Geography program earns national excellence award

Contact: Jeanne Baron

Geography students studying.KALAMAZOO, Mich.—The American Association of Geographers has given its 2019 Award for Program Excellence to Western Michigan University's Department of Geography.

WMU earned the award for its Master of Science in geography. The honor was formally presented at an awards luncheon this spring during AAG's annual meeting in Washington, D.C.

Established in 2016, the Award for Program Excellence recognizes geography departments and programs within blended departments that have significantly enhanced the prominence and reputation of geography as a discipline as well as have demonstrated the characteristics of a strong and engaged academic unit. It goes to non-doctoral degree-granting geography programs and annually alternates among programs at the community college, bachelor's and master's level.

"This award is a recognition and affirmation by our peers of the high standards we have set for geography master's programs across the nation," says Dr. Benjamin Ofori-Amoah, chair of WMU's geography department. "The award will help us to recruit additional students and motivate us to continue to be the best geography master's program in the nation."

In this year's award cycle, 10 geography departments were nominated by AAG's nine regional divisions. Five were selected as finalists, and WMU's department earned the award.

Why WMU earned the excellence award

In its citation honoring WMU as this year's winner of the Award for Program Excellence, AAG praised the Department of Geography for the impact its broad range of activities have on educating future geographers and promoting the discipline to the wider world.

Students walking past campus buildings.The organization specifically cited the department's robust research profile, continued broadening of the curriculum, and systematic outreach to K-12 schools and area community colleges. In addition, AAG said it was impressed by the strong financial support the geography department gives its graduate students. This support, which ensures that WMU's students are well-prepared for the future, includes ample opportunities to conduct field research, teach, participate in professional gatherings and network.

"Not only are these graduate students well-resourced, they become successful," AAG wrote in the citation honoring WMU. "The University's graduate students move on to Ph.D. programs, successfully pursue internships, or move into careers with employers in the public sector, such as the United Nations' refugee agency and various state and federal agencies, and the private sector in companies such as AccuWeather and U.S. Cellular."

Why students study geography here

Greg Carlton, an alumnus from Granger, Indiana, says he wanted to pursue his master's degree at WMU because of the geography department's excellent reputation and flexible programs.

Carlton, who graduated from WMU June 29 and focused his studies on community and regional planning, says WMU's geography department is well regarded in the Midwest and he had heard good things about it while an undergraduate student at Ball State University. Plus, he says he was looking for programs that would allow him to combine his background in geography with his interests in regional planning.

"Most planning programs are housed in architecture and engineering departments. What attracted me to WMU's program is the fact that it's part of a geography department," he says. "More and more, planners need geospatial skills to thrive in their professions, and the WMU master's program allowed me to advance my knowledge in this area while I also learned the fundamentals of planning."

Another key feature of the program is what Carlton terms "a plethora" of opportunities for personal and professional development that sets it apart from other master's level programs.

"Just in my short two years in this program, I presented at two conferences, took part in an internship, worked as a teaching assistant and took part in two planning presentations with local officials and community members," he says. "These experiences, which were offered to me through the department, helped me grow academically and professionally."

Now, thanks to his work at WMU, Carlton says he has been accepted into a doctoral program at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro this coming fall.

Department of Geography

At the graduate level, WMU offers a post-baccalaureate certificate in geographic information science as well as a Master of Science in geography with concentrations in community development and planning, environmental and resource analysis, and geographic information science. It also offers majors in tourism and travel and in geography with concentrations in climatology; economic and regional development; environmental analysis and resource management; geographic information science; and urban, regional and environmental planning.

For more information, visit the Department of Geography website site.

American Association of Geographers

AAG is a nonprofit scientific and educational society that contributes to the advancement of geography. Its members come from nearly 100 countries and represent geographers and related professionals who work in the public, private and academic sectors.

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