I attended the 44th Annual South Dakota State University Geography Convention last week, representing the South Dakota Geographic Alliance. I love this opportunity to see what the grad students are working on for their research projects and to hear guest speakers talk about issues in Geography. This year seemed particularly great – Fred Shelley, University of Oklahama, talked about the electoral geography of the most recent Presidential election, John Fraser Hart, University of Minnesota, shared his research about the changing landscape of farming in rural Wisconsin, Trisha Jackson, South Dakota State University, showed the effect of Perennial plants and root mass on the viability of soils, alongside other colleagues from across the country. I love the sharing of information in a smaller setting than a national conference.
[Joseph Kerski, ESRI, and myself at the 44th Annual SDSU Geography Convention]
I believe that my work is important. Being a Geography Educator, in my case supporting geo-literacy in K-12, is probably one of the most important jobs out there, though most Americans would disagree. Or not realize that the field of Geography actually encompasses more than ‘states and capitols’ or knowing the population statistics for the largest cities. People with geography backgrounds are urban planners, transportation specialists, environmental scientists, disaster risk analysts, emergency planners, economic developers, Geographic Information Systems analysts, teachers, professors, remote sensors, and others. Geographers work for the military, government, private industry, defence sector, homeland security, the census, the USGS, education institutions, non-profits, and so many other places across the globe.
The National Center for Education Statistics released their results from the 2010 National Assessment of Education Progress, and the lack of geography skills and knowledge was , unfortunately, well documented. Daniel Edelson, Vice President of Education at National Geographic commented that “…we have not invested in geography education at all in the last decade. Both for workforce preparedness and national security, there are big costs to neglecting geography education,” he said. “You need people who can reason about geographic challenges … people who understand water and energy systems. The more we wait to make these investments, the more we’re going to have to catch up to the rest of the world.”
Geography, as it turns out, is a rather critical subject for today’s young people if they want to be competative in the global job market. Other countries understand how Geography fits into the larger world around them and invest heavily in geographic education in both K-12 and at the University level. The United States? Not so much. Of the nine areas mandated by No Child Left Behind, only Geography has remained unfunded since the beginning of NCLB. Why? One reason I have heard for this lack of funding (while hanging out with academics for a few days) is that the United States has the ability to hire well-trained people from other countries to fill critical geography, GIS, and remote sensing positions stateside.
This “plan” is very short-sighted, though. According to ‘ESRI Insider’ (Oct 15, 2012), “…the need for geoscience jobs will grow far faster than the current stream of incoming geoscience graduates are entering the workforce. The combination of rapidly advancing Baby Boom generation retirements and constrained flow of new qualified entrants equates to a potential gap of 145,000 to 202,000 geoscience jobs left unfilled by 2021.” Has anyone heard about unemplyment issues in the U.S. lately? I’m willing to bet that there are a number of unemployed professionals out there right now that would love to have a career in the geo-sciences. Perhaps if we, as a country, had been taking Geography seriously in the past decade, we wouldn’t have such a high unemploment rate nor a growing gap in the number of geo-related jobs and the number of people in this country qualified for them.
Geography is one of those skills that allows a person to develop critical thinking skills and solid decision making skills. All a person has to do to understand this is watch the evening news. Why are particular countries at war? Are these wars strictly about culture and religion? How does the location of natural resources factor in? Where are water resources located? Take Israel, for example. If a person were to look at a political map, one that shows man-made boundary lines that seperate countries one from another by a nice, neat purple or green line, one might not understand why there is conflict in this region. After all, all of the countries have these very clear and well-defined lines drawn on the map. One must delve deeper into the layers of information out there to really be able to understand what is going on in the world around them. This is what a geographer does well.
Why does this matter? And what do I do with this information? If our government, for example, did not understand the importance of this kind of information (and some may argue that our government doesn’t), our country would not be able to take educated action in situations that require the U.S. to move quickly. But these questions are also very important to ask when planning long term projects as well.
Think with me on these hot topics for a moment:
Is it important to know if an area is likely to develop sinkholes in the future?
Will proper intelligence allow us to plan better when moving our military into a war zone?
Do we need to understand where flood zones are?
Questions like these are important for decision makers. Other people depend on the outcome of these decisions. This is why a geographic background is so important. Educated decisions are better decisions. A solid background in geography makes educated decision makers. Geography is important. And that is why I am a Geographer.