Fall 2022 Newsletter
My name is George Henderson. I’m a professor of human geography and am writing to you now as the department chair, succeeding Professor Bruce Braun. I owe an enormous debt to Bruce’s astute leadership, especially in spring 2020 as his term was ending and mine was about to begin. I owe equal debts to Department Administrator Glen Powell and all the amazing GES staff.
Spring 2020 was extraordinary, to say the least. First came the initial wave of COVID-19, which changed, well, pretty much everything. The hurried “pivot” to online teaching, the rush to get faces “masked” and hands “sanitized,” and then the scramble to learn how to “Zoom” and “unmute”: behold the keywords of a new world, each one also a rabbit hole of new policies and best practices.
A short while later came the murder of George Floyd and the subsequent uprisings in Minneapolis and other cities in the US and around the world. Many in the GES community sprang into action by joining mutual aid efforts here in Minneapolis in hopes that a new sense of community might be given birth, one less riven by racism and violation of civil rights. If you follow our website, you might have seen Assistant Professor Adam Bledsoe’s Minneapolis Uprising Syllabus, a document placing the uprising within a much longer historical geography of protest, social movements, and policing in the Twin Cities.
The introductory period of my time as chair has created a lasting impression—reflected in many of the stories below—of the various kinds of interdependency that the study of geography necessarily entails and that all of us in some way have been doing our best to recognize and act on.
I have also rediscovered the incredible dedication that all my colleagues—faculty, staff, and students—direct toward their craft. In the weeks ahead please don’t forget to check out our website for news and announcements. And if you are really into thinking ahead, here’s a teaser: about a year from now you’ll have a chance to visit, virtually or in person, a new state of the art GeoCommons, formerly known as 455 Blegen.
Announcements & News
We’re always posting news on our website but I’d like to flag a number of things you should not miss:
In fall 2021, we had the great fortune of welcoming Assistant Professor Di Zhu, a specialist in GeoAI, deep learning, spatial statistics, urban complexity, and more. It was no small feat getting him here during the pandemic.
In August 2022, we added two full-time lecturers, Dr. William (Bill) Lindeke (PhD ‘15, geography) and Dr. Ganapathy (Narayana) Narayanaraj (MGIS ‘06, PhD South Dakota State University). Luckily for us they are both GES alums—welcome home! Bill has become a popular local book author and journalist; Narayana previously has held a number of enviable teaching and research posts, including at Harvard University.
In spring 2022, Dr. Ying Song was promoted to associate professor with tenure and was also awarded the prestigious McKnight Land-Grant Professorship in 2021. She was followed by Assistant Professor Adam Bledsoe who became a McKnight Land-Grant Professor in 2022.
In 2021 two of our longest residing colleagues retired, cartographer and MGIS “star player” Mark Lindberg and Associate Professor Rod Squires, who brought (with abundant dry wit) his expertise on the political geography of public lands and land survey systems. Then just weeks ago we bid adieu to Associate Professor Scott St. George who departed for a career as a climate scientist in private industry.
In 2021 Professor Vinay Gidwani received the highly competitive, U of M-wide award for Outstanding Contributions to Graduate and Professional Education. Alumnus Ivan Bialostosky (PhD ‘13, geography), and now undergraduate adviser, received CLA’s Career Readiness Advocate Award. The following year Associate Professor Kathy Klink received CLA’s Career Readiness Teaching Award.
In 2022 Associate Professor Eric Shook joined Dr. Susanna McMaster as co-director of MGIS, and Associate Professor Kathryn Grace became associate director of the Minnesota Population Center. In 2022 Eric was also the inaugural recipient of the Warwick Mid-Career Faculty Research Award.
At the end of 2020, the John R. Borchert Map Library Fund received two significant contributions that will greatly impact the future work and reach of the map library. I am grateful that members of our community support the important work of the BML. If you are inclined to make a gift to any of our funds—any amount is appreciated—there are several other options to explore. For easier navigation, the John S. Adams Scholarship and Judith Martin Memorial Fund options specifically target our undergraduate students. Most of the other funds benefit graduate students. And the Ralph H. Brown Fund benefits both undergrads and grads.
Our community was saddened by the loss of two colleagues in the last couple of years. Professor Emeritus Dwight Brown, who enjoyed a long career in the department and made important contributions to our research and teaching mission, passed away in the summer of 2020. Not quite a year later, we lost Kevin Ehrman-Solberg, co-founder of the nationally renowned Mapping Prejudice Project and a graduate student in our department.
In the time I’ve been chair many PhD students who have completed their degrees here have been launched into a fascinating variety of careers.
Take care, everyone.
Professor and Chair
Readers of The New York Times might have seen just this past July Assistant Professor Daniel Griffin’s prominently placed op-ed, titled “This 500-Year-Old Tree in California Has a Story to Tell.” Its eye-popping visuals serve up evidence that we ignore our relationship to the non-human world at our and other species’ peril. (The piece appeared online July 20, 2022, and in print July 23.)
Using his work on emerging technologies in dendrochronology, Dan recounts the human-fueled drying of the American Southwest, an important piece of the larger puzzle of megadroughts and climate change.
Professor Abdi Samatar, a past recipient of the U of M’s President’s Award for Outstanding Service, has been elected to the Somali senate and donates the salary he receives as a senator to pay the tuition of 16 university students in Somalia each year.
Want to appreciate the struggle he has taken on? Read his unflinching analysis in a piece he wrote for The Conversation in May 2022. Minnesota is home to a large Somali community; Abdi’s analysis invites us to understand this community’s wider concerns.
Community-engaged research and teaching is a hallmark of Associate Professor Kate Derickson’s work in GES. Through her partnership with the Gullah/Geechee nation on the southern mid-Atlantic coast, Kate traveled to South Carolina in spring 2022 with undergraduate geography major Elijah Rothstein, geography PhD student Maggie Mills, and other students.
They met up with Queen Quet on Saint Helena Island and presented their work at the annual Coastal Cultures Conference held by the Gullah/Geechee Sea Island Coalition. Students presented the award-winning StoryMap they created when they took a class co-taught by Queen Quet and Kate in fall 2020, when Queen Quet served as the CLA Winton Chair in the Liberal Arts.
For essential companion reading, don’t miss the account of Associate Professor Kurt Kipfmueller’s work with the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe. Together these partners are connecting Indigenous oral traditions to the findings of tree ring studies in order to reconstruct the history of fire, climate dynamics, and land management in northern Minnesota.
Assistant Professor Adam Bledsoe shares his experiences with activism near and far and how he applies those experiences in the classroom.
GES undergraduate James Schueneman learned the importance of being an active citizen through his internship experience with Omaha Public Schools. Internships are a valuable way for students to gain real-world experience.
An internship with the Ramsey County Public Works allowed GES undergraduate Diana Flores Castillo to use her classroom knowledge of GIS software for real projects. Her internship has led to a part-time job that she continued into the school year.