In November, several second year Master of Science students in the Department of Geography shared their research interests and career plans with the Graduate College. Graduate students can choose one of three concentrations: community development and planning; environmental and resource analysis, and geographic information science. Many students choose to combine these concentrations for an interdisciplinary approach.
Students in the program have widely divergent career goals but they have one thing in common: geo-spatial imaging has given them the tools to work in almost any field they choose. Geo-spatial imaging is the science of analyzing imagery from high and low-tech sources, including satellites, remotely piloted vehicles (drones), photographs, and maps, to examine issues such as water quality, health disparities, transportation decisions and business initiatives.
Trenton Benedict wants to avoid a desk job and get out in the field. He found a program in environmental and resource analysis where he can literally get out into the field. His research takes him to Saginaw farm fields, where he uses high technology spectral imaging to track the life cycle of Phragmites, an invasive grass species. Phragmites threatens native cattail species, so Benedict’s research focuses on identifying the best time for eradication by disrupting the reproductive cycle of the weed.
WMU graduate students are using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) imaging and analysis to prepare for research and teaching careers once they have completed a doctoral program. Sam Roodbar’s GIS and human geography specialization led him to research the persistence of locally owned and operated food markets in Dearborn, Michigan. He found that even while global retailers such as Walmart and Costco moved in nearby, small grocery stores stayed in business because they catered to their mostly Muslim customers’ need for halal food. Roodbar won Council Award for Outstanding Graduate Student Paper award at the Association of American Geographers East Lakes Division Conference on October 13. He also recently placed second in the Three Minute Thesis competition at WMU, co-sponsored by the Graduate College and the Graduate Student Association.
Alyson Mabie, whose degree concentration is community development and planning, also has her sights on a Ph.D. so she can obtain a university teaching and research position. One of her research project analyzes how the 2013 designation of “Beer City, USA” expanded the cultural boundaries of Grand Rapids, Michigan. She used mapping and GIS to analyze how breweries outside the central city were affected by the designation. Mabie won the Best Graduate Level Presentation at the Association of American Geographers East Lakes Division Conference. Before she graduates in Spring 2018 she will complete a master’s thesis using GIS to analyze the geospatial distribution of graffiti within the city.
Many students will focus on city or county government planning, like Alex LaPorte, whose concentration is environmental resource and analysis and GIS. Alex is a member of the Kalamazoo County Transportation Authority, a nine-member Board that works to plan, promote, finance and operate public transportation in Kalamazoo County. He plans to work with the state in transportation planning and has focused his research on car-deer collisions in Kalamazoo County. By examining the data on how these collisions correlate with location, land cover, land use, weather, road and traffic information, he is working on reducing car-deer crashes.
Rowan Cole’s career goals involve international travel. His undergraduate major in Russian Studies and experience as a member of the U.S. Marine Corps, along with his specialties in Geographic Environmental Analysis, human geography, and economic geography have served him as he assesses the effectiveness of Russian environmental policies. His research looks at changes in deforestation in the Russian Far East through high resolution imagery, then correlates these changes with climate, precipitation and economic data. He then compares his findings with data from a study published in 2000 to see if forest management policies were effective in bringing positive environmental change.
Environmental concerns are foremost for Danielle Molenaar as well; her Environmental Analysis concentration focuses on water use patterns in the City of Kalamazoo over the past ten years. She has used census data for household income and educational levels cross-referenced with weather and climate data to analyze spatial patterns of water use by homes in the city. Her expertise in analyzing local water use patterns will help her move into a career in urban water management, flood risk management or local governmental water authority.
Students with advanced degrees in geography have excellent employment prospects. Jobs are particularly plentiful in the western United States, where governmental and commercial operations have headquarters and the infrastructure is well-developed. Many obtain private sector employment as consultants. About thirty percent of graduates go on to doctoral programs.
Most graduate students in the geography department have the opportunity to work as teaching assistants because the department houses so many undergraduate level courses. Majors in aviation, anthropology, biological sciences, chemistry, economics, history, political science, public administration, health sciences, engineering, statistics, and business, among others, find that knowledge of GIS gives them a definite edge on the job market. Business is booming and Western Michigan University’s Department of Geography is meeting the needs of today’s graduates and their employers.