Two Penn State geographers receive NSF CAREER Awards

Monday, November 28, 2011 - 3:12pm

Two Penn State-affiliated geographers won CAREER awards from the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Geography and Spatial Sciences (GSS) program. They are faculty member Brian King, assistant professor, Department of Geography at Penn State, and Penn State Alumna Corene J. Matyas (Ph.D. ’05) assistant professor, Department of Geography at the University of Florida.


“Both of these awards are particularly important to the department,” explained Karl Zimmerer, professor and department head, “as they are tremendous opportunities for professional growth and support for continuing contributions to research and teaching in critical subfields, as well as our role in preparing scholars like Corene.”


King’s research project, Political Ecologies of Health: Coupling Livelihood and Environment Responses to HIV/AIDS, draws upon political ecology to examine the ways that livelihood systems are transformed by HIV/AIDS. A livelihood system includes the types of opportunities and decisions that individuals, households, and families draw upon in order to meet subsistence needs and/or generate income, King explains “Central to my interest in livelihoods are the ways in which access to various types of resources are enabled and constrained by political economic processes, spatial economies, and the rules of use constructed by diverse institutions and systems.” 


King’s research project is intended to evaluate how livelihood systems adjust in response to HIV/AIDS.


 “Directing attention to the relationships between livelihoods and the environment is needed to understand how disease transforms social and environmental systems, and how these systems in turn shape the disease and the possibilities for sustainable management.” King explained, adding “South Africa has been particularly hard hit from HIV/AIDS and continues to have one of the largest estimated infected populations in the world.”


In addition to its research objectives, this program will promote integrated educational and outreach activities at Penn State, in Pennsylvania, and in South Africa. The educational objectives of this project are to establish a research and teaching-working group at Penn State, mentor undergraduate and graduate students in research and teaching, and develop new undergraduate and graduate courses on health geographies.


The project also includes several outreach objectives, specifically the development of educational units for the international My Community, Our Earth (MyCOE) project, create an online resource center for the dissemination of educational materials to secondary schools in Pennsylvania, and establish research and policy linkages with South African institutions that produce policy recommendations to improve service delivery to households suffering from HIV/AIDS.


Matyas’s research project, Geospatial Modeling of Tropical Cyclones to Improve the Understanding of Rainfall Patterns, addresses the need to improve the spatial modeling of tropical cyclone rain fields. Shape analysis techniques employed within a Geographic Information System (GIS) will quantify the extent and locations of rain-producing regions of tropical cyclones, including heavy rainfall regions as defined by radar reflectivity returns. These regions will then be linked to key geophysical variables that influence the storm's structure through comparisons of observed patterns against data from model-generated storms. The research will develop a set of metrics to describe shapes that tropical cyclone rain fields frequently resemble to determine the processes responsible for creating those shapes, and it will derive statistical models to predict those shapes. By modeling rain field shapes within a GIS, these shapes can potentially be incorporated into pre-existing GIS-based hydrological models to improve the rainfall inputs into these models. 


The Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program is a Foundation-wide activity that offers the NSF’s most prestigious awards in support of junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education and the integration of education and research within the context of the mission of their organizations.