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Conversation with a Geographer

Conversation with a Geographer
Produced by GRCC TV

With the passing of Wes Dow in 2011, Geography lost the architect of Geographers on Film, one of the most significant oral history resources in academia. Wes was honored by the Association of American Geographers for his contributions. He was gifted in his knowledge of the field and capable of talking with geographers of all genres, genders, and eras, creating a record of the discipline’s course throughout the twentieth century, which was marked by rich substance and impartiality. Inspired by Wes, and in the tradition of Geographers on Film, is the Conversation with a Geographer oral history series, which began with the Diversity Conversation interview of New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof in 2011. Mike DeVivo, author of Leadership in American Academic Geography: The Twentieth Century  hosts this series, which is filmed in the GRCC TV studio at Grand Rapids Community College. In an effort to contribute to a fuller understanding of the history of the geographic discipline, he seeks to explore the roles of various mentors, leaders, and leadership behaviors with those interviewed. In 2023, the Conversation with a Geographer podcast was launched, which offers an additional opportunity for audiences across the globe to listen to interviews of academic geographers who share their own stories about roads traveled and deep insights into the nature of the geographic discipline.

Questions about the series can be made via email ( to Dr. M.S. DeVivo, Professor of Geography.

Alphabetical List of Interviews

Yael Aronoff, 2013
Daniel Arreola, 2023
Sarah Blue, 2023
Anne Bonds, 2015
Jessie Clark, 2016
Amanda Colegrove, 2015
Craig Colten, 2023
Brittany Cook, 2023
Karen Culcasi, 2017
Christina Dando, 2023
Alicia Decker, 2014
Dydia DeLyser, 2022
Jennifer Devine, 2022
Lary Dilsaver, 2023
William Doolittle, 2023
Sarah Elwood, 2023
Maria Fadiman, 2016
Caroline Faria, 2014
Courtney Gallaher, 2015
Ben Gerlofs, 2023
Steven Graves, 2023
Kirsten Greer, 2023
Qian Guo, 2023
Guntram Herb, 2023
Peter Hugill, 2023
Cadey Korson, 2018
Nicholas Kristof, 2011
Chris Lukinbeal, 2023
Kent Mathewson, 2023
Irene Naesse, 2022
Lindsay Naylor, 2019
Michael Pretes, 2023
Marie Price, 2015
Jerry Redfern and Karen Coates, 2013
Jonnell Robinson, 2018
Debra Sharkey, 2022
Rebecca Sheehan, 2013
Maureen Smith, 2023
Paul Starrs, 2023
Ray Sumner, 2022
Kate Swanson, 2012
William Wyckoff, 2023
Leon Yacher, 2013
Terence Young, 2023
Yolonda Youngs, 2023
Jenny Zorn, 2022

2023 Conversations

Kirsten Greer, Associate Professor of Geography and History, Nipissing University, 8 November 2023 (virtual)

Raised in Canada, exposed to gaining an understanding of landscapes at an early age on family vacations domestically and abroad. Acquiring a foundation in the discipline while pursuing the baccalaureate at McGill University and moving on to graduate studies at Wilfred Laurier and Queens. Research in historical geography linking society and the natural environment, particularly with reference to the British Empire in the 19th century. The significance of a critical historical geography perspective. The paramount importance of demonstrating respect for indigenous peoples while engaging in scholarly research and indigenous repatriation. Advice for prospective geographers.

Paul Starrs, Emeritus Professor of Geography, University of Nevada – Reno, 8 November 2023 (virtual)

Raised in Europe and the Eastern Seaboard. Developing a sense of purpose while attending Deep Springs College before pursuing Utopian Studies at the University of California at San Diego. Mentored by Jim Parsons while completing graduate work in geography at Berkeley before serving on the faculty of the University of Nevada throughout his career. Conducting landscape studies of the American West, Iberia, and southern Mexico. Creating a field guide to California agriculture. Advice for graduate students.

Michael Pretes, Professor of Geography, University of North Alabama, 8 November 2023 (virtual)

Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area and gaining an interest in international relations. Completing a master’s degree at Northwestern University before gaining employment as a visiting scholar at the Scott Polar Research Institute in England. Subsequently serving as a Research Associate in Finland before taking academic appointments in the US. Moving on to Australian National University to complete the PhD in Geography while conducting research devoted to Pacific island development. Taking an academic appointment at the University of North Alabama and teaching a plethora of geography courses. Advice for students.

Chris Lukinbeal, Professor, University of Arizona, 28 September 2023 (virtual)

Inspired by Joe Searl at Lane Community College to study geography. Following an education hiatus, completion of bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Cal State Hayward and the PhD in the joint program offered by San Diego State and UC Santa Barbara. The influence of Stuart Aitken, Larry Ford, and Reg Golledge. Research in the geography of film and media studies. The importance of the geographic perspective in cartography and GIS. Advice to prospective geographers.

Sarah Blue, Associate Professor, Texas State University, 28 September 2023 (virtual)

Studying geography at the University of Denver (BA), University of Minnesota (MA), and UCLA (PhD). Gaining familiarization with Spanish dialects in Guatemala and the Caribbean. Dissertation research in Cuba regarding the impact of remittances in fostering racialized landscapes. Fieldwork with Rebecca Torres and Jennifer Devine in the US-Mexico Borderlands devoted to addressing the plight of asylum seekers from Latin America. Advice to students interested in pursuing studies in geography.

Christina Dando, Professor, University of Nebraska Omaha, 28 September 2023 (virtual)

Growing up as the daughter of the distinguished geographer, William Dando. Serving in internships with the National Geographic Society and Association of American Geographers in Washington, DC. Pursuing graduate studies in geography at the University of Wisconsin. Serving as a graduate assistant with the History of Cartography Project. The influence of Tom Vale in fostering insight in landscape interpretation. Research in assessing the impact of redlining in urban places. The importance of attaining GIS skills for geography students today.

Ben Gerlofs, Assistant Professor of Geography, University of Hong Kong, 11 July 2023

Intrigued by his grandfather’s atlases and maps in childhood, interest in geography was resuscitated much later while studying immigration and ethnicity at Grand Rapids Community College. Further studies in geography at Aquinas College, Syracuse, and Rutgers were characterized by exemplary mentorship from McCluskey, Mitchell, Lake, and Ghertner. The significance of peers and colleagues in navigating academic landscapes throughout undergraduate and graduate studies, as well as during the early academic career. Urban geographical fieldwork in Mexico, China, and Singapore. Advice to students and colleagues for enhancing student success. 

William Doolittle, Professor Emeritus, University of Texas, 6 July 2023 (virtual)

Growing up in Texas, service in Vietnam, and undergraduate studies at Tarrant County Community College and Texas Christian University before pursuing graduate work at Missouri and Oklahoma. Influence of Turner as a mentor, as well as Jordan as a colleague, in addition to graduate students mentored at UT. The importance of foreign-area fieldwork in academic geography. Fieldwork in Latin America. Advice to graduate students in completing doctoral dissertations. 

Terence Young, Professor Emeritus, Cal Poly Pomona, 8 June 2023 (virtual)

Growing up in California and exploring the outdoors. Graduate studies at UCLA, the influence of Jonathan Sauer and Nicholas Entriken. Pursuit of academic employment in the 1990s and teaching at Cal Poly Pomona. The importance of research devoted to protected areas and the historical geography of camping in America’s national parks. Advice to prospective geographers.

Kent Mathewson (2), Professor Emeritus, Louisiana State University, 8 June 2023 (virtual)

The nature of the geography department at the University of Wisconsin, Madison during the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. Encounters with Bill Bunge and conversations with Richard Hartshorne.

Kent Mathewson (1), Professor Emeritus, Louisiana State University, 11 May 2023 (virtual)

Studying geography at Antioch College under the influence of A. David Hill. Pursuing graduate studies at Wisconsin and mentored by Bill Denevan. Embracing Jim Parsons as an academic grandfather and enjoying numerous conversations with Sam Hilliard and Fred Kniffen while on the faculty at LSU. Fieldwork in Latin America and research in the history of geography. Contributions to the American Association of Geographers.

Yolonda Youngs, Associate Professor, California State University, San Bernardino, 11 May 2023 (virtual)

Growing up in Florida and moving to the American West to work in national parks. Mentorship of Bill Wyckoff while completing a master’s degree at Montana State and Dan Arreola while completing the PhD at Arizona State. Landscape interpretation as the geographer’s craft, and the importance of integrating physical and human geography in studies of national parks.

Maureen Smith, Professor of Geography, Saddleback College, 11 May 2023 (virtual)

Growing up in Santa Barbara, childhood filled with travel, and studying geography at Santa Barbara Community College before transferring to the University of North Carolina. Employment as a transportation planner in Chicago before returning to California to complete a master’s degree at Long Beach State. The important role played by community college geographers in California and the role played by the California Geographical Society in advancing the discipline.

Lary Dilsaver, Professor Emeritus, University of South Alabama, 10 May 2023 (virtual)

Growing up in California, graduate studies at LSU, the mentorship of Sam Hilliard, and the kindness of Fred Kniffen. Research devoted to the historical geography of national parks and the imperative role historical geographical research plays in the sound administration of protected areas.

Craig Colten, Professor Emeritus, Louisiana State University, 10 May 2023 (virtual)

Growing up in Louisiana, pursuing studies in geography at LSU, and mentored by Sam Hilliard in both historical geography and humor. Doctoral studies at Syracuse and the influence of Donald Meinig. The importance of research in applied historical geography. Advice for students.

Guntram Herb, Professor, Middlebury College, 10 May 2023 (virtual)

Growing up in Germany, studying abroad at Berkeley, and pursuing the PhD at Wisconsin. The influence of David Woodward with special reference to the history of cartography and friendships developed in graduate school. Current research devoted to Native American lands in the vicinity of the US-Canada border.

Sarah Elwood, Professor of Geography, University of Washington, 11 May 2023 (virtual)

Studying geography at Macalester College and the influence of David Lanegran. Pursuing graduate studies at the University of Minnesota, the mentorship of Helga Leitner, and the importance of integrating information technologies and community-based planning initiatives. Reflections on an academic career at institutions in the Midwest, Southwest, and Pacific Northwest.

Daniel Arreola, Professor Emeritus, Arizona State University, 16 March 2023 (virtual).

Growing up in Santa Monica, influence in childhood of his grandfather in gaining an understanding of his community’s character. University studies at UCLA and California State University, Hayward. Inspired by Kit Salter to engage in the interpretation of cultural landscapes and mentored by Henry Bruman in an exploration of Mexico. Examining postcards to document the changing character of specific places throughout time. Demonstrating to public audiences the relevance of geography.

William Wyckoff, Professor Emeritus, Montana State University, 16 March 2023 (virtual) 

Inspired to pursue geography by captivating professors at California State University, Northridge. Graduate studies at Syracuse University and the influence of Donald Meinig. Research in historical geography. Exploring the American West and creating a field guide. Collaborating with stellar geographers in crafting a world regional geography textbook. Advice for prospective geographers and colleagues.

Brittany Cook, Assistant Professor of Geography, Louisiana State University, 20 March 2023

Studying geography at the University of Mary Washington, University of South Carolina, and University of Kentucky. Study abroad and research in Cyprus in addition to fieldwork in Jerusalem, the Palestinian territories, and Jordan. The circuitous path often taken in carrying out qualitative research and challenges faced in the Middle East. The importance of gaining insight from women geographers. Advice for undergraduates and graduate students.

Steven Graves, Professor of Geography, California State University, Northridge, 12 January 2023 (virtual)

Studying Sovietology at Ohio State University before the end of the Cold War, moving on to Ohio University, discovering geography through the captivating lectures of Hubert Wilhelm, and moving on to Miami University for graduate work before pursuing the PhD at Illinois under the mentorship of John Jakle. Research in the historical geography of rock n’ roll, as well as contemporary landscapes characterized by payday loan vendors and convenience stores. The role of the California Geographical Society in fostering a community of dedicated geography students and faculty.

Peter Hugill, Professor Emeritus, Texas A&M University, 12 January 2023 (virtual)

Studying geography in the UK, Canada, and the US. The task of crafting a doctoral dissertation under the mentorship of both David Sopher and Donald Meinig; the talent of Meinig in the classroom.  Research in historical geography, and its application in understanding contemporary landscapes.

Qian Guo, Associate Professor of Geography, San Francisco State University, 12 January 2023 (virtual) 

Growing up in Beijing and engaging in the study of geography at Beijing Normal University. Pursuing graduate work in the US and being influenced by John Fraser Hart. Contrasts in pedagogy and learning in American and Chinese universities. Advice for prospective geographers.

2022 Conversations

Dydia DeLyser, Associate Professor of Geography, California State University, Fullerton, 16 December 2022 (virtual) 

Studying geography at UCLA and finding the teaching of Tom McKnight and Kit Salter especially captivating. Working at Bodie State Historic Park, the subject of doctoral dissertation research at Syracuse University. Artifacts as elements of cultural landscapes, and the importance of fieldwork in geographical study. Engaging in research for both academics and non-academics, and the importance of making a contribution to society.

Jenny Zorn, Provost and Vice President Emeritus for Academic Affairs, California State University, Bakersfield, 16 December 2022 (virtual) 

Captivated by a professor at a liberal arts college in Florida to study geography. The influence of Title IX and research and teaching devoted to gender. The importance of academic geographers taking positions in higher education leadership, and the role persistence plays in achieving success. 

Debra Sharkey, Professor Emerita, Cosumnes River College, 17 June 2022 (virtual)

Growing up in Oregon, engaging in adventure travel, and discovering geography as an academic discipline. Studying at Central Oregon Community College and UC Davis, and the roles of mentors in the geographical community. Comparisons of the California Geographical Society, the Association of Pacific Coast Geographers, and the American Association of Geographers. Advice for geographers.

Ray Sumner, Professor Emerita, Long Beach City College, 17 June 2022 (virtual)

Growing up in Australia and studying geography in an era when higher education was male-dominated. The influence of Tom McKnight and Joan Clemons in enhancing the future of geography and geographers in California.

Irene Naesse, Professor of Geography, Orange Coast College, 17 June 2022 (virtual)

Studying geography at San Diego State University and the influence of Larry Ford and Barbara Fredrich. The role of the California Geographical Society. The importance of community college geography and advice for prospective students and faculty.

Jennifer Devine, Associate Professor of Geography, Texas State University, 21 February 2022

Growing up in central Washington and studies in Geography at the University of Washington and University of California. Influence of mentors. Fieldwork in Guatemala. Advice for prospective  geographers.

2019 Conversations

Lindsay Naylor, Assistant Professor of Geography, University of Delaware, 19 March 2019

Studies in Geography at the University of Oregon. Research and fieldwork in Chiapas. Advice for prospective geographers.

2018 Conversation

Cadey Korson, Lecturer in Human Geography, Massey University, 7 December 2018

Studies in geography at Grand Rapids Community College, Aquinas College, University of Missouri, and Kent State University. Research in geopolitics and fieldwork in New Caledonia. Advice to students interested in academic careers in geography.

Jonnell Robinson, Assistant Professor of Geography and Director of Community Geography, Syracuse University, 27 March 2018

Graduate study in public health and Geography at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The influence of Don Mitchell at Syracuse University. The origin and nature of community geography.


2017 Conversations

Karen Culcasi, Associate Professor of Geography, West Virginia University, 28 March 2017

Influence of Daniel Gade at the University of Vermont and Mark Monmonier at Syracuse University, as well as the scholarship of Kim England and Alison Mountz. Research in cartography of the Middle East and fieldwork devoted to Syrian women refugees. Comments on the value of mentoring.


2016 Conversations

Maria Fadiman, Associate Professor of Geography, Florida Atlantic University, 11 April 2016

Childhood education in an alternative school focused on the environment. Pursuit of Latin American Studies at Vassar and Tulane. Mentorship of William Doolittle at the University of Texas. Fieldwork devoted to ethnobotany in tropical rainforests.

Jessie Clark, Assistant Professor of Geography, University of Nevada, Reno, 29 February 2016

Growing up in the American West. Influence of Alec Murphy at the University of Oregon and Sallie Marston at the University of Arizona. Ethnographic research in southeastern Turkey with special reference to Kurdish women.  Experiences in fieldwork.  Suggestions for aspiring geographers.


2015 Conversations

Anne Bonds, Assistant Professor of Geography and Urban Studies, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, 26 March, 2015

Influence of Janice Monk and Victoria Lawson. Research on race and incarceration. Suggestions on balancing family obligations and academic obligations.

Courtney Gallaher, Assistant Professor of Geography and Women’s Studies, Northern Illinois University. 25 March 2015

Influence of Antoinette Winkler-Prins as a mentor. Research in Kenya on urban agriculture. Suggestions on raising a family while a young assistant professor.

Marie Price, Professor of Geography and International Affairs, George Washington University, 23 March 2015

Influence of James Parsons and David Robinson. Research in immigration. Collaboration with geographers in the authorship of the world regional geography textbook, Diversity Amid Globalization.

Amanda Colegrove, Coalition Organizer, Coalition Against Trafficking & Exploitation, 24 February, 2015 

Crime Victim Advocacy Center, St. Louis, Missouri
Interest in Geography sparked after returning to school following several years in the work force. Research in Geography devoted to mapping human trafficking in Missouri. Addressing human trafficking issues.


2014 Conversations

Alicia Decker, Assistant Professor of African and Women’s Studies, Purdue University, 18 March 2014

Interest in Africa sparked by a Geography professor at the University of Minnesota. Research in Africa. Reflections on the role of Idi Amin in Uganda.

Caroline Faria, Assistant Professor of Geography, Florida International University, 18 March 2014

Interest in Geography developed in the UK. Travel abroad. Graduate study and research at the University of Washington. Fieldwork in Africa.


2013 Conversations

Yael Aronoff, Associate Professor of International Relations and Michael and Elaine Serling and Friends Chair of Israel Studies, James Madison College, Michigan State University, 21 October 2013

Growing up in Israel. Research on Israeli leaders. The role of Benjamin Netanyahu’s father and brother in his decision-making.

Leon Yacher, Professor of Geography, Southern Connecticut State University, 21 October 2013

Growing up in South America and the United States. Introduced to Geography by Richard Murphy at the University of New Mexico. Research in the history of cartography, the history of geography in Latin America and Central Asia.

Rebecca Sheehan, Associate Professor of Geography, Oklahoma State University, 25 March, 2013

Early childhood in southern Indiana. Following the study of landscape architecture, captivated by the geographic discipline in Texas. Influence of Craig Colten and Dydia DeLyser as mentors. Research on New Orleans.

Jerry Redfern and Karen Coates, Senior Fellows, Brandeis University, 11 March, 2013

Pursuit of journalism studies at University of Montana. Challenges of practicing journalism and photojournalism in Southeast Asia.

2012 Conversations

Kate Swanson, Assistant Professor of Geography, San Diego State University, 29 March 2012

Captivated by Geography as an undergraduate in Canada. Fieldwork in South America. Research on children in the Andes.

2011 Conversation

*Nicholas Kristof, Columnist, New York Times, 26 September 2011

Growing up in Oregon. Influence of father, the political geographer, Ladis Kristof. Importance of writing and traveling abroad. Reporting on human trafficking in Southeast Asia.

*Diversity Conversation Interview