PGS meeting honors faculty achievements, student research, geography community

Thursday, December 4, 2014 - 1:21pm

 by Kathy Cappelli

The Pennsylvania Geographical Society (PGS) annual meeting, held in State College on November 7, 2014, brought together students, professors, and professionals in the field of geography to discuss their research.

Featuring a poster contest, a paper contest, various sessions, and two guest speakers, this year’s conference honored four geographers for their work as educators or scholars in the field.

Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP)professor John E Benhart Jr.was awarded the Distinguished Scholar Award. Mario Majcen from California University of Pennsylvania received the Distinguished Teaching Award. Petra Tschakert was awarded the Distinguished Geographer Award. The Ruby and E. Willard Miller Lifetime Achievement Award went to IUP professor Joseph Bencloski..

John E Benhart Jr and Joseph Bencloski


John E. Benhart Jr (right) presents the Ruby and E. Willard Miller Lifetime Achievement Award to  Joseph Bencloski (left). Photo by Kathy Cappelli.




“The award has special meaning for me,” said Bencloski, who worked with Miller while earning his Ph.D. at Penn State. He was helping “Will” update the map books, doing “all the grunt work,” he said, when he was sent up to Pattee to the map library for base maps.

“I was looking through the maps when this lady comes around the corner yelling- librarians can be possessive- because classes had been coming through leaving maps laying out,” he said. “I just told her I was working for Professor Miller, and found out that the librarian was his wife, Ruby.”
Penn State faculty members Clio Andris and Petra Tschakert were featured as guest speakers, at lunch and dinner respectively. Both spoke about their work and research interests.

Andris works with the overlap in population statistics and mapping, and her interests include creating an updated version of the census that is more representative of the population and also provides more important information such as where else in the world they have connections.
“Right now we don’t have much data on connections,” Andris said. “And we want to be looking at how people connect to other people, where they migrate to, who they call, where they commute to, etc.”

Andris calls this the “census of connectivity,” and argues that it can help us better understand the future, including the movement of social capital, the spread of various influences, and predictors of future growth and decline.

Tschakert’s speech was titled “Examining Impacts, Vulnerabilities, and Risks under Climate Change: A Key Role for Geographers.”

"Geographers, particularly those who work on human-environment interactions, have made substantial contributions to debates on impacts of climate change on people and ecosystems, ranging from highly localized studies to global integrated assessments,” Tsachkert said. “My own experience as a coordinating lead author of a new chapter in the Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), entitled “Livelihoods and Poverty,” provided an intriguing opportunity to assess the state-of-the-art literature on observed impacts on and risks of future impacts of climate change for poor people and disadvantaged individuals and communities.”

 This literature highlights inequalities and vulnerabilities that exist in any society as crucial drivers of impacts and risks. Tsachkert has been working on the AR5 synthesis report, which she said allows her to suggest an even stronger role for geographers.
“We certainly should continue our diverse efforts to document lived experiences and assess future risks based on multidimensional vulnerabilities. More importantly, though, we can do a better job exploring and conveying the value of less visible scales of impacts that are currently not recognized in narrow detection and attribution analyses."

This year’s conference was organized by past president and local contact Jodi Vender from Penn State and executive director Brent Zaprowski, from Salisbury University.

“I like this conference because it’s a smaller, regional meeting,” Zaprowski said. “It fosters student participation, and it’s exciting to see students who are up and coming members of the field maturing into young professionals.”

Carolyn Fish PGS poster





Carolyn Fish presents her  award-winning poster “Are You Blind to Change? Evaluating the Influence of Change Blindness in Animated Choropleth Maps” Photo by Kathy Cappellli




Vender highlighted the opportunities to network with other geographers, allowing students to meet students and faculty from other institutions, and for academics and professionals to collaborate.

“It’s a fun group of people,” she said.

President Gary Coutu from West Chester University spoke about the PGS’s role in bringing geographers together. “It’s a great forum for people to share their work,” he said. “And sometimes we do have to bring what we’re working on into the spotlight. We’d like to believe that what we do speaks for itself, but sometimes it doesn’t.”

Looking around the poster display room, he said that it was wonderful to see so many undergrads engaged in processes that everyone would be using in 20-30 years, and “capturing the concept of research” in its different approaches.

“We do this every day, and I have 10 jokes that I tell over and over, four wise things that I say, but these students stand up and present their new ideas in front of everyone, and it’s really important.”

The conference also had a special session which highlighted the geography masters program at Millersville University. There to represent the program was grad student Eric Hout, who discussed the program’s variety. Among the options were Environmental systems management, geoinformatics, and weather intelligence and risk management.

Hout said the program was special because of its unique approach, combining integrated scientific applications with business and technological applications.

The session he presented on the Millersville Masters program was part of the paper presentation sessions given by various professors and students.

 Additional award winners:

 First Place, Graduate student poster/map contest: Carolynne Hultquist, “Machine Learning for Post-fire Burn Severity Assessment in Diseased Forests”

 Second Place, Graduate student poster/map contest: Carolyn Fish, “Are You Blind to Change? Evaluating the Influence of Change Blindness in Animated Choropleth Maps”

 Second place, Undergraduate poster contest: Jack Swab, “Whose Hand is on the Tap? Examining the Political Structure of Water Providers in Harford County, Maryland”