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Student Experiences

January 13, 2017

Rachel Anderson’s path to and through Geography!

Rachel at National Geographic Headquarters in DC

I have always been internationally-minded, plagued with wanderlust, adventurous- whatever you want to call it. But coming to University of Oregon and finding the Carnegie Global Oregon (CGO), one of the best cohorts of influential and inspiring students at UO, showed me that I was also connected. Shaul Cohen, CGO leader and Geography Professor, and so many famous and influential guest speakers showed me that my actions, my thoughts, my choices and my life path, mattered. Not just is a feel-good sort of way, but in a way that opened my eyes to my own citizenship in an increasingly global community.

Geography examines this connectivity. It is one of the most interdisciplinary, complicated, wholistic fields that exists. Once I realized that Geography was not “Geology” and that it certainly was not just about maps, quite literally, the entire world seemed to open up to me.

By studying Geography, I knew I wouldn’t have to decide on one topic of study for 4 years. I could be inspired by and passionate about EVERY class I took and I could embrace technology, culture, history, and politics simultaneously. It turned out that Geography also challenged me the most of any discipline; I’ve never had to so carefully examine so many different historical, spacial, and cultural factors of a single issue before.

Once you begin looking at the world that way, you wonder how you ever formed opinions without examining all those factors…

One of my most memorable Geography classed at the University of Oregon was “Geography of Inequality” with Professor Cohen. I was only a freshman and the youngest of twelve UO students in the class. Each week, we drove to the Maximum Security Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem, Oregon to learn alongside twelve OSP inmates.  I’m convinced, this “Inside-Out” class is one of the flagship classes we offer at the University of Oregon. I can say wholeheartedly this class changed my life. I walked out of OSP on that last day understanding our Criminal Justice System and the human spirit in a way that would have otherwise taken me a lifetime. I declared Geography as a major a month later.

Since then, I’ve backpacked Western and Central Europe, taught English in Slovakia and here at home in Oregon, studied in South Africa (Mozambique and Swaziland too), conducted my own research on Islamic Feminism, and interned with the Digital Team at National Geographic for 15 weeks in the summer of 2016.

Skyline of Durban, South Africa

Personal relationships have even further illuminated my understanding of identity and interconnectivity. Tutoring a Saudi Arabian mother over dinners of kabsah has given me a counter-narrative to Western media’s portrayal of Islamic women. Hessah taught me that identity is not defined by other’s misunderstanding. Living with a Zulu-speaking Mama and family in a township outside of Durban, South Africa has given me one of the most meaningful relationships of my life. Mourning with Mama the death of her son to police brutality has taught me that identity can sometimes be used against us.

Rachel’s Zulu host family

Living for 4 months in a township just outside of Durban, identity was strikingly at the forefront of my everyday experience. I learned from South African political leaders who encouraged me in my own research surrounding feminine identity and Islamic feminism in South Africa. Interviewing such influential women in the Muslim community here provided me with new insight into the power of place, culture and identity.

In Dokodweni , South Africa

It still amazes me that all of these experiences led me to interning with National Geographic. Working on the Digital Team at National Geographic gave me the opportunity to live out my passions, to surround myself with talent, to obtain geographic mentoring, and to live my childhood dream. In short, I was be honored and ecstatic to receive that position. It still feels surreal that I was able to live out one of my biggest dreams at only 21 years old.

Official NatGeo Interns!

I will never forget my time at National Geographic, the people I was able to meet and the inspiration that I obtained that profoundly changed my research and personal aspirations. If my time at University of Oregon has taught me anything, it’s that dreams are not just for extraordinary people, we all have within us an ability to contribute to the global community. As Ducks, we are lucky to be in of one of the most inspiring and influential communities I’ve ever experienced- a model we will certainly carry with us into the real world and beyond.

The field of Geography is for the student who is okay with the complicated answers. If you are willing to listen, to understand opinions different than your own, to take into account language barriers and historical context than this is the major for you. Being a geographer has made me a global citizen, not a savior, just an observer and an ally who feels comfortable with people from all walks of life. Because of Geography, I feel at home all around the world.

Read some more of her reflections here!

November 16, 2016

Humanitarian mapping event a success!

nov-15_humanitarianmapping3On Tuesday, November 15th, about sixteen undergraduate and graduate geography students crammed into the front of the InfoGraphics Lab to learn about humanitarian mapping. The event began with some socializing over pizza, and then people settled down to their stations on their laptops, crammed around tables with the pizza. Dr. Chris Bone, who organized the session, gave an entertaining overview of, a national organization that provides special projects for students groups to work on. He then guided everyone through the basics of how to essentially digitize structures and how they would be used for projects.

nov-15_humanitarianmapping4The project assigned to us via YouthMappers was for a malaria spraying project in rural Kenya. Students were tasked with focusing on drawing points, lines, and shapes to designate roads, rivers, houses, and more, over aerial imagery brought into via Open Street Map. The data will eventually be used to guide spraying efforts by NGOs in Kenya.
nov-15_humanitarianmapping2Students were excited to begin the project and they learned quickly how to digitize and interpret basic information on the ground. By the time we wrapped up, however, students were beginning to realize that digitizing can be pretty mundane. However, given that it’s week 8, that there has been a lot of anxiety around national events, and that this is all for a good cause, students were eager to say that while it seems boring, the zen of settling in to the digitizing process was actually relaxing and fulfilling.
nov-15_humanitarianmapping1The only real anxiety of the evening was music choice. At last someone mentioned Kenny G. Once we turned that on, we were quickly able to decide on an alternative (The Black Keys).

So! As a result, we intend to offer this activity at least once a term, maybe week 7 or 8, to give students a chance to zen-out and make the world even a slightly better place! If you’re interested, stay tuned for announcements in your classes, the department Facebook page, and the GeoDigest emails that area sent to geography majors.

June 28, 2016

Geography Club visits the HJ Andrews Experimental Forest!

Needing a late in the spring term break, several members of Geography Club packed up and headed for the hills. We visited the HJ Andrews Experimental Forest to receive a brief tour about the kinds of research that happens and to just wander around an old growth forest. While we had high expectations, I think that we were all blown away by how cool the place is.

may 23- group shot









may 23- logs on teh river









The forest is a series of watersheds that have experiments that track the ecological and biophysical changes under different logging regimes. The experiments have been going on for many decades and have contributed significantly to the understanding of how logging impacts different kids of environments.

More recently, with the significant technological advancements in measuring things has expanded in things like carbon monitoring, hyporheic flow (water flowing sub-surface, and under what conditions plants absorb water. The details were amazing. For instance, in the one watershed we visited, we learned it takes three years for water that falls at the top of the hills to make it to the stream at the bottom (maybe 1000 feet).

We also saw the latest and greatest carbon-monitoring equipment that measures how much carbon is released at different heights, helping determine more concretely what types of processes and plants emit carbon. We also saw a field with hundreds of scattered logs of different types that were part of a decades-long study on wood decay.

may 23- walking in the woods








may 23- pink









After our tour, we hiked through the old growth forest. It was quite steep in places, but we had a blast breathing in the scent of the forest, noticing that all the rhododendrons in the woods were pink and the ginormous trees! It was so relaxing.


may 23- group shot 2







We will be making this an annual trip!

may 23- cool tree

2016 Loy, Trussell, and Holzman Awards announced!

The annual Bill Loy Award for Excellence in Cartography is given annually to a deserving graduate or undergraduate geography student at the University of Oregon for maps demonstrating a high proficiency if the application of the principles of cartographic design. Winners receive a $1000 scholarship.

A special thanks goes to Maude Caldwell for funding for this award.

Winners of the 2016 Bill Loy Award for Cartographic Excellence are:

Rudy Omri for his map Chasing Boralis



Christina Shintani for her map Restoring Fish Habitat in the Sandy River Basin 



The 2016 Honorable Mention goes to:

Christina Appleby for her map Potential Stream Rehabilitation on the Lower Long Tom River, Oregon
(Christina asked that we not publish her map because of the nature of its content, but it’s spectacular)


And here are the recipients with Professor Amy Lobben, who announced the awards.







For a list of past recipients of the Low Award, click here.

The 2016 Trussell Family Foundation Scholarship is awarded annually to a Geography student ho has demonstrated high quality work on a project and a commitment to serving the community. The awardee receives a $2000 scholarship. The winner of this year’s Trussell Scholarship is Keene Corbin, for his online story-map entitled Mass incarceration: America’s big problem, and his commitment to issues of ethics and incarceration that have resulted in his engagement with the Inside-Out Program and the Carnegie Global Oregon Ethics Program. Keene also asked that his map not be published due to the sensitive nature of its content.

The 2016 Irwin and Renee Holzman Family Scholarship is given to geography majors  who exhibit academic excellence and who provide outstanding contributions to the department community. Students are nominated on and voted upon by the faculty. Winners each receive a $400 scholarhsip.

This year’s winners are:
Celia Easton-Koehler
Brynn Harrison
Geoffrey Marcus
Dylan Molnar

Congratulations to all of this year’s awardees!

April 14, 2016

Dylan Molnar working in InfoGraphics

I have been fortunate to get the opportunity to work within the department and get to apply the skills learned in class to projects the InfoGraphics Lab is involved with. The best part of my job with the lab is that every day I get to try and solve a new problem. No day is the same. Some days I am performing analyses of mule deer migrations through hunting units and other days I am working on design challenges associated with visualizing the complex relationship between the timing of mule deer migration, experienced snow depth, and maximum snow depth at the current location. Other days I am working on maps for academic research articles or creating exploratory page-pairs of maps of the Colorado Basin. Additionally, I have had the opportunity to work on maps for the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department: Scenic Bikeways. The bikeway maps are fun to work on because they are posted on the web and used by recreationalists, which offers a different audience than most of the other products I assist with in the Lab.I have enjoyed taking the theories and concepts learned in geography classes and directly applying them to this diverse range of projects.



(click on images for a larger versions)


The professional environment in the Lab offers a new area for my development. I am given the freedom to take on work through challenges and given the resources to find new solutions. By having this responsibility, I have gained a confidence in my work that I hope will translate into the ability to succeed in future jobs post graduation. I have been able to gain experience working individually as well as with a team of extremely of talented professionals in the lab. Working with a variety of topics and design challenges have allowed me to gain invaluable experience that has immediately affected not only my schoolwork but also my personal and professional development as I look onto the next chapter in my life.

AOD_Hunting_Impact_JM_AS_200 PaintedHillsFeb3_2016-01

March 15, 2016

Geography Club hosts Science Expo students


Waiting for the students!











On Saturday, March 4th, Geography Club created several displays to highlight the various technologies that geographer use, and the kinds of questions they can ask and answer. This even was part of a lager campus even where visiting middle and high school students, who were entrants into the Mid-Willamette Valley Science Expo, had a couple of hours to look at some labs around campus while their projects were being judged.


Dylan showing the Mercator game while students use the Occulus Prime in the background












We had several displays up. We introduced maps and projections, highlighting the Peter’s Projection and the so-called upside-down map of the world. We then let them run around to various stations we had set up. InflatoGlobe was up and several of the students enjoyed seeing the inside of it and tracing different parts of the world. We also had a Mercator game where you can try and place the shapes of countries over their proper spot. The game is a clever way to highlight the distortion of maps. We had two versions of virtual reality with Google Cardboard and an Occulus Rift. Both of these were quite popular as student got to see tours of the Grand canyon and cities throughout the world. We also had a GIS Station and some footage from the unmanned aerial vehicle that the River Research Group had taken.

Jacob talking a middle school teacher through Occulus Prime's tour of the Grand Canyon.

Jacob talking a middle school teacher through Occulus Prime’s tour of the Grand Canyon.









Watching the the cool AUV footage

Watching the the cool AUV footage














While several of our Geography Club members were a little nervous to work with middle schoolers (!), they did a fantastic job showing them the techniques and ways that geographers can use all these fancy tools to ask real and important questions about the world. We even generated so much interest that one of the visiting students bought one of our T-Shirts! We received great reviews from the students, and several were genuinely interested, realizing that the issues they care about are well-suited to geographical inquiry. We received fabulous feedback from the organizers in the College of Arts & Sciences, who sent along this comment from one of the teachers that was with the group:

The geography lab tour was very engaging. I had a few reluctant learners with me at that, and they were engaged by the VR software.

We’ll take it.


A student using Google Cardboard to tour a city in the Middle East.

A student using Google Cardboard to tour a city in the Middle East.

We're done!

We’re done!









December 1, 2015

Geography runs with the Duck!

Asnov 8- jacob & lauren before the race nov 8- duck warming upa part of Homecoming weekend, members of the Geography Club entered the 2015 Run with the Duck 5K. This was in response to a challenge by Drs Amy Lobben and Katie Meehan, who said that however many Geography Club members finished before them in the race, they would donate money to the club. We had four members turn up on the incredibly rainy Sunday morning. Luckily all four finished before Drs. Lobben and Meehan and the Geography Club won the day! Thanks to Jacob Potterf, Lauren Desordi, Kyle Hendricks, and Maria Havasova for showing up and weathering the weather to support UO Geography!

nov 8- before the race

Waiting in the rain for the race to start! Jacob, Lauren, Leslie (who live-tweeted the event!),her sleeping daughter Ramona, Puddles (the Duck!), and Maria. 



nov 8-run with the duck group shot_edited

The runners in the race! Pardon the random Duck. We kept getting photo-bombed by this adorable young girl,  and we couldn’t post her picture without permission!



October 5, 2015

Brynn Harrison just loves counting pollen!

Brynn is in her final term here at UO Geography. Last year she eagerly said that she thinks counting pollen would be soooo cool. A week or two later, this opportunity came up in Dr. Dan Gavin’s research lab. And the rest, as they say, is history.

pollen processing 1This summer I was given the opportunity to work on sediment cores in Dan Gavin’s Long Term Environmental Change Lab on campus. Throughout the summer I was able to work on a very long core from the Coast Range near Triangle Lake in Oregon. I took samples from the core, dried and weighed them, and then burned and re-weighed those samples. This process, called Loss on Ignition, was used to determine the amount of organic material in those samples.

I have been able to use this experience to conduct research for an undergraduate thesis this fall. Currently, I’m sub-sampling sediment from the core I worked on this summer and preparing to send it to another university for further analysis. This analysis will provide the percentages of organic Carbon and Nitrogen present in these samples, as well as isotopic values of both. A ratio can be calculated using this information, which will then help me determine whether the vegetation was mostly aquatic or terrestrial during the time period and what the general climate looked like over time.

brynn in the lab

Dan Gavin has been awesome to work with. He’s a great adviser and I’ve learned so much over these past few months.

This was an awesome experience that totally solidified what I want to do with my life. I loved working with raw materials and I am looking forward to getting a chance to do fieldwork someday soon. I hope to continue my education at the University of Oregon and end up in the field of paleoclimatology.


pollen processing

50000yr old core