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Geography and CLA Pave the Way for a Career in Academia

June 24, 2016

Like many freshmen, Talia Anderson wasn’t sure what major or field of study she would pursue over the next four years. The desire to study abroad and continue learning Spanish led her to pursue a Spanish degree, but she decided later to also major in geography because of her broad interests and the diverse coursework in the major. “Geography strikes a really good balance between the humanities and the sciences. and can delve into more scientific fields through studying topics such as climate,” Anderson says. She also enjoyed taking classes with an emphasis on social and political aspects of specific places.

Anderson credits this curriculum in helping her find her path and prepare her for the future. “Taking a variety of classes allows you focus in on your major, but you’re also given background knowledge on many different subjects,” Anderson says. “I think that’s important–to know a little bit about a lot of things. The College of Liberal Arts really prepares you for a wide variety of options you could choose after graduation.”

Anderson nurtured a deep interest in working on environmental issues in Central America during a study abroad experience in Venezuela spring semester of her sophomore year. During her junior year, she discussed her interest in dendrochronology as a possible topic for her senior thesis with Assistant Professor Dan Griffin, who told her about a field week through the National Science Foundation that he was helping lead over spring break in Guatemala. This field week, along with working in Professor Griffin’s lab that semester, taught Anderson the basics of dendrochronology and how to analyze tree ring data.

Anderson was granted an Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program scholarship for her research on tree rings in relation to climate in Guatemala. This study combines her interests in both Spanish and geography, and also serves as the data for her senior thesis. Furthermore, Anderson was awarded the Talle Family Scholarship, a full senior-year scholarship given to academically exceptional students in the College of Liberal Arts. Both of these scholarships have provided “financial flexibility,” allowing her to focus more time on her research and postgraduate life.

After graduating this spring Anderson plans to attend graduate school and continue her research on tree rings and climate data. Anderson cites raising and answering her own research questions as one reason why she wants to continue—the research gets “more and more exciting” for Anderson as she puts her thesis together. “I see this becoming more than just numbers on a spreadsheet. It’s starting to come together,” she says.

Anderson aims to become a university professor. “I want to teach environmental geography courses so I can apply the broader concepts of the research I’ve done in the classroom,” she says. “When I have a really good teacher, I notice it makes all the difference…You can tell they’re engaged with their students. I strive to be this kind of professor and to make students excited in the classroom and want to learn, even if the class is not not what they’re focused on.”

This story was written by an undergraduate student account executive in CLAgency. Meet the team.