Geography Faculty Updates
This has been a year of re-learning work-life balance – a common struggle often discussed throughout academia and many other professions. A slightly different lens through which I think about this balance is in co-developing what David Brooks calls résumé virtues and eulogy virtues (The Road to Character, 2015). Last year I reported on the birth of our daughter, Julia, in mid-2018. In my new role and identity as parent, I am experiencing the joy, comprehending the awesome responsibility, and learning the challenges of parenthood and productivity.
This year I worked on 3 different research articles, each at different stages of preparation or peer-review with journals. I have also been working on my next project in developing a national-level survey of older adults and urban transportation mobility. This survey is scheduled to be deployed in 2020. I attended and presented a paper at the American Association of Geographers annual meeting in Washington DC, and attended the American Geographical Society “GEOGRAPHY 2050: Borders and a Borderless World” symposium at Columbia University. I continue to represent the department on the Faculty Senate, and I am now serving as the department’s Graduate Program Director.
It is always enjoyable to work with graduate students and to watch their research projects evolve. This year I celebrate with Jessica Villena Sanchez (PhD student) who successfully defended her dissertation proposal: “Mobility of older adults in Mexico City: A mixed methods approach.” Her research work will help bring greater understanding of the unique and contextual experiences of older adults and urban transportation mobility in a major global South city.
At this time of year when a pause for reflection is taken, I am again grateful for the privilege to work in a department and university that supports and values the pursuit of both résumé virtues and eulogy virtues. And I look forward with great anticipation of what next year brings.
Mike continued his NSF-funded research in Czech Republic, focused on soil erosion, floodplain sedimentation, and agricultural sustainability over centennial timescales. Fieldwork during summer 2019 was conducted in part with colleagues from the Laboratory for Paleoecology and Archaeobotany at University of Southern Bohemia. Laboratory and geospatial analyses from the project have been partially completed and several publications from the work are in progress. Mike co-edited The Physical Geography and Geology of the Driftless Area, published by the Geological Society of America. He was lead author of the chapter “Holocene paleohydrology and paleofloods” in this volume (with co-authors David Leigh and Eric Carson). He published a review of Lake Bonneville: A Scientific Update in the AAG Review of Books. Mike continued serving on the editorial boards of Geomorphology, and the AAG Review of Books. Mike taught field and lecture-based courses including Geography of Soils, Fundamental Geographic Perspectives, Global Environmental Change, and Geography of Europe: Czech Republic.
Andy’s research continues to focus on transportation and urban studies, including four publications this past year on topics such as transit-oriented development in Denver, airports and the aerotropolis concept, public-private partnerships and rail transit infrastructure, and the role of freight transport in city climate action plans. Andy was interviewed numerous times over the last year by local and national media outlets to comment on a range of topics including growth in Denver, historic preservation, toll roads, vehicle fuel economy standards in Colorado, and issues with transit service in Denver. A recent interview by Denver television station KDVR Channel 31 focused on operator shortages, higher fares, and lower ridership for Denver RTD transit service: https://kdvr.com/2019/11/21/rtd-crisis-operator-shortage-high-fares-lower-ridership/
Andy is looking forward to the annual AAG meeting next year which will be held in Denver in conjunction with the 75th anniversary celebration of our department. He is planning two field trips for the meeting, one on rail transit and transit-oriented development and the other will be a bicycle field trip to experience the new bicycle paths and dedicated bike lanes that have been created in central Denver.
The past year has been packed with interesting projects and teaching. Taylor Johaneman (BS ENVI 2019) wrapped up a fabulous thesis project -- Classifying Connectivity to Guide Aquatic Habitat Management in an Arctic Coastal Plain Watershed Experiencing Land-use and Climate Change -- that has now been submitted for publication. Alexandria Vieth (BS ENVI 2018) came back to campus this May to present her PinS research on Sustainability Attitudes of Wine Tourists in the South Island of New Zealand and is plotting strategies to continue her work. Doctoral student Meghan McCarroll and I are ensconced in writing a synthesis and review of Water Literacy research as she continues her research in South Africa
and Denver on the topic. The synergy of these water resource and sustainability projects has been inspiring and has informed my contributions to two exciting educational initiatives. For the first half of the year, I participated with a diverse group on developing the Colorado Statewide Water Education Action Plan. In October, I was invited to take these ideas to a workshop on Earth Education for Sustainable Societies and now have a working group looking at the development of a Water Literacy Framework (Big Ideas and Supporting Concepts) for educators, researchers, and managers.
Teaching this year has kept me busy, but also inspired by the engagement and ideas of students in Colorado’s Rivers, Environmental Systems, Water Resources & Sustainability, and Historical Geology. We worked to get out in the field for several classes, including my favorite field trips to the Phoenix Gold Mine (Colorado’s Rivers), behind the scenes at Denver Museum of Nature and Science, and Dinosaur Ridge (Historical Geology). Over the summer, I was able to get a permit for six days rafting on the main fork of the Salmon River through the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness in Idaho. It was a great way to get off the grid and refresh my love of hydrology, rivers and their management and preservation.
Helen had a busy year teaching her usual range of classes, plus a new first-year seminar focused on health and the environment. Her big project for this year was completing the second edition of An Introduction to the Geography of Health, co-authored with Dr. Peter Anthamatten (University of Colorado—Denver) to be published in December 2019. She has also completed a research project on the use of orals for student assessment. Following a trip to Queenstown, New Zealand for a health geography conference, she has been working on a syllabus for a new interterm trip to New Zealand for next winter break with Dr. Hillary Hamann.
Steve continues to direct GIS activities in the department, including lab maintenance and innovation, teaching classes, academic and career advising, enrollment management, etc. I continue to teach cartography, GIS, Project Management, Geographic Information Analysi,s and then supervise the Capstone Projects. Eight cartography class maps were entered into this year’s Denver GIS Day map contest. I’m happy to report that sophomore Zachary Marshall placed third overall. This year those of us teaching using GIS software committed to migrating to ArcGIS Pro and with the help of several graduate students, that transition is nearing completion. I was awarded a small grant at the beginning of the year to visit the Texas A&M University College of Engineering and learn about their recent unveiling of a new building featuring the latest in classroom technology. Maybe we’ll see some of that in the GIS labs soon? If you know anything about ArcGIS Enterprise, we are in the midst of implementing our own site which is not a trivial task.
The Online MSGISc program keeps chugging along with approximately 50 students. The culminating experience of the MSGISc degree program is the completion of the capstone project. I am always amazed at the depth and diversity of our student’s capstone projects. Two of my favorites this fall:
- Barnes, Taylor. Spatial Analysis of Bird-caused Wildfires, Land Use Land Cover, and Ecoregions in the Contiguous United States; and,
- Cappelucci, Jeff. Development of an Interactive GIS Dashboard for Transportation Energy Analysis
At the Mount Evans Field Station, we have been busy dealing with hazard trees and other general maintenance. We keep chipping away at Lab 4 making it a more usable space, this year placing pavers to “smooth out” the floor. It has been fun taking my own students to the Field Station in winter and summer, snowshoeing and hiking, learning about GPS for field mapping and all the while collecting data. There’s no better place to learn!
Mike continues to enjoy teaching his courses and working with faculty, staff and students in keeping the department strong. This summer, Mike was invited to participate in a University-wide initiative to establish professional development and workload balance guidance for new department chairs, and is currently serving on the Department Chair Advisory Board which reports directly to the provost. He has also agreed to serve as the editor in chief of Denver and the Rocky Mountain West, an e-book to be distributed to attendees of upcoming annual meeting of the American Association of Geographers to be held Denver.
For Mike, 2019 was an exciting year that included two teaching and research trips to South Africa and an unexpected collaboration with the Denver Art Museum on their Claude Monet exhibition.
Mike has visited South Africa seven times since 2016 including co-teaching six field geography class with Dr. Thomas LaVanchy each December and June. The two-week class (Geographies of South Africa) has been especially popular in December when many DU students seek additional coursework or international experiences during their six week interterm break. Of course, the opportunity to explore a culturally diverse and beautiful country during the beginning of the Southern Hemisphere summer is also attractive.
Before both the December 2018 and June 2019 classes, Mike and Thomas collected data with Ph.D. student Meghan McCarroll as part of a project to examine how the 2018 Day Zero Drought impacted residents in Cape Town’s oldest township (Langa). For this research, 500 surveys were distributed to residents in Langa asking them how their lives changed when the city mandated severe water restrictions as reservoir levels declined. The questions also asked residents to characterize their understanding of past drought conditions and climate changes in Southern Africa. This important research has greatly benefited from personal connections that Thomas and Mike have made in Cape Town since teaching the class. For example, each term, DU students are lead through the Langa Township with community leader Chippa Mngangwa who describes the history of apartheid in Cape Town. After repeated visits, Chippa has developed into a friend and is now a valuable research partner on the Langa Project.
Collaborating with numerous colleagues, including those from other disciplines, is a fun part of being a University professor. In 2019, Mike teamed up with the Denver Art Museum for their landmark exhibition on Claude Monet titled “The Truth of Nature”. Instead of a standard museum audio tour, the staff at the Denver Art Museum wanted to used stories from a handful of non-art experts to guide the tour and to create long format podcasts. As such, in early 2019, the Museum contacted Mike regarding the geology and recent climate change history of northern France, where Monet had painted in the 1870s and 1880s. Mike had conducted research in this region in 2000 and 2001 as part of an international effort to define Mediterranean, Desert, and Temperate ecosystems based on morphological plant traits. After several conversations, Mike spent an hour being interviewed by Museum staff at a recording studio in Denver and is featured on the audio recording at the Museum which runs until February 2020.
Kris once again had a very active year teaching within the department. In 2019, he taught eight classes on-campus and two for the online Master's program. These courses included the Our Dynamic Earth physical geography sequence for non-majors, Environmental Systems Hydrology and Landforms, Intro to GIS, Advanced Geographic Statistics, Remote Sensing, and Geographic Information Analysis.
Kris continues to direct the Internship Program, supervising well over a dozen undergraduate and graduate students in Geography and Environmental Science as they seek hands-on work experience that help them get started on their professional careers. He is conducting research on the craft beer industry here in Colorado and will present his findings at the upcoming AAG conference here in Denver this Spring. He will also be guiding conference attendees on several field trips highlighting unique brewing locations around the city.
It has been a great year of learning novel geospatial technologies, exploring new teaching directions and working with community partners.
While on sabbatical leave, I had dedicated time to learn Artificial Intelligence and the applications of AI in geospatial domain. In particular, I worked with graduate students on building smart solutions to predict traffic volume, travel risk levels and commute patterns using massive tracking data. Those solutions will help travelers, planners and practioners make informed decisions.
In Fall 2019, I developed and taught a new upper level course on Web GIS. In this course, students develop skills of building web based mapping applications using both open source and commercial products. Those skills are essential to share geospatial knowledge over the internet. Students from this class built web applications on a variety of topics, such as hazard mapping and communication, historical landmarks in Denver, and so on.
This year, I received a Public Good grant on building a digital urban observatory with citizens. Our team (Dr Paul Sutton, Dr. Guiming Zhang, Corey Martz, and Shannon Jones) will work with an elementary school to explore the best workflow to build such observatory. Students from the fifth grade will become our observers and make contributions to the digital observatory. We are excited to work with our future geographers.
Over the past year, Hanson teamed up with a farmer-based organization to examine farmers’ adaptation to climate change in Ghana. This is part of Hanson’s commitment to enhancing the real-world impact of his long-term community-engaged research with farmers in Ghana. Supported by a Public Good grant from DU’s Center for Community Engagement to advance Scholarship and Learning (CCESL), Hanson and his farmer-based team worked to prioritize the most urgent climate change adaptation needs in semi-arid Ghana. This entailed farmer-led participatory scenario planning workshops and a critical appraisal of different climate adaptation needs, including agriculture water management, seed security, soil nutrient conservation, biological pest control, and timely access to agrometeorological information. From this appraisal, seed security emerged as the most pressing challenge in need of urgent attention. The outcome is a proposed community-based seed bank that will enhance farmer-to-farmer exchanges of locally saved seeds.
For centuries, smallholder farmers in Ghana have managed, selected, multiplied, stored, planted and exchanged local seeds, using their own intergenerational knowledge. Over the past ten years, however, these local practices have been seriously threatened by corporate organizations rolling out hybrid and genetically modified seeds to farmers. The result of hybrid seed intrusion has been poor farm yields, ever-increasing seed insecurity, hunger, and poverty. Local farmers have now developed a greater awareness of the urgency to save and multiply more of their own seeds. The proposed seed bank would be implemented and managed by the farmers themselves, with technical support from relevant government agencies. Farmers have already started multiplying local seeds on a 10-hectare communal farm, together with the construction of a seed storage structure using local materials. The project is likely to support about 5,000 farmers, more than 50% of who are women.
A current graduate student, Michael Madin, played an integral role in conducting a household survey, focus groups, and in-depth interviews associated with the project. A new Ph.D. student, Dinko Hanaan Dinko, is also developing a project to answer questions related to climate change and water security. Hanson is currently submitting proposals to expand this community-based research and train more graduate and undergraduate students.
In addition to supporting DU’s commitment towards the public good, Hanson published four papers based on his long-term participatory research with farmers in Ghana. These papers appeared in Applied Geography; Geoforum; Gender, Place & Culture; and Land Use Policy. Beyond the work in Ghana, he also received an NSF grant for a collaborative study on climate change, smallholder agriculture, and biodiversity conservation in Malawi.
Becky had a very productive year. She served as primary advisor for one PhD student and four MS-GIS students. She developed a new course designed to provide an opportunity for students to apply geospatial data analysis to real-world applications. Students worked as a team to develop the project that required GIS analysis and application development, designed the project work flow and management plan, and implemented a solution. The course successfully piloted a “project-based learning” model for teaching, providing student experience with (and instruction around) approaching, managing, and communicating with real-world clients, in addition to project design.
Becky was invited to participate in the Grand Challenges cohort on Urban Sustainability. The cohort has been awarded $100,000 of internal funding to support 18 months of activity. She was also the lead author of a Knowledge Bridges proposal ($100,000) to enhance sustainability efforts on campus and within the community.
This past year was a busy one for Don Sullivan, teaching his usual classes of Global Environmental Change, Geography of Colorado, Environmental Systems, and the Field Quarter, in addition to the Environmental Sustainability Living and Learning Community seminars. There was good weather, for a change, for the two field trips in Geography of Colorado, including a great trip to the San Luis Valley and southern Colorado. The 2019 Field Quarter was a bit smaller than usual, but the ten students were a great group. They collected sediment cores from both a lake and a wetland on Grand Mesa, and a couple of the students in the class will be doing lab work on the cores in winter. The Baja California field course went very well, if somewhat dampened by a surprising amount of rain, especially in northern Baja California. Those of you who were in the field quarter in the last two years may remember the hellacious road construction between San Felipe and Laguna Chapala. Well, the road work is nearly done—only about 10 km of really bad road this year! This year the class continued a research project begun two years ago by Jess Kenny and Henry Crawford quantifying the amount of trash on the beaches of Baja California. We now have three years of really interesting data, and Jess, Henry and Don will be presenting preliminary results of this work at a meeting this year. Several of the group had the good fortune to witness an Olive Ridleys turtle laying her eggs in a nest near Todos Santos, and even caught the event on video! Finally, this year’s ESLLC group is very motivated and engaged . All of them have really taken to the community engagement part of the program, and three of them have already gotten involved in field and lab work with Don.
I had another fun and exciting year being a geographer. As Steve Martin remarked on the career of being a comedian: ‘But the most amazing thing of all is I get paid for doing this’ (1977 Album ‘Let’s Get Small’). During the past year, I travelled to many places including Canada, Russia, Mongolia, China, England, Mexico, and many of the states. I continue to serve on the board of trustees of the Town of Morrison and on the Board of DRCOG. I am working with two master’s student on community engaged projects with the town of Morrison (Sophie-Min Thomson and Jordan Bretthauer). In my First Year Seminar I had students make a presentation to our State Senator Tammy Story on the topics of ‘A common asset trust’ and ‘Developing a Human and Ecological Wellbeing Forum and Website’. I have volunteered with the National Park Service and related to that, Sophia Duncan and I published a paper on her Honor’s thesis titled: Valuing our National Parks: An ecological economics perspective. I am currently working with two PhD students (Tony Wang on global mapping of economic activity and Josh Baldwin on equity of access to ecosystem services in Denver). I continue to publish in public venues such as the Denver Post (The Value of Nature and the Nature of Value May 2019) because I remain very concerned about the viability and desirability of human civilization over the next hundred years (when Ghandhi was asked what he thought of Western Civilization he repled: ‘That would be a good idea.’).
DRCOG invited me to participate in a ‘Citizen’s Academy’ this year which resulted in my presentation questioning ‘The Growth Imperative’ that seems to possess our local politicians and planners. Colorado’s population is expected to double by 2050 while we will simultaneously climate scientists suggest we will likely have 20% less water in the form of snow pack in the Front Range (I really do not understand how people think that is going to work). Roughly one third (3 billion) of the birds in North America have disappeared due to human activities which suggests we are one third of the way to Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. Climate change, loss of biodiversity, ocean acidification, and land degradation are serious threats to the wellbeing of humanity yet we seem to be much more concerned about Kim Kardashian than we are about our changing environment. We spend 9 billion dollars on Halloween costumes and decorations, which is three times the annual budget of the United States National Park System.
My big goals for the coming year are to familiarize myself with the new developments in ESRI software to provide support for a Human and Ecological Wellbeing (HEW) Forum and Report for the ‘Thinking Beyond GDP beyond Earth Day 2020’ project I will be embarking upon to close out my career (summary below). In addition to developing a 2021 HEW Report and holding a 2021 HEW Forum, I hope to support the establishment (by Earth Day 2021) of a collaborative “Colorado Wellbeing” website (perhaps call it “Colorado WEB”), featuring a brief and reader-friendly daily message/commentary on a specific HEW theme. (Examples of themes: Access to Health Care in Colorado, Health and Climate, Affordable Housing and Homelessness, Food Insecurity and Poverty, Air Quality and Asthma, the Health of Colorado Rivers, Healthy Communities, Affordable Higher Education, the Future of Work in the Digital Age; Soil Conservation and Carbon Farming; etc.) In addition, work collaboratively with Colorado NGOs, government agencies, and other stakeholders to create a consensus Dashboard of key measures to be posted on Colorado WEB. In sum, the Colorado WEB is intended to support the primary goal of the ‘Beyond GDP’ project “to increase over time widespread public awareness of, and commitment to, human and ecological wellbeing in Colorado and beyond.” I hope Colorado WEB will juxtapose growth-oriented, market economy measures with broader measures of human and ecological health and wellbeing to raise private and public consciousness so we can chart a path to a sustainable and desirable future.
Matthew continues to conduct field-based research in Latin America. This past year he made six journeys to various field sites in Guatemala and Nicaragua. On these field investigations he is accompanied by current students, graduates of our program, and faculty from institutions from around the world. We continue to investigate climate change and agriculture in Central America as well as how tourism impacts social and environmental landscapes in Nicaragua. Numerous peer-reviewed publications resulted from this work. Associated with this research, Matthew was invited to participate in two workshops on these themes at the University of Arizona and the University of New Mexico. These workshops explored the ways we can begin to address climate change in Central America’s dry corridor. Matthew is very fortunate to work with graduate students over the past decade or so. Many of them have moved on to wonderful positions: Diego Pons is in his second year of a postdoc at Columbia University; Anna Sveinsdottir is in her first year of a postdoc at University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign; Thomas Lavanchy recently started a faculty position at the University of Oklahoma; Sarah McCall accepted a visiting professor position at CU Denver. A million claps of applause to all of them – they carry their DU experience close to their hearts. Nikolai Alvarado is finishing up his dissertation and applying for tenure track positions at the same time – pressure cooker indeed! And Caitlin Lebeda completed a very creative MA project on the visual history of Estes Park. Matthew and a colleague at the University of Alabama, Mike Steinberg, have had the pleasure of organizing the 50th anniversary meeting of the Conference of Latin American Geographers, which will take place in Guatemala this coming January 2-4. Current and past DU students are presenting papers there, including Shannon Jones, Diego Pons, Espen Haugen, and Nico Earhart.
If you want to get into the field with our team in the coming year, let me know! It will be a pleasure to get you into some of the out of the way places where we do our field research.
Erika Trigoso Rubio
Erika had another busy year, teaching a variety of courses, including general education courses in physical and human geography, a first year seminar, and an honors course in sustainability. She also taught a travel course to Peru where she and her students hiked the Andean trail. Erika continues to devote her time to incorporating the best teaching pedagogy in her classes, using a variety of teaching technologies including streaming video, clickers, 3D visualization and project-based learning.
As the director of the undergraduate geography program, Erika was instrumental in facilitating our Global Masters Scholar program with Lund University in Sweden, having travelled to Lund to meet with their faculty and students. A highlight for Erika was an invitation she received from Lund University to visit a research site north of the Arctic Circle.
As a junior faculty member, I have been exploring ways to improve my teaching. To that end, I participated in the 2019 Summer Course Design Institute offered by the Office of Teaching and Learning, which is a five-day workshop to help with revising existing courses and developing new ones. As for research, I published three journal articles and one book chapter in the past year. My research projects on the topic of volunteered geographic information (VGI) and geospatial data science are funded by two DU internal grants (Faculty Research Fund and Internationalization Grant) and the Microsoft AI for Earth Grant. I am also amazed to see my eight-month old daughter Julie growing up and learning new skills day by day.