GEOGRAPH SU17: Peuquet, well-known for research and service in GIScience, retires

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Summer 2017 Newsletter
Date: 
Monday, October 9, 2017 - 3:32pm

Donna Peuquet

Donna Peuquet, professor of geography at Penn State since 1986, announced her retirement to emeritus status at the end of June 2017.


Within the Department of Geography, Peuquet taught many undergraduate and graduate courses, advised graduate students, and served as the undergraduate program director and as the associate director of the GeoVISTA Center. “Dr. Peuquet advanced my thinking and influenced my career by expecting me to learn, think and work as an independent scholar,” said Elizabeth Wentz (’97g), dean of social sciences in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Arizona State University.


In 2016, Peuquet was selected as a Fellow by the University Consortium for Geographic Information Science for her contributions to the advancement of geographic information science education and research.


“Donna is a true scholar of geography, whose theoretical research on computational and cognitive geographic representation influences and inspires me to this very day in how I think about teaching and research. Perhaps even more importantly, however, Donna is a very kind and caring person, who was the best adviser I could hope for—responsible, inquisitive, and creative, and critically constructive without being negative or judgmental. She was an excellent and supportive guide to the academic world. I always felt she had my best interests in mind,” said Jeremy Mennis (’01g), professor of geography at Temple University.


Peuquet’s research interests have been primarily in the areas of geographic knowledge representation, knowledge discovery, spatio-temporal data models, geocomputation, and GIS design. Since the early 1990s, Peuquet’s work has centered on the representation of time and temporal dynamics, including database, visual and cognitive representation and how these interrelate. Arguing that the human user and the computer must be viewed as components of a single system, her 2002 book, Representations of Space and Time, explores that integrated perspective. That book is regarded as an essential read in the geographic information sciences (GIS) community.


Like many geographers, Peuquet discovered her major. She earned a bachelor’s degree in urban geography from the State University of New York (SUNY) at Buffalo and then a master’s degree in urban geography from the University of Cincinnati. After graduating with her master’s degree, she worked for three years as a senior planner for the City of Niagara Falls, New York, her hometown. “They were in the process of urban renewal at the time,” Peuquet said. “I was a native of the city with personal knowledge, as well as the training. The standard tool for planning at the time was something known as the ‘windshield survey,’ if you wanted to know what was happening, you hopped in the car and looked.”


“Then I was given custody of a recently completed survey that included detailed information about every property in the city that went beyond the standard property tax records. Not only the size and materials of any structure, but also its condition, detailed land use, and how many people lived there if it was a residence. In exploring how I might be able to do a comprehensive analysis, I discovered a very new thing at the time called a ‘geographic information system.’ I was hooked. There was one person in the United States who was teaching GIS at the time, and only at the graduate level: Duane Marble. So I started the PhD program at SUNY Buffalo to study with him. After the switch from urban geography to what we now know as GIS, I never looked back.”


 “My dissertation argued the case for raster processing as opposed to vector processing for many situations, particularly when dealing with large amounts of data. This went against the dominant trend at the time, which was focused on working toward a single, standardized (and vector-oriented) representation.”


Although she is officially retiring, Peuquet said she plans to continue advising graduate students and conducting research. “The word ‘retirement’ to most people assumes you’re going to quit work. At first, I didn’t want to announce very widely I was retiring for that reason—because I intend to remain engaged,” she said.


A career actively engaged in the geospatial revolution has left Peuquet with a lot of history on her bookshelves that is not in the formally published literature. “One of the big problems I now have is how to sort through all this stuff,” she said gesturing around to the materials in her office.