50th Anniversary of the Department of Geography and Planning

September 25th, 2013 Posted in From Our Alumni

Geography 50th Logo ColorAlthough Geography classes had been taught at UT in the College of Arts and Sciences since its formation in 1909 – and in later years in various programs by part time instructors, including within a combined geology and geography department – in September 1963 a standalone Department of Geography was established in the College of Arts and Sciences with one full time geography faculty member Dr. Byron Emery.  The arrival of Dr. William Carlson as the new President of UT in 1958 set the stage for the formation of a geography department due to his related interests and experiences with the discipline.

Courses and majors would increase during the 1960s with the addition of Dr. Donald Lewis and an increased focus in the area of economic geography lead by Dr. Lawrence (Larry) Hoffman.  In the fall of 1970, the Ohio Board of Regents (OBOR) approved the MA Geography program to be offered by the Department.  By 1973 the Department grew to seven full time faculty members as Drs. Basil Collins, Eugene Franckowiak, Robert Basile and William Muraco were also teaching courses in a variety areas with special focus on human, economic and urban geography.

1968 Byron EmeryInto the 1980s those “eternal seven” faculty members would advance department with growth of the BA and MA programs, with several also engaged in university administrative roles and community engagement – a trend that would continue in the subsequent decades.  The MA Geography program has continued to be a major strength of the department and constantly highly ranked nationally with as many as forty students enrolled at one time, and graduating classes reaching ten some years. Various Department and program reviews would result in growth in the areas of focus including expanding to a Department of Geography and Planning and adding specializations in the fields of Geographic Information Systems (GIS), remote sensing, transportation, and the environment.

Growth in majors and students in geography courses grew into the late 1990s at which time the Department also became a member of the American Collegiate Schools of Planning (ACSP).  In 1996, the department was one of three geography graduate programs invited to participate in a major national study on Global Change in Local Places undertaken by the Association of American Geographers.  By the late 1990s with retirements, a number of new faculty members joined the Department with an expansion to ten full time faculty, adding expertise and courses in environmental geography, cultural geography, urban planning and housing, and weather/climate.

Due to a growing interest and expertise in GIS and related research areas, the Department established a lab in the Lake Erie Center in 1998, followed by the creation of the Geographic Information Science and Applied Geographics (GISAG) facility in 2003. Since its formation, the GISAG has secured almost $19 million in external research grand funding to geography faculty and researchers from other departments and colleges at the University, and involving the work of dozens of graduate students supported by federal, state and local agencies, including the National Science Foundation, U.S. Department of Agriculture, NASA, USGS, NRCS, Ohio Department of Transportation, City of Toledo and many others.

Recent years have seen continued expansion of the Department and academic programs with the introduction of the PhD program in Spatially Integrated Social Sciences (SISS) approved by OBOR in 2009.  The SISS PhD program is housed and administered by the Department of Geography and Planning and represents a multidisciplinary effort also involving the Departments of Political Science and Public Administration, Economics, and Sociology and Anthropology  – all within in the College of Languages, Literature and Social Sciences.   By the fall of 2013 the SISS PhD program has grown to a total of 18 students with anticipation of graduation of the first class this academic year.

2010 marked a significant milestone for the Department with a move from the 3rd floor of University Hall, which had been its home for many years, to newly renovated and expanded offices, labs, and classrooms on the 3rd floor of Snyder Memorial.  The Department has continued to deliver quality courses and programs to majors and students taking both geography and planning courses, while offering opportunities for internships, undergraduate and graduate research, community engagement and outreach via classroom experiences and student projects.

Geography Awareness Week 2012 2

Throughout its history the Department has also been engaged in numerous campus planning efforts – as highlighted by the often repeated story of how geography students mapped the footpaths of students crossing Centennial Mall one winter to design the current walkways – and has worked extensively on local community planning for downtown Toledo, Lucas County and various area townships.  Graduates have taken up careers in a range of fields, with many in local agencies including TMACOG, Toledo Port Authority, City of Toledo, TARTA, and regional planning offices.  A number of graduates have also continued onto advanced degrees leading to securing faculty positions at many distinguished universities.  Current faculty have received numerous major grants and awards, such as recognition from the University for their teaching, research and service and been active in various administration roles at the University and College levels, taken leadership responsibilities with regional, national and international professional organizations including the Association of American Geographers.

2006-7gradstudentsPresently, over 80 undergraduate and graduate majors, and hundreds of UT students are served by the ten full time faculty and three support staff in the Department of Geography and Planning. With the continued interest and growth in international issues, geospatial technologies such as remote sensing and GPS, demand for urban and regional planning, and need for an improved global view, the future for the Department and its programs remains strong and positive for another 50 years!

Special events planning during the 2013-2014 academic year for the Department 50th Anniversary include:

Fall 2013 term (selected dates):  Department Colloquium Series, featuring Alumni speakers

October 5th, 2013:  GAP and GTU hosted tail gate event at Snyder Memorial for Toledo vs. Western Michigan Homecoming Game

October 25/26, 2013: hosting 2013 Joint Annual Meeting of East Lakes Division, Association of American Geographers and Canadian Association of Geographers, Ontario Division

November 7th, 2013:  50th Anniversary Alumni Reception

December 6th, 2013: Department Holiday Party

April 8-10, 2014:  Special Panel sessions at the 2014 Annual Meeting of the Association of American Geographers

For more information on these events and other planned activities, alumni, former faculty, current students and friends of the Department are asked to contact the Department Chair, Dr. Patrick Lawrence (patrick.lawrence@utoledo.edu).

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