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Unique research center established with $4 million gift

Oct. 17, 2005

KALAMAZOO--A multimillion-dollar private gift to Western Michigan University has resulted in the creation of a one-of-a-kind center for the study of geographic change on the University's main campus.

Edwin E. and Mary U. Meader of Kalamazoo contributed $4 million to establish the W.E. Upjohn Center for the Study of Geographical Change, named to honor Mary Meader's grandfather, a pharmaceutical pioneer who began his company in Kalamazoo more than a century ago. The new center, which was formally opened with an Oct. 10 ceremony, is housed in Welborn Hall, which is located at the west entrance to the WMU campus.

The Upjohn Center will make WMU a central resource for preserving the work of past explorers and scientists and for combining their discoveries with the technical capabilities of today's researchers. The facility, the only one of its kind in the world, will use the latest technology to preserve and create enhanced digital versions of maps and aerial photography.

"Ed and Mary are among this University's most generous benefactors, and with this gift, the impact of their generosity will be extended and felt in locations around the nation," said WMU President Judith I. Bailey at the dedication ceremony. "In cartographic terms, the Upjohn Center will put Western Michigan University 'on the map' as a major national and international resource for vital scholarly research."

Using the latest technology available, the new center will preserve and enhance in digital version maps and aerial photography from around the nation, providing an infrastructure for research on geographical change. In many cases, the original paper and photographic versions of these documents are deteriorating and might be lost if not preserved in electronic form, according to Dr. David Dickason, chair of WMU's Department of Geography, who is spearheading the project.

"With the benefits of modern technology," says Dickason, "specifically the Worldwide Web, WMU will be able to make these documents available to literally anyone who wants them--from those conducting scholarly research to private citizens, who are simply interested in family or community history."

Dickason says the center already has attracted the interest of researchers at the University of Texas-Austin and the University of Wisconsin, and he expects to work in partnership with both institutions. He also has been in contact with the U.S. Library of Congress, which is the world's largest repository of maps.

The new Upjohn Center will offer several unique advantages to researchers and the public. Foremost will be unlimited access via the Web. At the same time that maps and aerial photographs are being preserved in digital form, they will be electronically catalogued and cross-referenced, making it possible for the first time to easily search for desired materials.

"With digitization of flat topographical maps, for instance," Dickason says, "we will be able to create three-dimensional computer representations down to a single part of one county in any state in any year in which a map was made. We will begin with our own country, but the ultimate scope of this project is global, and maps never stop changing."

The center will include an e-store, which will offer high-resolution copies of aerial photographs and maps, as well as reference books at a nominal cost. It also will be physically open to the public with a lobby-museum area that features multi-media programs and displays, including some of Mary Meader's landmark aerial photography of South America and Africa.

In 1937, Mary Meader, just 21 at the time, embarked with her then-husband, Richard U. Light, on an unprecedented fly-over of Africa. During the journey, Meader took many of the first-ever aerial photographs of the continent. The historic significance of the flight has been recognized by, among others, the National Air and Space Museum of the Smithsonian Institution.

Mary Meader's work as an explorer was recognized at the Oct. 10 ceremony. Dr. Larry G. Sommers, councillor of the American Geographical Society attended the event and announced Mary Meader's induction as an honorary fellow of the AGS. He also announced that the AGS Fliers' and Explorers' Globe will travel soon to Kalamazoo so that she may add her signature to those of 70 "early heros of exploration and aviation." Other signers include Charles Lindbergh, Amelia Earhart, Sir Edmond Hillary and the Apollo 13 astronauts.

Both Meaders are longtime supporters of WMU, and Edwin E. Meader is a former adjunct professor of geography at the University. The W. H. Upjohn Rotunda, the entrance to WMU's main library, was also named for Mary Meader's father, in recognition of the Meaders' leadership gift to the expansion and complete renovation of that facility in the early 1990s. W.H. Upjohn was an early executive of the Kalamazoo-based Upjohn Co., which is now part of Pfizer Inc. and remains the Kalamazoo area's largest employer.

The library's Meader Rare Books Room was named in honor of the Meaders' continued support of the University Libraries and its rare books collection. Their gift to establish the Upjohn Center is one of the largest individual gifts the University has received.

"I am personally convinced that this contribution to scholarship, research and our global society is one that will grow in value every year," WMU's President Bailey says. "We are honored to undertake this important work at Western Michigan University. It is an effort in perfect keeping with our research mission and one that will build collaboration among scholars in such disciplines as geography, history, political science, environmental studies and the geosciences."

Media contact: Cheryl Roland, (269) 387-8400, cheryl.roland@wmich.edu

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