Graduating seniors reflect on how different roads led to geography

Thursday, December 6, 2012 - 11:31am



For Emily Connor and Brianna Hammond, two Department of Geography seniors graduating on December 22,  exploring the field of geography was not the college plan they had imagined when they began their careers at Penn State. Now, only a couple of weeks before they receive their diplomas, they took time to reflect on the road that led them to the Department of Geography.




Connor (pictured above on camelback) began her freshman year as an international politics major. Her interest in international law led her to a political geography course during her sophomore year. “It [the political geography course] combined things I was learning in international politics with a scientific and physical geography aspect. I got to learn about climate change and natural resources and laws that deal with those things,” said Connor.


That first geography course sparked a deeper interest in geography. After spending some time discussing her options with Jodi Vender, the academic advisor for the Department of Geography, and Roger Downs, her honors advisor, Connor chose geography as her primary major.




Hammond (pictured above in an orange vest), on the other hand, was introduced to the world of geography at a very early age.  Her father works for the United States Geological Survey (USGS), and although she was initially interested in studying engineering, her father played an important role as a mentor in geography after she changed majors.


“Freshman year I started in aerospace engineering, then I switched to energy, business and finance. By then I was looking for something more technical. I was already taking GIS [geography information systems] classes that I really enjoyed, plus my dad works with GIS technology so those are the things that convinced me to switch to geography,” said Hammond.


Both Hammond and Connor are actively involved in the Penn State community. Connor serves as the treasurer for UnderDoGS, the undergraduate students in geography club, and Hammond is President Emeritus of the Penn State chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers. Both women are working to attend national and regional conferences for their organizations this semester.


AAG, the Association of American Geographers, has an annual conference. This year it’s in Los Angeles. I do a lot of work securing funding through UPAC to make sure students are able to attend,” said Connor of her work for UnderDoGS.


“I am the advisor for the chapter [of the National Society for Black Engineers] and since it’s a student-run organization, I act as a liaison and oversee communication between about fifty chapters between Pennsylvania and North Carolina. Our fall regional conference is in Norfolk, Virginia this year and it’s a chance for us to meet up with other chapters,” said Hammond.


In addition to their schoolwork and involvement in clubs, both Connor and Hammond have had the opportunity to gain real world experience in geography even before graduation.


Connor spent her junior year studying abroad in Jordan, where she began studying Arabic and water rights.


“Studying abroad got me interested in law and water rights and I’m writing my thesis on water rights in the Middle East right now. I want to go back to the Middle East eventually, maybe for graduate school,” said Connor.


Hammond spent a summer interning with the USGS researching water quality and storm water management.


“We checked sites in southern Maryland to determine the quality of the water. We tested how clear or murky the water was after rain or a storm,” said Hammond “I also got the opportunity to do chemistry labs, field work testing water and computer work, too. After graduation, I am hoping to go into research before graduate school.”


Although their time at Penn State is coming to an end, both Connor and Hammond had some advice to share with underclass students who may or may not think they’d be interested in studying geography.


“Definitely take a class in something you think you might not be interested in or something you don’t know much about. You might be inclined to take classes in subjects you know about, or are already confident in, but it can really help to take a risk and try something new,” said Connor.


“I’d say take advantage of the opportunities given to you. College only happens once and I’d suggest to anyone to look into a minor in GIS. It’s useful for almost any major in some way, so don’t knock geography out just because you don’t know much about it,” said Hammond.


So whatever the next step may be for these young women, whether it is graduate school, traveling abroad, or a career in GIS, it is certain they will never truly leave Penn State. With their geography degrees in hand, they will show the world what Penn State can do.