Season’s Greetings from the Chair…

Prof. Jack Williams
Professor Jack Williams
Chair, Department of Geography

Greetings, friends.  These are challenging times, so here I write to share some winter warmth and good news, for we have much to celebrate in Geography this year.  Professor Almita Miranda and her colleagues were recently awarded a ten-year NHPRC-Mellon grant for their digital archival and documentation project, ¡Presente!: Documenting Latinx History in Wisconsin.  Professor Holly Gibbs and her international team of colleagues were awarded a $57 million grant by the Bezos Earth Fund to transform food systems to reduce carbon emissions and protect biodiversity (including $1 million to the Gibbs lab for work in the Amazon).  Professors A-Xing Zhu, Song Gao, and Holly Gibbs were all listed as Highly Cited Researchers by Web of Science – an honor that goes to the top 0.1% of researchers.  Graduate student Katie Braun won two prestigious fellowships from NSF and NASA to study Arctic wetlands, while Anika Rice is a Morgridge Fellow, to conduct community-engaged scholarship in Guatemala.  These are just highlights; all UW-Madison Geographers are actively advancing knowledge and working to establish a more just and sustainable world.

And, 2024 is a year of celebrations!  This year marks the 175th birthday for UW-Madison and the 50th birthday for the Wisconsin State Cartographer’s Office (SCO). Geography Professor Arthur Robinson began advocating for this office in the early 1960s, then helped craft the legislation that in 1973 formally created the State Cartographer as a special program within the UW. Robinson’s vision was that SCO would serve the citizens of Wisconsin through sharing of cartographic information, preparation of special-purpose maps and coordination of mapping activities.  This vision has proven prescient, as geospatial data becomes ever-more essential for public governance, research, and the Wisconsin economy. 

SCO 50th anniversary graphic

The SCO is a unique institution, the only office of its kind tied so closely to an academic department. This successful arrangement is an exemplar of the values and principles of the Wisconsin Idea, in which the University always seeks to serve the citizens of the state. In recent years, the SCO has pursued projects as diverse as statewide parcel mapping, improvements to Public Land Survey System data, water resource mapping and modeling, flood exposure assessment, coastal habitat mapping and change detection, antimicrobial resistance mapping, identification of cartographic phantoms, data catalogs and portals for geospatial data, digitization of historic data, geodetic control for surveyors, and planning for the modernization of the National Spatial Reference System. Under the able leadership of Howard Veregin, current State Cartographer, and predecessors (Ted Koch, 1990-2009; Art Ziegler, 1974-1990), SCO has grown over the years and now includes staff members Ann Buschhaus, Hayden Elza, Mike Hasinoff, Thomas Kazmierczak, Jim Lacy, David Vogel and Ana Wells, plus a half-dozen student interns. While University funding remains a cornerstone, today about half of the SCO’s funding comes through grants and contracts with state and federal agencies, tribal and local governments, and professional associations. Through these efforts, and thanks to the founding determination of Professor Robinson, the SCO continues to advance its vision of a mature and collaborative geospatial community and well-informed citizenry.

SCO staff and career conversations with studnets
Staff from the State Cartographer’s Office talk with students about careers in Cartography and Geographic Information Science.

With your support, we continue to create rewarding professional development opportunities for our undergraduate students. The Career Conversations with Geographers series, which sheds light on Geography-related careers through conversation with alumni, welcomed Sheila Casserly and Andy David this fall to discuss international career options in Geography. Sheila is Director of Digital Policy for North America at Schneider Electric, a French multinational company, where she works with an international team on public policy issues. Sheila previously worked for the United Nations Development Programme. Andy is International Programs Coordinator at the North American Association for Environmental Education, where he works with grassroots organizations throughout the world.  Undergraduates were also treated this fall to a panel with State Cartographer Howard Veregin, junior and SCO intern Jean Traudt, and Master’s student and former SCO employee Christina Dennis, about the ways in which SCO can support students’ professional development, by enabling students to tackle real-world GIS projects, gain industry experience, and make professional connections.  

Joe Mason and field trip on Ice Age Trail
Professor Joe Mason and field trip attendees pause for discussion on the Ice Age Trail in Verona, Wisconsin.

Students also had a blast participating in this fall’s department field trip, which explored southern Wisconsin’s iconic cultural and physical landscapes. Stops included guided tours in Monroe about the history of beer and cheese making in southern Wisconsin, plus hikes to a remnant prairie in Monticello and a moraine in Verona. Professor Joe Mason led spirited discussions of these landscapes. The field trip, open to all in the department, helped cultivate community and let students experience first-hand some of Wisconsin’s beautiful and fascinating landscapes. We’re planning to make the fall field trip an annual tradition. 

These successes and experiences are thanks in no small part to the steadfast generosity and support of our friends and alumni.  Your gifts of time, funds, and expertise create new and rich learning opportunities for our students, the Geographers of tomorrow.  If you’d like to make an end-of-year donation, please visit: And, if you’re interested in participating in a future Career Conversations (or a field trip!), please contact undergraduate advisor Joel Gruley ( 

Stay warm, stay well, and best wishes for 2024. 

Author: Geography Staff