she’s already weighing her options for after graduation.

“I want to work for a global aid organization,” said Sarah. “It would allow me to help people in need around the world and also give the opportunity to travel.”

The Sharps may not be entirely sure where their paths will lead after graduation, there is one thing for certain: they won’t soon forget that the time they spent together as a family learning about Earth and its people may have stimulated their careers as geographers.