Geography caters to many interests, says new department chair

When most college students think of taking a geography class, they expect to be memorizing countries and places on a map.

For those students that actually do take a geography class, their perspective is much different. Gillian Acheson, associate professor and chair of the geography department, hopes that many more students broaden their horizons to brave the geography study.

 “Usually students’ perceptions are that you can’t major in geography and if they know you can, they don’t know why you would,” she said. “So I think there is a lot of need to help everybody understand what you can do with geography and there are lot so really great things — cool things — you can do in geography.”

 Acheson said she knew she was interested in a wide array of topics while she was an undergraduate, and geography became appealing to her because it allowed her to continue her studies over a wide range of topics.

 “I think for most people that are attracted to geography like me, we like it because there’s so much you can do within the discipline,” she said.

 She is now helping develop that variety at SIUE as chair, and is working with the department to create new geography minors that include climatology and meteorology, geographic information systems and an interdisciplinary minor in urban studies.

 These areas of study tap into the particular strengths of the faculty in the geography department, and may even grow into majors, Acheson said. The passion of the faculty also help to contribute to the success of the department, and her acting as chair is just one more service component she can make for them, she said.

 “I think our department is in great shape,” she said. “The faculty is very connected to our undergraduates and graduates. I think being able to have that good relationship with our students doesn’t happen necessarily at a lot of institutions.”

 The department will be continuing its initiative to attract more undergraduates. One of Acheson’s goals is to dispel the misinterpreted beliefs students hold about geography.

 Most students are able to obtain a clear career path after graduating in geography, she said, and many are able to get a job in the St. Louis area despite the recent economic downturn. When students and their parents hear this about the state of geography, they are more at ease with choosing that type of study, Acheson said.

 “The study caters to many diverse interests, and geography is attractive for that reason,” she said. “It makes you want to study the world and gives you the opportunity to do so.”





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