1. From the Department Head: Strength in Connections

Cindy BrewerThe AAG annual meeting is so very large and complex that I wondered how, as a new department head, I could best represent Penn State. So, like an inquisitive Nittany Lion, I mostly prowled the hotel’s reception, dining, and seating areas hunting for people I know. It was genuinely satisfying: I found long-ago grads, faculty who moved on (and we still miss), people we interviewed and still feel a warm connection, my advisees from years ago, current students and faculty, you.

More than 20 years at Penn State enables me to recognize Penn Staters from years ago who might not have been watching department announcements. They were pleased to be handed an invitation to the department party in the penthouse of The Swissotel. And we had a blast! More than twice the expected number showed up. We got to talk to our online students in person, introduce newly hired faculty to alums, cheer on new graduate recruits, entice shy undergrads into conversations with senior faculty, enjoy an engaging welcome from our dean Bill Easterling. And generally make a lot of noise as we looked out over the sparkling city of Chicago and dark Lake Michigan.

More than 85 current Penn Staters attended the meeting from all spheres within our community. New faculty met with senior collaborators. Senior faculty introduced grads to their colleagues at other universities. Advisees shared news with their advisers and introduced their advisees to their advisers. Department staff kept the news and connections rolling as they tracked and tweeted our talks. Undergrads learned the culture of geography and how good Penn Staters are at presenting our work.

The connectedness of geographers at Penn State is key to the lively culture in the department. We have alums hiring new grads and talking to student groups at college events, such as Jennie Karalewich (B.S. ’05) and Brendan Wesdock (B.S. ’95) who help us at EMEX as our GEMS board members. We have undergrads working with graduate students as assistants on research projects. For example, as part of our Undergraduate Research Opportunities Connection (UROC) program, Jake Simon and Mike Koon code text from Chongming Wang’s interviews with elderly people in Florida about how they envision storm surge dangers—all under Brent Yarnal’s watchful eye.

That mix of undergrad, grad, and professor threads through our whole program. The undergrads present work at the UROC wrap-up each semester, and they are fiercely inspired about the projects they undertake with the grads to generate geographic knowledge. I hope to re-connect with you next year at AAG in San Francisco.