Welcome letter from Professor Jack Williams…

Professor and Department Chair, Jack Williams

Hello to all and welcome from Madison!  It’s been a beautiful late summer and early fall, with all the energy that comes with 40,000 students returning to town.  State St. is hopping and, blessedly, campus has ended its summer tradition of major construction work outside Science Hall.  The Terrace is as lively and sun-drenched as ever, full of friends and colleagues catching up and trading stories over beverages.

We have a record-setting incoming class of first-year students, edging out last year’s previous record.  The admissions office has been doing heroic work, receiving over 60,000 applications and reading 120,000(!) college essays.  The number of admits was reduced, yet the yield increased… a clear signal that UW-Madison is a hot ticket for college-bound seniors.  Here in Geography, we are adding TAs and discussion sections, and our fall classes are chock-full of students ready to learn about the world and its many varied places.  We are also launching several new initiatives to enhance our undergraduate mentoring and career-placement opportunities… more information to come in our December newsletter.

Photo by Jeff Miller / UW-Madison

This fall, we are also welcoming Dr. Jonathan Nelson, recently of Penn State (another great Cartography program in the US), who will take on the role of Associate Director of our GIS Professional Program (GISPP).  GISPP graduated 47 students last year, and our Department now has its feet firmly planted in both traditional and on-line forms of higher education, with a mission of providing world-class education to all its students, including those located here in Science Hall and those dispersed around the country and world.  

For anyone who tracks the news or social media, these are polarized and seemingly dark times.  Yet, here, on campus, every day we steadily work to build a community of learning and discovery that is founded on common values of mutual respect, diversity of thought and experiences, and sharing all knowledge through our teaching and the Wisconsin Idea.  Many of our faculty, staff, and students are leaders in this effort.  For example, Professor Erika Marín-Spiotta, as Faculty Director of the Community of Graduate Research Scholars program, continues her work to redesign the College of Letters and Science mentoring and support system for graduate students of color and from other historically marginalized populations. She is also the new Faculty Co-Director of WISELI on campus, a position that will leverage her national efforts (with just-renewed funding from the National Science Foundation) to transform workplace cultures to be more welcoming. The State Cartographer’s Office has received a new Baldwin award to build a partnership with the Red Cliff Band, hub of the Chippewa Nation, to map water resources.  

In short, UW-Madison’s and Geography’s commitment remains as strong as ever to academic freedom and the tireless discovery of knowledge through patient sifting and winnowing.  We recognize that the voices of our early career faculty and students of color can be particularly exposed to aggressive counterpressures, so we remain firmly committed to supporting our diverse and growing community and advancing diversity of thought and expression.

Other highlights: Professor Ian Baird, Director of the Center for Southeast Asian Studies and Coordinator of the Hmong Studies Consortium, won a Romnes Award from UW-Madison, for his research into the interaction among Indigenous communities, governmental systems, and socio-ecological systems in Southeast Asia, making him the fourth Geographer in four years to win a Romnes – the only department at UW-Madison with this achievement.  (Other recent winners:  Professors Rob Roth, Holly Gibbs, and Erika Marín-Spiotta.)  Professor Lisa Naughton was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Science, joining four other UW-Madison Geographers (former Professors Bill Denevan, Bob Sack, Yi-Fu Tuan, David Ward). She continues to study and teach on biodiversity conservation, including wolf recovery in the Northwoods – a hot-button topic if there ever was one – yet, as this Wisconsin Public Radio interview shows, Professor Naughton works to achieve compromise and share knowledge across all stakeholders.  And our graduate students have been highly active this spring and summer, pursuing a wide range innovative research across all branches of Geography – see this story for more details.

Yi-Fu Tuan in March 2022 during a break in filming with a Dutch film crew. Photo by Kris Olds.

Time’s passing comes with losses, and this summer we lost one of the greatest Human Geographers of the last century, Professor Yi-Fu Tuan.  His searching explorations moved agilely inwards and outwards, demonstrating through practice how a single human mind encompasses its own universe, while illuminating the relationship between the physicality of geographic spaces and one’s unique and individualized perceptions of place. For a moving remembrance of Yi-Fu and his work, please see this campus tribute. We plan to celebrate Yi-Fu’s life and work with a special lecture this spring – more information to follow.  

We are also saying farewell to Tanya Buckingham Andersen, Creative Director of the Cartography Lab, who is beginning a new position with Dane County focused on community engagement and support – her passion.  Our loss is very much Dane County’s gain; Tanya has been a mainstay of the Cart Lab and our department for over 14 years.  Tanya has tirelessly mentored generations of Cart Lab students and helped them land  top positions around the country.  She has repeatedly stepped up to volunteer and support the department, and led students to New York and Washington, DC to see professional cartographers in action.  She also led community-engaged cartographic Design Challenges for students, alumni career panels, and AAG reunions. She was President of NACIS, the professional society for US cartographers. Most recently, she and Jaime Martindale have revitalized our External Relations committee and improved how we communicate and connect with our friends and alumni.  So, farewell, Tanya, and a heartfelt thanks and best wishes from all of us.

So, we are off to the races!  It’s a busy and energizing time of year, with so many new students arriving, so much scholarly work accomplished over the summer, and so many new efforts underway.  We wish you all the best, and look forward to a productive and beautiful fall.  On Wisconsin!

Jack Williams, Professor of Geography and Department Chair

Author: Geography Staff