3. Because of mentors like you ...

... I can say ‘we got this’

By Tim Frazier

Brent and Careen


Brent and Careen Yarnell head off to Sarasota, Florida, to try to figure out what being retired is all about.




I was asked to write a few words about Brent and it is with pleasure that I do so.  Brent Yarnal is my academic father. As a professor, I am often asked to write letters of recommendation or support for students and colleagues and I always try to do so as best as possible, but this letter or short note is special. I can honestly say that outside of my parents no one has had a more positive influence on my life than Brent Yarnal. I have known Brent for about thirteen years, having met him when I arrived to attend the graduate program in the Department of Geography at Penn State. Brent was my adviser for both my master’s and doctoral degrees; as such, I spent many hours with Brent as a student and later as a colleague. I could not have asked for a better mentor and friend.

Brent taught me how to be a scientist, a professor, including how to be a good teacher and adviser. In terms of teaching and advising, some students respond well to criticism and hard guidance, while others require a softer approach. I have seen firsthand how Brent has altered his approaches and teaching styles to bring out the best in students. Sometimes Brent uses traditional teaching approaches and at other times employs active learning strategies to ensure his students are progressing through difficult course material. Brent cares about his students and as such is always available for counseling and advice. This access to Brent does not end after you graduate and move on (Brent, I know I left a dangling preposition here just for you). I have had many occasions to bother Brent for advice and he has never failed to come through for me with sound, steady advice given in a very respectful and loving manner. In all my interactions with Brent he has never talked down to me and instead has always attempted to elevate me to a higher status that I am still not convinced I deserve.

“One of the most beneficial things for student development is ‘face time’ with faculty, and if Brent was your adviser, you were sure to get it.”

In one of my classes with Brent, he divided the class into groups of four based on the sub-disciplines within geography and had these groups work to write a full mock National Science Foundation (NSF) proposal complete with budgets. After writing the proposals, Brent had each group present their proposals to the class where following that, he arranged for a Saturday daylong evaluation of our proposals with senior graduate students within the department. Brent awarded the winning proposal writing team by taking them to lunch, awarded the senior graduates student evaluators with his time and experience in reviewing proposals, and the class as a whole, the experience needed to write and submit successful grant proposals.

I wrote my first grant in this class as an exercise but then proceeded to write four more with Brent throughout my graduate education including one to NOAA that funded my doctoral work. With Brent’s encouragement and the grant writing and research skills he taught me, I wrote a successful NSF Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement proposal that not only supported a portion of my fieldwork, but also helped separate me from other candidates when I entered the job market upon graduation.

One of the most assuring things as a student is to be able to go to your adviser and always get positive, upbeat support and advice. Brent is one of the few professors that I have known that always works with his door open, and in spite of being incredibly busy would always stop what he was doing and make time for his students. One of the most beneficial things for student development is “face time” with faculty, and if Brent was your adviser, you were sure to get it. As a new assistant professor, I tried to model my interaction with students after my experiences with Brent. I continue to do so now that I have been promoted to associate professor. I am determined to give my students the same positive experience in the manner that Brent gave me.

The highest praise that I can give Brent is to say he truly cares about students to the point that he was my adviser, transitioned into my mentor, and has now become my friend. We as geographers are fortunate to have people like Dr. Brent Yarnal in our discipline. He has worked tirelessly for many years and has maintained a standard of excellence that most of us will never reach. Not only has Brent done an excellent job of teaching and mentorship, his efforts in the climate change and natural hazards areas of research have helped train the next generation of climate and hazards scientists at a time when this information will be critical to our planet’s sustainability. Brent, it is okay to retire; for because of mentors like you, I can say, “we got this.”