From the Head of Department: Chalking up clusters

Summary: 

The department continues to use the traditional four subfields of geography to structure our hiring, teaching, and curriculum planning—Human, Physical, Environment and Society, and GIScience. The six new clusters show how we are connected across the four-field breadth.


 

One of the many pleasures of leading a department of geographers is the wide range of topics we study and are passionate about. This year we all got into a room together and brainstormed about the research themes that draw us together and make us distinctive (a.k.a.  faculty meeting—not your usual source of fun). It got loud. We laughed. We complemented and contradicted one another and threw a mix of brilliant and silly ideas onto the wall, literally. There was an old-fashioned aspect to it,  with me wildly scribbling in chalk on our wall-size blackboard to keep up with the storm of interrelated ideas.
We arrived at a set of research clusters that are inviting to students and to collaborators looking for the emphases that resonate with their interests. In conversations with visitors and administrators, the clusters elicit surprised interest: “Oh, I didn’t know that is geography.” The department continues to use the traditional four subfields of geography to structure our hiring, teaching, and curriculum planning—Human, Physical, Environment and Society, and GIScience. The six new clusters show how we are connected across the four-field breadth.

What are these research and specialization clusters for Penn State Geography?

  • Environmental Change and Prediction emphasizes understanding the biophysical linkages and feedbacks in environmental systems that sustain biodiversity, livelihoods, and ecosystems services.
  • Food Security and Human Health focuses on spatial disparities in access to employment, education, health care, and food that are accentuated as urban areas grow and lower income regions become integrated into global economic systems.
  • Geospatial Big Data Analytics uses a rapidly expanding array of sources that include sensors, GPS-enabled devices, volunteered geospatial data, public health records, and geoparsed place references in text and speech.
  • Justice, Ethics, and Diversity explores how power and difference operate from the local to the global, asking how different groups envision alternative futures and transform the world around them in more just and sustainable ways.
  • Population, Environment, and Governance examines the spatial organization of cultural, political, and economic relationships, as well as how these social systems interact with the natural environment.
  • Spatial Modeling and Remote Sensing includes developing tools and models to understand, detect, and predict interactions within and between ecosystems, the atmosphere, and the critical zone across scales that range from local to global.

As we’ve built these research clusters into our public presence and recruiting, an added bit of fun has been choosing scalable glyphicons that are graphic identifiers for each cluster—kind of like nerdy emojis. Check out how we have used them on the department home page and threading through the images in the research clusters section of our new website at www.geog.psu.edu.
Issue Number: 
171
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