I write my first column as the head of the Department of Geography at a moment marked by excitement and uncertainty.
After more than a year of a primarily remote work environment, our department and University are preparing for a return to a more typical residential experience. During these many months our community has persevered: we have taught classes, trained our students, held virtual receptions, and practiced flexibility and resiliency during challenging times. I am optimistic that as we approach this new normal we can re-engage with the many things we so highly value.
I must begin by recognizing outgoing Department Head, Dr. Cynthia Brewer, for all of her tireless leadership. We have grown our faculty and identified strategic areas of interest that intersect across the four subfields of the discipline. We have worked to integrate our residential and online teaching programs, which allows us to reach broader constituencies. Our graduate program remains one of the best in the country, and we celebrate the accomplishments of our outstanding undergraduate students.
In addition to Cindy’s return to the faculty, there have been other changes within our community. We are deeply saddened by the sudden loss of Dr. Robert Brooks. Rob Brooks was a kind and thoughtful member of our community whose passion for nature inspired so many. We grieve his loss and send our support to his family and extensive network of friends.
Our department had three retirements with Dr. Alan MacEachren, Dr. Douglas Miller, and Dr. Robert Crane. As the included story on Alan demonstrates, he is a significant figure in so many research fields. Alan has had transformational impacts for the discipline of geography and in shaping future areas for both his colleagues and students.
Doug has been an invaluable presence in both our residential and online environments. Doug’s infectious enthusiasm for GISc and other geospatial approaches spanned the subfields of our department. Many of my own advisees have benefited from Doug’s expertise and generosity.
Rob Crane has similarly been incredibly active in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences and University, and is retiring as the associate vice provost for Global Programs. I have worked closely with him over the years and can attest to the substantial footprint he has left on our campus. I will especially miss spending time with him in South Africa.
Yet, we also look ahead to celebrate new additions to our community. Dr. Marcela Suarez and Dr. Brandi Gaertner join us as assistant teaching professors who will support our newly established and highly successful online master’s in spatial data science degree program. Their expertise will be invaluable to both our undergraduate and graduate students. Finally, Dr. Kim Van Meter joins us as an assistant professor after several years at the University of Illinois Chicago. Kim’s expertise in water systems science aligns with our department and college, and shows that geography remains well-positioned throughout the University.
As we prepare for the fall semester, it is fitting to look both back and forward, to feel saddened by loss and departures but also hopeful for new beginnings. I am confident that our community is well positioned to navigate a new normal while also pursuing new horizons.
Sala Kahle (Stay well), Brian