WEST PLAINS, Mo. – Members of the American Association of Geographers (AAG) West Lakes Division (WLD) gathered in West Plains Oct. 19-21 for their annual meeting. The event, hosted by Missouri State University-West Plains, featured keynote speakers; plenary, paper and poster sessions; a geography bowl; and a field trip to the North Fork River.
Dr. Rajiv Thakur, economic geographer and assistant professor of geosciences at Missouri State-West Plains, spearheaded the effort to host this annual event. Thakur, who is also the 2016-17 WLD chair, was supported in the effort by university administration, as well as many faculty, staff, students and community members who attended sessions and volunteered their time.
Twenty-one faculty and 28 students from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana and Missouri registered to attend. Other attendees came from Arkansas, New Mexico, California and Washington, D.C. Representing the AAG-WLD leadership at the event were Dr. Susy Ziegler, former WLD chair and associate professor of geography/associate dean of the college of arts and sciences at Northern Michigan University, and Dr. Christopher R. Laingen, WLD secretary/treasurer and associate professor at Eastern Illinois University-Charleston. In addition, Laingen also presented his research titled “The Trouble with Total Cropland.”
Among the local attendees were Missouri State University Board of Governors member Carol Silvey, Missouri State-West Plains Chancellor Drew Bennett, Dean of Academic Affairs Dr. Dennis Lancaster. Several faculty members, including Dr. Kathy Morrison, Dr. Phil Howerton, Ana Estrella, Dr. Edward Birdyshaw, and students attended sessions of interest, and Missouri State-West Plains sophomores Marie Hicks and Michael Wright actively participated in the meeting, Thakur reported. Wright, he added, plans to major in geospatial science at Missouri State University in Springfield.
Highlights of the three-day event included keynote sessions by Dr. Daniel Sui, distinguished professor of geography at Ohio State University and division director for social and economic sciences at the National Science Foundation, and Dr. Julie Cidell, professor of geography at the University of Illinois-Urbana/Champaign and AAG treasurer, on Oct. 20.
Sui was the speaker at the noon keynote session and discussed “Does Geography have its own reproducibility crisis? Thoughts on making geographic research more robust and reliable.” At the evening keynote session, Cidell discussed “Publicly Engaging with Geography.”
The event began with a kick-off reception at the West Plains Civic Center the evening of Oct. 19. Immediately following was a “Jeopardy”-style geography bowl coordinated by Dr. Reuben J. Allen of Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. Six students emerged to represent the AAG-WLD at the World Geography Bowl during the AAG’s annual meeting in April 2018 in New Orleans, Louisiana, where teams from the AAG’s regional divisions will compete in a round-robin tournament.
The students representing WLD at the New Orleans competition include Joel Heilman (winner of the WLD geography bowl), Josh Hess, Joe Nash, Hannah Adams and Kelly Rose, all of whom are students in the Geography, Geology and Planning Department at Missouri State University in Springfield. They will be joined by Chris Pierce, a student at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls.
Dr. Brooks R. Blevins, professor of history at Missouri State University, gave a plenary session titled “Bluecoats, Yellow Dogs, and Red Counties: 180 Years of Politics in the Ozarks,” which was attended by many in the community who found his analysis very insightful, Thakur said.
Blevins was one of several Missouri State faculty who attended and presented at the event. Others included Dr. Robert Pavlowsky, distinguished professor and director of the Ozarks Environmental and Water Resources Institute; Dr. Xin Miao, professor; Dr. Toby Dogwiler, department head; and Dr. Alice (Jill) Black, associate professor. All are from the Geography, Geology and Planning Department.
Pavlowsky gave a plenary address entitled “Climate Change and Increasing Flood Frequency in the Missouri Ozarks” then lead a field trip to the North Fork River Recreation Area off CC Highway west of West Plains that was attended by 23 faculty, staff students and community members. He shared his findings of ongoing projects and reiterated the connections between climate change and stream behavior in the Missouri Ozarks and how the same may affect life here, Thakur said.
Thirteen students from Missouri State’s Geography, Geology and Planning Department, many of whom are graduate students of Pavlowsky who have been working on a number of projects associated with the Ozarks Environmental and Water Resources Institute, presented posters at the event. Rose, Adams and Dylan King placed first, second and third, respectively, in the graduate student poster competition. Madalyn Behlke-Entwisle and Hess placed first and second, respectively, in the undergraduate student poster competition.
NEW AAG-WLD OFFICERS
Dr. John Kelly, assistant professor in the Department of Geography and Earth Science at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, was elected 2017-18 WLD chair during the meeting. Dr. Bingqing Liang, assistant professor in the Department of Geography at the University of Northern Iowa, was selected secretary/treasurer.
Thakur said the event could not have been a success without the support and generous contributions of publishers such as Springer and McGraw Hill. Springer provided cash and books, he noted. In addition, several area motels also supported the event, and he thanked their staffs for their efforts.
The AAG-WLD’s next annual meeting will be held Nov. 1-3, 2018, at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.