Letter from the Chair

Greetings Geographers, Friends, and Families,

The 2019-2020 academic year was a time of many changes and accomplishments for the Department of Geography. Let me begin by acknowledging the innovation, cooperation, and patience of the students, staff, and faculty who adapted to the unanticipated challenges of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. We especially congratulate the Geography and Environmental Science students who had completed their courses of study this spring but were unable to celebrate the achievement with a graduation celebration. We celebrate your accomplishments and wish you every success as you demonstrate what geographers are capable of. And when you have a few moments, drop us a note to let us know what you are up to. That invitation is open to all previous graduates. We want to hear from you.

Once again we have had an outstanding year for UA Geography, and it is exciting to be able to share some of our accomplishments and bring you up to date with changes experienced during the year. We remain committed, as a team, to strengthening and improving our collective performances in teaching, research, and service.

With regard to teaching efforts, this spring we successfully implemented our second, semester-equivalent study-abroad program in Costa Rica. Ten students spent seven weeks at the Soltis Center for Research and Education, near la Fortuna. They took four courses that focused mainly on tropical environments. We are planning for a third program in the spring of 2021. Our graduate program continues to grow, with 38 students enrolled for the fall semester, including 17 Ph.D. students. Two of the Ph.D. students will graduate this summer — our first ever. Both have found employment with other universities. This is a great credit to them — Jordan Cissell and Min Xu — and their supervisors – Michael Steinberg and Hongxing Liu. This year Nishani Moragoda won the Outstanding Thesis Award of the College of Arts and Sciences and Jacob Reed won the A&S and UA Outstanding Research by a Master’s Student Awards. These students continue the record of recognition of achievement by our graduate students, and we are proud to claim them as our own. Credit also to their respective supervisors, Sagy Cohen and Jason Senkbeil, who also deserve our appreciation.

In the main office, Krystal Feigle and Elizabeth Singleton have kept the office running, and they were joined by Stephanie Holcomb, who moved to Geography from Biological Sciences. We are very happy to have the three of them as a team. They do much more than meets the eye. Dr. Johanna Engstrom, our Geographic Services Manager, left the department in the fall and has been replaced by Mr. Eric Courchesne. Eric’s appointment began the day that UA suspended normal operations, so he has been launched under awkward and challenging circumstances. Assistant Professor Jared Margulies joined us in August, moving here from a postdoctoral position at the University of Sheffield. More information on Dr. Margulies and the rest of our faculty can be found further on in this newsletter.

On the research front, our faculty published 55 journal articles last year, the best annual performance yet, representing an average of more than three papers per person. Led by this success in publishing our research and with increasing federal research funding, UA Geography has been ranked as the 22nd best department in the U.S. This is also a departmental record, and our sights are set higher. Accomplishments like these almost make it sound like this is easy. Please let me assure you it is not. To make this happen requires great effort from all quarters: the students, staff, and faculty, and support of our administration.

We are looking forward to the challenges that will face us in 2020-2021, and we continue to strive to make all aspects of our program better for students, our staff and faculty, and for the residents of the State of Alabama and elsewhere. One of our motivations for our activities is to make you proud of what your department is doing.

Douglas J. Sherman