A letter from the Chair…

Jack Williams, Professor of Geography and Department Chair

Well, Geography is back in action!  The fall semester and its return to in-person instruction at UW-Madison has been a success, with students back in classrooms and the feared back-to-school COVID outbreak ending up more ripple than wave.   It is so much fun to be walking up and down Bascom Hill again, past throngs of students rushing to class, as the leaves change from green to russet to gold.  The Geography pumpkins of Science Hall, an annual Halloween tradition, made their return.  And, as a 21st-century addition, we now have food delivery robots, looking like little Wall-E cubes, quietly scooting along with their precious cargo, or waiting ever-so-patiently at crosswalks.

This successful restart didn’t just happen; it is the outcome of a lot of hard work by a lot of people, and it is a testament to our strengths as a community:  respecting science and doing what we need to do to care for each other.  Vaccination rates are well over 90% for students, faculty, and staff, and everyone has done an outstanding job in wearing masks indoors.  As an instructor, I now occasionally tap the side of my nose to remind any students with mask slippage, but that’s the only nudge needed.  

A cluster of University Housing food-delivery robots wait for remote clearance to cross the intersection of East Campus Mall at W. Johnson Street. (Photo by Jeff Miller / UW-Madison)

Deepest thanks to the many staff, graduate students, and faculty members who made this all possible by juggling their in-person professional duties while also caring for kids or other vulnerable loved ones at home.  This has been a long and wearing pandemic, and all have persevered.  Particular shout outs to Joe Mason, Jay Scholz, Sarah Moore, Mogi Roulet, and Bill Gartner.  Joe Mason has been chair the last three years and has ably steered the ship through all the turmoil of 2020 and early 2021.  Jay, who serves as both IT manager and building manager, has kept beautiful Science Hall patched up and functioning in the midst of burst pipes, basement floods, and other adventures.  Sarah Moore and Mogi Roulet, as Director and Coordinator of the Graduate Studies Committee, have been tireless in their efforts to make life better for our graduate students this fall – helping students with medical concerns in obtaining leaves or other accommodations, and successfully pushing for all TAs to receive a well-deserved salary boost.  Bill Gartner agreed in mid-semester on short notice to cover the in-person lectures for a colleague who needed to work from home.  Thanks to all in our community for pulling together and staying strong in historically challenging times.

Emily Hill, “Map of the United States” (1820). This large manuscript was the work of a schoolteacher in Vermont. From the entry in the History of Cartography Volume 5 on “Education and Cartography” by Susan Schulten.

And, we have much to celebrate.  Volume Five of the epic 40-year History of Cartography project is nearing completion, while the beautiful maps designed by the Cartography Lab were featured by the Overture Center for the Arts this fall.  Professor Erika Marín-Spiotta is the inaugural Faculty Director of Community of Graduate Research Scholars program (dedicated to supporting graduate students from underrepresented populations), and she is nationally celebrated for her leadership of ADVANCEGeo and its efforts to reduce harassment and enhance diversity in the geosciences.  Professor Song Gao, leader of the Geographic Data Science (GeoDS) team at UW-Madison, is co-leading a newly launched NSF National Institute for Artificial Intelligence, Cyberinfrastructure, and Computational Learning in the Environment.  Professor Jen Rose Smith published a beautiful article in Vogue about the persistence and renewal of Indigenous knowledge through kelp farming in the Gulf of Alaska.  Professor Almita Miranda was just awarded a Mellon grant for her project ¡Presente!: Documenting Latinx History in Wisconsin Through a Collaborative Digital Edition.” in collaboration with the Wisconsin Latinx History Collective and the Wisconsin Historical Society. Graduate Students Kela Caldwell and Vignesh Ramachandran were named as Mortgridge Fellows to support their community-oriented scholarship. 

To expand professional development opportunities for our undergraduates, we’re partnering with SuccessWorks, a campus career service, to help connect our students with alumni working in their fields. This includes several alumni career panels as well as a career mentoring program that will launch this spring that pairs students with alumni whose job backgrounds align with the career interests of students.  If you’re interested in helping mentor our students, please reach out to Joel Gruley (jgruley@wisc.edu

Carved pumpkins spell out GEOGRAPHY in front of Science Hall. (Photo by Althea Dotzour / UW-Madison)

One of the sadnesses of the pandemic was the lost opportunities to celebrate the members of our community who retired over the last year. So, now we are making up for lost time.  In November, we hosted a retirement celebration for Tom Tews, Geography Librarian, in the Geography Library reading room that was his primary work home for over 30 years.  This spring, on Saturday April 30, there will be an all-day symposium in honor of Professor Emeritus Bill Cronon and his deeply nuanced scholarship exploring concepts of wilderness and relationships between people and their environment, now and in the past.  This will be an all-day event with a conference organized by Bill’s students who will give talks on terms explored in Keywords by Raymond Williams, one of Bill’s favorite pieces of scholarship. Bill will be giving a talk in the late afternoon, which will be live streamed so those of you not in Madison should be able to (virtually) attend.  Should be a wonderful event and if you’re interested in learning more, please reach out.  More details to come soon.

As I close, I’m struck by how many good things are happening here in Geography at UW-Madison, and how the writing challenge was just to pick a subset.  I have left out more than I put in!  If you’d like to stay connected and are on Twitter, @UWMadisonGeog is a great way to hear news as it happens.  If you’d like to share updates with us, please do send a note to news@geography.wisc.edu.  

And, as always, we welcome your support.  UW-Madison Geography is one of the best programs in the country thanks in part to the generous support of our alumni and friends.  If you’d like to help support Geography’s students and programs, you can visit our newly relaunched website and its Giving page here: https://geography.wisc.edu/giving/   Thank you for support of our mission of excellence in Geographic education and engaged scholarship, and best wishes for 2022.  

Jack Williams, Professor of Geography and Department Chair

Author: Geography Staff