Friday, December 23, 2011

Native American Consultation for Environmental Professionals

Note from Dr. Hayes-Boh: Many of our majors end up working in environmental professions, and we teach several courses specifically intended to prepare our students for such careers. Each student should take responsibility, however, to cultivate interests and develop skills that will build both competence and credentials. Membership in organizations such as NAEP or MACC can be part of such preparation, as can carefully-selected courses in mathematics, foreign languages, and other sciences.

The webinar described below is one example of the learning opportunities available.

Native American Consultation for Environmental Professionals
Native American or Tribal consultation is a key element of many types of projects that an environmental professional might encounter.  Federal, state, and private project can all benefit from effective consultation.  Implementing Native American consultation early in the process can identify potential stumbling blocks (or worse) and facilitate a smoother planning process moving forward.
The NAEP Education Research & Science Working Group is organizing an informative webinar to provide background information about the benefits and application of Native American consultation in the planning process, including why it is advisable and how to avoid pitfalls in the consultation process.  NAEP’s goal is to provide members and other environmental professionals in the nation with a good understanding of what is and what is not consultation, as well as how to initiate consultation to the benefit off the full project planning team and public.
Thomas F. King, Ph.D. will lead an informative webinar discussing Native American consultation.  Dr. King will discuss why consultation is advisable with reference both to legal requirements and the practicalities of impact assessment and planning.  He will also outline some of the main issues that often trigger Native American or Tribal consultation, the etiquette surrounding consultation and what is and is not often considered correct consultation from the Native American perspective.  Dr. King will also highlight the common causes of project delays and difficulties associated with Native American consultation.  In addition to Dr. King, this webinar will include perspectives from a Tribal representative when discussing consultation concerns.
Dr. King has spent 45 years working in cultural resource management, historic preservation, and environmental impact assessment.  He is the author of eight textbooks and one tradebook (as of 2010) on cultural resource management through Left Coast Press and Altamira Press, and editor of Wiley-Blackwell's "Companion to Cultural Resource Management" (2011).  Dr. King currently provides consultation assistance to the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Bureau of Reclamation, the Fort Mojave Indian Tribe, and other clients.  Dr. King has also been an active member of the NAEP NEPA Working Group.
Date and Time: Wednesday, January 25, 2012 at 1pm ET (12pm CT, 11am MT, 10am PT)
Duration: Event will last 90 minute
Location: Wherever it is convenient for you
Questions: Please contact Tim Bower at 856-283-7816 or email him at 
Registration Fees:
* NAEP members — $79.00
* NAEP Affiliate Chapter members that are not NAEP members — $98.00
* Non-members (NAEP or Affiliated Chapters) - $109.00 (Save $30—please consider joining to receive the member rate for this and future events)
* Full time Students can participate at a reduced fee of $39.00

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Why Geography?

The film Why Geography? from Cambridge Educational is a 35-minute introduction to the kinds of inquiry that define the integrative discipline of geography. The narrator begins with his own home region in the American Southwest, asking questions about where he is and what is around him. In the process he reveals the analytic power of geography for understanding both human and natural distributions.

Thanks to the Maxwell Library for making this educational video available to the BSU community. Because of copyright restrictions, a BSU login is required to view this film.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Mainha Restaurant

One advantage of studying geography in southeastern Massachusetts is that it is often possible to get a close-up glimpse of another part of the world by visiting restaurants that are operated by and and primarily cater to migrants from many parts of the world. This is particularly true of Brazil, a country whose connections to the region are expanding year by year.

Some students in our Geography of Latin America class learned a bit about the cultural geography of Brazil by visiting  Mainha Restaurant in Avon (on Route 28, adjacent to the northern boundary of Brockton). "Mainha" is a Brazilian term of endearment meaning "Little Mother."

The food was delicious and authentic. Prior experience in the group ranged from none to native, and all enjoyed both the meal and the experience. For anybody curious about Brazilian food, this restaurant is an excellent choice, because the serving staff are fully bilingual and ready to help with any questions. The walls of the restaurant are covered with signs representing many of Brazil's major and minor cities, so we will be bringing a map on the next departmental visit!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

EarthView Schedule Updated

Close to 30,000 students -- mostly in eastern Massachusetts -- have participated directly in the Geography Department's EarthView outreach program since we began it in 2007. We visit schools almost every Friday, with occasional special programs at other times. The spring 2012 schedule is starting to take shape, and is posted on the EarthView blog at

Thursday, December 15, 2011

'Tis the Season

Materials and Methods is one of two courses in our department that is dedicated to preparing future teachers of geography. In the course, students learn how to find and use a wide variety of maps, models, and other tools that can keep learners of all ages engaged in the many aspects of geography. Dr. Domingo also inspires students to develop their own teaching tools, and to teach their classmates how to make and use them.

The last day of the semester featured Kimberly Frisoli's seasonally appropriate contribution: Earthly Ornaments. What seems like a simple craft project is actually much more. It is a lesson in scale; in the adjustments to scale needed in cartography; in projections (none is needed, but that is the point); and in the relative importance of land and water (29/71, respectively, with the majority of land in the Northern Hemisphere). The detailed lesson plan describes several additional lessons to be gleaned from this fun activity. Learners of all kinds benefit from applying these global geography lessons on a very small object.

The ornament project began with some basic materials from a craft store:
Photo: Nicci Petit
It continued with the application of craft and geographic know-how:

Photo: Nicci Petit
Drying is cleverly facilitated by Popsicle sticks.
Photo: Kim Frisoli
 The result is some useful practice in the skills described above, and nifty holiday gifts that themselves can be used for holiday geography lessons!

Photo: Nicci Petit

Photo: Korin Zigler
The department's other undergraduate course for educators is Geographic Frameworks, in which Dr. Hayes-Bohanan helps students to identify educational standards in geography and to find ways to apply them to all kinds of source materials. In addition, the department offers -- in partnership with the Massachusetts Geographic Alliances and its various partners -- a variety of graduate courses and workshops for in-service teachers. See the Globe Art entry on the EarthView blog for description of his own hand-on geography project.

Global Break

Although final exams are still to be given and received, the end of the last day of classes gave a few geography students -- along with one alum, a couple professors, and the library's geography liaison -- a chance for a brief respite and repast. Of course, we could not go long without our globes, so we brought a few along!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Let Them Eat Cake

Students in GEOG 490: Seminar in Geography did not know that today was Picture Day, but they were good sports, since they also did not know that it would be Cake Day. A few meridional segments remain, in the Global Education Center (room 272).

Polus Center Guests

The Geography Department is hosting two very special guests who will be visiting BSU this Wednesday, December 14.

Michael Lundquist Michael holds a CAGS in education from BSU (then BSC), and has made several campus visits, including one supported by a social entrepreneurship secured by the Maxwell Library. He has also supported our Geography of Coffee study tour in Nicaragua, most notably by introducing us to projects in which coffeeland landmine victims develop their own communities, through a clinic, a wheelchair factory, and a cafe. He is also the Executive Director of the Polus Center for Social and Economic Development, based in Massachusetts but serving communities both locally and throughout the world. (

The Center's newest project is the Coffeelands World Gifts Espresso Cafe in Clinton, Massachusetts. This is both a storefront and online store ( that employs universal design and provides an outlet for fairly and directly traded products from throughout the world, mostly in coffeelands. It also provides employment opportunities for people in and near Clinton who have disabilities.

I encourage you to spend a minute browsing the web sites above to see some of the many ways in which the Polus Center is helping communities to develop their own capacity to address what are often dire needs. Aside from compassion, the theme that unites all of the work of the Polus Center is deep listening to help communities identify their own most important needs. Michael's presentation on Wednesday will focus on just such a fact-finding mission, examining the provision of health care among spatially dispersed riverfront communities in Amazonas, Peru.

Michael will be accompanied by renowned Massachusetts artist Gregory Stone (, whose many works include the Polus Center cafe projects in both Clinton and Leon, Nicaragua. Greg will be here as part of the process of deciding on educational public art for the Science and Mathematics Building.

Both Michael and Greg will be available in the Global Education conference room (#272) on the second floor of the new Science and Mathematics Building, from 11:30-1:30. Feel free to drop in for any part of that time for casual conversation about their work. Light refreshments will be available.

Michael's more formal presentation about his recent visit to Peru will follow at 1:50 in the Science & Math Lecture Hall, room 122.

Geography on Dan Rea Program

A few weeks ago, Professors Domingo and Hayes-Bohanan took their traveling geography-education road show on the air nationwide, as guests on Nightside with Dan Rea. An entire hour of the four-hour call-in program -- which originates at WBZ in Boston but airs in 38 states -- was dedicated to the need to return geography to a place of primacy in education at all levels. All of the station's call-in lines were lit up throughout the program, as callers shared their fondness for learning geography and their alarm at its removal from many schools.

Many thanks to Dan Rea and his producers for inviting geographers into the studio, and for archiving the program on the WBZ site, where it can still be heard. This broadcast has started a lot of conversations!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Faculty and Alumna on Bridgewater Television

Dr. Jabbar al-Obaidi of Bridgewater State University is host of the Bridgewater Television 9 program InFocus. Recently, he hosted BSU geography professors Vernon Domingo and James Hayes-Bohanan, along with BSU geography alumna ('07) Laura Howard for a half-hour discussion of the importance of geography education, particularly in Massachusetts.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Geography Jobs -- Sooner and Later

Matt Rosenberg, our friend at, has two posted two new articles about working as a geographer. Geographer is a Hot Job reports on the growth in jobs with the actual title of geographer, many of which are federal-government jobs. As students in our senior seminar know, most geographers work under other titles, as Rosenberg also discusses. The AAG Careers page provides more information about what is available for geographers.

Geographers do have to work a bit harder at finding their niche, as reflected in slightly above-average unemployment rates compared to other disciplines. It is partly for this reason that the faculty in BSU's geography department work so hard at promoting the identity of geographers -- the best-kept secret in the job market.

When I worked in the private sector I asked my managers to use the Geographer title in combination with the established titles, so that I was once known as "Geographer and Assistant Regulatory Analyst."

Matt Rosenberg also offers a short-term proposition to employ geographers. Unpaid internships with can earn academic credit while helping a geographer to hone skills very important to our discipline: writing, being part of a team, and integrative thinking. More over, this job can be done at home in one's jammies, with no need to buy gas for the commute! Contact Matt for the position and me (Dr. Hayes-Boh) regarding the credit.

Minutes after I posted this, Patric Anjos shared a photo he took at the end of our seminar class last week. It shows the results of our brainstorming about jobs for which a geographic education would be good preparation.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


As National Geographic VP Daniel Edelson tells the ESRI community, Geography Awareness Week is an opportunity for geospatial professionals to serve their communities and share their enthusiasm for geography.

Writing for the Fall issue of ArcNEWS, Edelson describes a number of ways that geographers can demonstrate the value of our discipline, and provides links to further information about the week.

Geographers -- including department alumni and students -- can get directly involved by volunteering as judges for the umpteenth annual Geography Fair, taking place Saturday morning, November 19, in the Burnell School building on the BSU campus. Contact Dr. Domingo for directions on being part of the team.

It is also a good time for geographers to contact state and federal representatives about the need for geography education. Legislation is pending at both levels -- read the MGA blog for the latest information on how to have an impact.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Satire and Myths of New World Identity

From Epic to Satire: Early Peruvian Viceregal Contradictions and New American Subjectivities

The Latin American and Caribbean Studies Program
Presents Distinguished Speaker

From "Columbus Day Sales" to Pirates of the Caribbean, the Western cultural imaginary just can't stop purveying stale myths about "Old World" vs. "New World" identities and interactions! Come hear Dr. Pedro Lasarte of Boston University shatter paradigms and keep it both real and complex in his talk.

Monday Nov. 21, 4:30
Heritage Room, Maxwell Library

Lecture followed by discussion 
Gourmet Refreshments will be served
Sponsored by the Latin American and Caribbean Studies Program, the U.S. Ethnic Studies Program, and the Center for International Engagement

For more information, contact Dr. Leora Lev (LACS) or Dr. Hayes-Bohanan (Geography)

Monday, October 31, 2011

Middle East Program: Geography Education

The BSU Center for Middle Eastern Studies (CMES) is joining the Geography Department's efforts to promote geography education at the primary and secondary levels in Massachusetts.

The Center has hosted a number of campus visitors from various countries in the Middle East, and they are generally astonished by the lack of geographic insight among otherwise well-educated people they meet in the United States. The CMES faculty understands, as geographer Harm de Blij has stated, that ignorance of geography is a threat not only to the national security of the United States, but also the well-being of the planet as a whole.

For these reasons, CMES is sponsoring a Geography Education on Monday, November 7. The details:

Why we need to know more about the world: the geography bill in the Massachusetts legislature
Professors James Hayes-Bohanan and Vernon Domingo, Geography Department, BSU.
Monday, Nov 7 at 12:20pm
Campus Center, Small Ballroom
The event is open to the public. Please invite your classes.

Later that same day: On the evening of November 7, tune in to AM1030, WBZ radio from 10-11 pm, when Professors Domingo and Hayes-Bohanan will discuss the same topic on Dan Rae's Nightside, a nationally broadcast radio program. Feel free to call the program that evening at (617) 254-1030.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Environment and Trade in Central America: Lectures Oct 24

Julio Sanchez is a researcher at the Humboldt Center in Managua, Nicaragua, who is currently studying the introduction of genetically modified organisms through U.S. food aid into Nicaragua. Mr. Sanchez is the featured speaker in the Witness for Peace fall speaking tour, and will be appearing at Bridgewater State University on Monday, October 24.

At 1:50-3:05, Mr. Sanchez will be a guest speaker in James Hayes-Bohanan's Geography of Latin America class, which is being held in thelecture hall of the new Science & Mathematics Center for this occasion. Enter the building from the Chapel Lot side (the only available entrance), walk down the long, glass hallway, and the lecture hall will be to your right in the main lobby area.

At 5:00, members of the Social Justice League -- which is sponsoring his visit -- will be meeting with Julio Sanchez -- and the rest of the Witness for Peace tour team -- in the Bear's Den (formerly known as Commuter Cafeteria) in the basement of the Rondelau Campus Center. This is a chance to meet the team informally -- community members are welcome to bring along their own dinner or buy dinner at the cafe.

The main event will be at 6:00, when Mr. Sanchez will make a presentation at the Moakley Auditorium, regarding his work at the Humboldt Center. His presentation will trace the connections among trade policy (especially CAFTA), the introduction of food aid, and environmental consequences, particularly related to genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

Details and background:
Facebook Event page with details of Julio's visit
Fall Tour Page with more information about Julio's work
Witness for Peace New England with information on the organization

This event is co-sponsored by La Sociedad Latina, Students for Sustainability, and the Sociology Department.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Natural Resources Internship -- Concord

The Natural Resources Division of the Town of Concord's Planning and Land Management office is seeking an intern. Deadline is October 27. Pay is up to $10/hour. See details, including application form.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Science Building Changes

Many thanks to Dr. Chifuru "Chief" Noda in the Department of Chemistry for documenting some of the dramatic changes taking place during the transformation of the Conant Science Building into the Conant Center for Science and Mathematics. Dr. Noda recently shared the October 6 video above, along with two videos (first and second) taken October 7.

Update October 12: Chief has created his own page with more photos of the ongoing transformation of the Conant Center for Science & Mathematics; bookmark it to see further progress.

The demolition in the midst of an active campus requires great care and planning -- and the cooperation of curious passersby who must resist the temptation to get even closer. The spraying hoses you see in some of the footage are to keep dust down; that work requires great skill, as the workers must be very close to the giant claw, essentially under it, but not too close.

Those looking at satellite imagery on services such as Google Maps often experience the illusion that the imagery is current. The satellite imagery found on Google Maps today (October 9, 2011) is a good example of the time lag, which can sometimes be several years. In this case, the image seems to be from about a year ago, when the 1964 wings of the building were still in use and the new wings (to the north) still under construction. The offices for the Department of Geography are found today in a wing that is still shown as vegetation in on the Google image.

Below are some more of Dr. Noda's photos, at various stages of construction and destruction -- first some panoramas and then some straight shots. Click any image to enlarge.
Panorama -- view of 1964 wing from new wing -- September 8, 2011
(Note: The building was not actually curvy!)
Same view, October 6
Same view, October 7
Main wing, May 2010
Foundation, May 2010
Foundation, May 2010. That curved area is an indoor planting area
that is now under the main stairwell.

Geologists posing in front of Park Avenue side,
just as the serious demolition had begun on the NE corner.
October 2011 -- view from the far end of the new wing; Kelly Gym to the left,
Campus Center in distance; rubble of 1964 main wing in center.
The future building, as depicted on the
Facilities Management web page, which has many
more project details and photos.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Cookies for Future Teachers --

BSU-STREAMS and Dean Goldstein are sponsoring a gathering for students interested in science or math teaching careers (this includes geography!) on Tuesday, Oct 11 from 3:00-4:00 in the 3rd floor common area.  Please announce this in your classes.  Flyers should be going up soon and coming to you through email as well.
The meeting is informal.  The goals are to let new, less experienced students talk a bit with more senior students and faculty about the classes required for teaching certification, what teaching careers are lilke, etc.
There will be coffee and cookies!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Hurricane Irene

Yesterday's earthquake was a minor affair in Bridgewater. Geography alum Phil Klotzbach suggests we keep an eye on Irene.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Mass DEP Internships

The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection recently contacted the BSU Office of Career Services to remind our campus community that DEP has a number of internships available in all regions of the state. Geographers are imminently qualified for many of these opportunities. Have a look at the "Available Internships" link on the DEP Internship web page to see what might be a good fit for you. Then contact any geography professor and the Career Services office for next steps. It is best to finalize internship arrangements within the add/drop period of each semester.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Dedham GIS Internship for Fall

Duties and Responsibilities:
Assists the GIS Manager and Town staff in a variety of GIS related projects.  The GIS Intern will be responsible for data creation and maintenance, spatial analysis and cartographic production.  Other duties include GPS field work and other tasks as they relate to the general administration of the Engineering Department.

The successful candidate will work under the general direction of the GIS Manager.  Employee is expected to have some measure of initiative and independence in solving problems and performing assigned duties. 


Education and Experience

Must be a candidate to receive a Bachelor’s Degree in Geography, GIS, or a closely related field.  Previous related work experience is a plus.

Knowledge, Ability and Skill
Must be proficient with ArcGIS Desktop 9.x/10 and Microsoft Office.  Experience with GPS technology is preferred.   Knowledge of VBA, Python or other scripting language is a plus.  Valid Massachusetts’s motor vehicle operator’s license required.

SALARY:               $15.00  per hour.
HOURS:                20hr/wk year round available.

Please send resume and copy of latest available transcript to:
Leon Scott, GIS Manager                                                         
Town of Dedham                             
Department of Infrastructure Engineering   
55 River Street                               
Dedham, Massachusetts 02026                

lscott  AT  dedham-ma DOT gov                
phone: (781) 751-9390 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting            (781) 751-9390      end_of_the_skype_highlighting                      
fax: (781) 751-9359                        

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Nicaragua Development Job

From Dr. Hayes-Bohanan: I recently received this job announcement from a Nicaragua listserv. The deadline is soon and the job requirements are very specific, so finding the right applicant through this post is not very likely. I decided to share it, however, as the kind of opportunity for which a geographic education may be quite suitable. Even though the description does not list geography as a qualifying discipline, many of the responsibilities and characteristics listed are those of geographers! 

Note the need for foreign language skills. Although BSU does not require a foreign language (at the moment), languages are required for many of the careers to which geographers are best suited.

Food for the Hungry (FH, is a Christian International Development Organization with presence in Nicaragua since 1994.  FH is expanding its short-term teams program and is recruiting for the following position:
Assistant Teams Coordinator – This individual will support the Teams Coordinator in all aspects of the administration and implementation of the short-term teams program in Nicaragua.  
Primary Responsibilities:
·         Help in the identification and execution of projects that support the on-going work of the organization in the communities of Chinandega and Somotillo.
·         Organize and implement all the logistics related to team visits.
·         Share the vision, mission, and values of the organization with each team and helping them understand how they can support the on-going transformation process in the communities where they serve.
·         Facilitate the development of just and mutually respectful relationships between team and community members.  
This position requires an individual with the following characteristics:
·         A desire to serve and transform vulnerable communities in Nicaragua.
·         Good understanding of the context and culture of both Nicaragua and the United States.
·         Bilingual in English and Spanish (oral and written).
·         Highly responsible and detail oriented.
·         BA/BS in business administration, international development, or similar field,

Send resume and cover letter explain your interest in the position to by August 19, 2011.  After this date we will conduct interviews with the top candidates. 

Monday, May 23, 2011

Finding Geography Programs

We encourage our geography majors to pursue graduate education in the field. From Matt Rosenberg's Selecting a Geography Program article we learned of a handy resource for finding such programs worldwide. Austrian Professor Klaus Förster maintains a searchable database of hundreds of programs in several dozen countries.

Happy browsing!

Friday, May 6, 2011

Financial Support for Unpaid Internships

The BSU Foundation has generously provided funding to assist students in completing unpaid credit bearing internships.  Three awards of $2,000 each are available to qualifying juniors and seniors in the College of Science and Mathematics who secure and complete their internships during summer or fall 2011. Click here for full details, including deadlines and application packet.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Town of Chatham GIS Internship

Provided by Dr. Hellstrom:

Summer/Fall Semester 2011

Internship Contacts:    Paul Lagg, GIS Coordinator, Town of Chatham
                                    549 Main Street Chatham, MA 02633
(508) 945-5168

Internship Summary:
The major focus of this internship will be to evaluate and improve the organizational structure of Chatham’s GIS database. Intern will be required to submit a plan to re-organize the current database to improve ease of use, streamline workflow and increase data sharing among town staff. Intern will then implement plan with the assistance/supervision of the GIS Coordinator. In addition, the internship will involve the following duties:

  • Create/edit new and existing data layers
  • Create “meta data” for new/existing data layers
  • Fieldwork utilizing Trimble GPS and Tablet PC (training will be provided)
  • Scan/link documents to GIS using web-based document manager software

Candidate must possess a strong working knowledge of ArcGIS Desktop 9.x and/or ArcMap10, ArcCatalog, ArcToolbox and Microsoft Excel. Internship will require both fieldwork and office work.

Note: This is an unpaid internship. However, successful candidates will gain exposure to a wide range of land management issues including coastal resources management, infrastructure maintenance, planning and zoning. Candidate will also gain exposure to a plethora of data types and software used in the professional sphere of GIS these include: shapefiles, geodatabases, aerial photography, site plans and other relational databases. ArcGIS, Terrasync, Pathfinder Office, PeopleForms and MapsOnline.

This internship is geared toward candidates with a strong interest in pursuing a career in GIS/Land Use Management. All work performed will be expected to meet a high degree of accuracy. 

Friday, April 22, 2011

Mekong Update

Dr. Domingo is spending his sabbatical studying and teaching about water privatization in Malaysia. He recently sent this photograph following a lecture he gave on the subject in the geography department at the University of Malaya.
As those who know Dr. Domingo will expect, he has not been spending all of his time in conference rooms! The series of photos below, in fact, were taken during a four-day excursion in Vietnam's Mekong Delta, a side trip he took "while in the neighborhood." These photos bear out his claim that the Mekong is a "geographer's delight!" He also explored Ho Chi Min City (Saigon) -- describing it as an incredible place of very high energy where he spent many hours on the back of a motorbike taxi (Xe Om).

Click any of the photos below to enlarge; we look forward to hearing the stories behind them when Dr. Domingo returns!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Food, Inc. Thursday Evening

BSU student Diana Ramos is president of Students for Ethical Eating, which was recently renamed Students for Sustainability to reflect its broader scope. Diana is guest blogger for this article about an important that should be of interest to geographers. For more on the connections between food and geography, see my Geography of Food web page.

Students for Sustainability will be showing the film Food, Inc. at 6pm on Thursday 4/21 at Bridgewater State University in the Rondileau Campus Center room 208. The film is a look at the industrialization of our food and the impacts it has had on humans, animals, and the environment. Here is just a small glimpse into what the film covers:

Mashed Potatoes. Think of the last time you have eaten them. Maybe this week, last month, or perhaps they are mostly just a Thanksgiving staple for you. But such a seemingly simple dish, just with its basic 4 ingredients being potatoes, milk, butter, and salt, is very complex. It is most likely you didn’t dig the potatoes out of the ground yourself, nor milked a cow, nor churned the butter, nor gathered the salt. In fact you may have not even cooked it yourself. Thanks to the industrialization of the food system, food is more convenient than ever. Now we have instant mashed potatoes where you simply add water, or better yet the Kentucky Fried Chicken down the road has some already made and at an appealing price for your convenience.

But if it is so easy and cheap now to get our food, what happens before the attendant at the drive through window passes along the branded paper bag? This is the story that the documentary Food, Inc. aims to reveal. While we used to get our milk in glass jars from the dairy man and the milk was produced by a dairy farmer we knew with a dozen or so grass grazing cows that lived not so far away, now we get our milk from giant food superstores where they come from factory farms with hundreds of corn, soy, antibiotic, and hormone fed cows, that are hundreds if not over a thousand miles away. The industrialization of our food has led to an illusion of choice over what we eat when in essence they are really just different manifestations of corn, soy, and wheat. As the American diet has changed to take advantage of this convenience of pre-made food, so too has the American gut grown. Poor diet related illnesses such as diabetes have also  grown. This is issue is exacerbated in communities that are “food deserts” where all that is available is convenience and highly process foods.

Above is a map showing the percentage of households by county with limited access to supermarkets (source: LAist) ; below that is a map of diabetes rate per capita by county (source: PotatoPro).

 But human health isn’t the only thing at stake, so is the health of our environment. The chemical fertilizers and pesticides used on farms today degrade soil quality, which leads to a vicious cycle of putting more chemical fertilizer to make up for the loss. But these chemicals don’t just stay in the ground, when it rains, they flow with the water to whatever streams of rivers are near. One of the best known examples of the effects is the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico (source: USDA Amber Waves). In this zone (which is about the size of New Jersey), the run-off of large agribusiness farms has dumped nitrogen (the main base of fertilizers)  into the rivers that flow to the gulf which has lead to depletion of oxygen to the point where aquatic life can’t be supported.

But there is much more to the story. If you want to find out more about the hidden face of industrialized food systems, join Students for Sustainability this Thursday. Mashed potatoes will never seem the same again.

~~ Diana Ramos

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

What Geographers Do ... and Make

In the 1989 film Dead Poets Society, the Robin Williams character says:
… medicine, law, business, engineering: these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.
Geographers have the good fortune of being able to pursue both a livelihood and a life within their chosen field. The Association of American Geographers (AAG) has identified 90 occupations that require geographic skills, and has compiled salary and employment data for each.

Employment and salaries in many categories remain remarkably strong, especially given the very difficult economy of the past few years. Our recent anecdotal experience suggests that graduate-school -- a common refuge during recessions -- is becoming much more competitive. And although jobs in any field are more difficult to find than in the recent past, geospatial skills (i.e., GIS) remain in high demand.

Salaries and employment trends are probably not valid as primary reasons to choose an academic path. But it is good to know that the study of geography can offer both personal and professional rewards.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Geography Visibility

State legislators, tourists, and Boston Globe readers had an opportunity to learn about the importance of geography last week, as the department's EarthView was displayed in the State House for the second time. Read about it on the EarthView blog, and stay tuned for more about geography education in the Commonwealth.

Domingo Update

Members and friends of the Geography Department will be pleased -- but not surprised -- to know that Dr. Domingo is busily applying his knowledge of and enthusiasm for geography while on sabbatical in Malaysia. While living in Melaka and continuing his work on access to water at the University of Malaya, he took a short trip to Cambodia. There he visited the famous Angkor Wat and -- more importantly -- spent some time with Dr. Kevin Curry, our colleague from the Biology Department, on his projects providing clean water in small villages.

Writing to us just today, Dr. Domingo shared his impression that: 
"...people you meet even casually, know more about the the people and places that make up our world than the average American does. Purposeful travel is important but without the full inclusion of geography in the school curriculum, the U.S. will never be able to close the geographic literacy gap. Where else but in the geography curriculum will students learn about the monsoons, the diffusion of Hinduism and Buddhism, the role of the trading in the Straits of Melaka, the dynamism of the city-state of Singapore, and of course the economic emergence of China?"
 He also shared a few photographs (click to enlarge):

With Dr. Curry in Cambodia
Dr. Curry demonstrating water filter
A good geographer always notices the
local transportation.

Dr. Domingo with geography graduate students,
University of Malaya

Dr. Domingo is out-standing in his field!
(a rice padi, that is!)