Summer 2020 Newsletter
Dear Alumni and Friends,
Spring 2020 has been a challenging and inspiring semester. With the spread of COVID-19, we shifted to alternative modes of instruction mid-semester. In-person research involving human subjects was suspended, University labs were closed, and travel for research prohibited, slowing, and in some cases halting, research projects of faculty and graduate students. I am proud of how my colleagues and our graduate students adapted to the changed circumstances and inspired by their commitment to provide high quality learning opportunities to our many undergraduate students in the face of difficult conditions.
However, the most significant event happened immediately after the end of semester. The May 26 police murder of George Floyd has led to a global uprising against racism. It has also forced us to confront racism in our institutions, including at the University of Minnesota. As a department, we stand in solidarity with colleagues, students, and fellow residents of the Twin Cities who have risen up against longstanding and pervasive racism in our community. And we desire to learn what our role can be in anti-racist work, including changes to our own practice.
In the past weeks, the horizons of what is possible have dramatically shifted and we are inspired by the hard work many have already done to make the University and our department an anti-racist space.
It is also important that we respond to the murder of George Floyd as engaged scholars. Members of our department are doing so.
- Assistant Professor Adam Bledsoe has compiled an excellent Minneapolis Uprising Syllabus that offers background to how Minneapolis became a flashpoint for a global uprising against anti-Blackness and state violence.
- Associate Professor and Director of Urban Studies Kate Derickson writes about how the uprising has radicalized many and allowed new solidarities to emerge.
- The work of Kirsten Delegard, director of Mapping Prejudice and a research fellow in GES, is highlighted in an important article that examines the long history of anti-Blackness and other forms of racism in Minneapolis.
Read on for inspiring stories about GES alums and faculty.
- Erika Eidson graduated from our department in 2012 and her experiences at UMN have taken her across the country to work protecting forests, where she also creates opportunities for current GES undergraduates.
- Kwame Adovor Tsikudo received his PhD from UMN in fall 2019. He discusses his journey from Ghana to Minnesota and on to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he is now a visiting assistant professor.
- Finally, we profile the unique geospatial research of newly-tenured Associate Professor Eric Shook (congratulations, Eric!), who has been using supercomputers to map every single farm field in Minnesota, an immense aid to farmers, decision-makers, and environmental agencies in the state.
This is my last newsletter as chair of GES. It has been a pleasure to work with such wonderful colleagues, and I thank many of you for your ongoing support of the department. Professor George Henderson takes over from me this summer; I am thrilled that the department will be led by such a wise and compassionate colleague.
Finally, as this issue was going to press, we were saddened to learn that Professor Emeritus Dwight Brown passed away on June 19. Our hearts go out to his family and loved ones. We remember Dwight as an exceptionally loyal friend of the department, and an unfailingly calm, measured, and highly approachable presence. We are fortunate that Dwight made his career at the University of Minnesota. Many of us recall years of his insightful questions at Coffee Hour and at Brown Day. His wide-ranging interests, including biogeography, geomorphology, remote sensing, cartography, and GIS, ensured that he engaged regularly with faculty and students on all manner of topics. Dwight began his tenure at the University of Minnesota in 1966 and served our department continuously before retiring and becoming emeritus in 2006. Over the years, Dwight made numerous important contributions to scholarship, teaching, and service. More importantly he made true friends. The next issue of the newsletter will provide a more detailed, proper appreciation.
Urban Studies will be marking its 50th anniversary this year. Look for more information on events and activities soon.
“I am grateful to the department and the many faculty who patiently allowed me to pester them during office hours,” says alum Erika Eidson (pictured center) about her UMN experience. She now works in forestry, protecting forests and creating opportunities for current GES undergrads.
“One of the most enjoyable moments for me in graduate school was the fieldwork,” says recent GES PhD alum Kwame Adovor Tsikudo. Kwame has now taken his knowledge and experience from Minnesota to the “Land of Lincoln” for a position at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Geography assistant professor Eric Shook takes an nontraditional approach to geography and explores the world through geospatial computing. His work is leading to better ways of using cropland here in Minnesota and a deeper understanding of how we interact with each other.