Letter from the Chair
Welcome to the Department of Geography at the University of South Carolina! In these pages, you can learn more about who we are and what we do as researchers and educators. As a starter, though, let me give you a quick overview of our department’s mission and the ways that we promote undergraduate education, train and mentor graduate students, and contribute to our larger academic, professional and civic communities.
Department Mission. Our mission as individuals and as members of a collective body of scholars is to contribute to the creation of new geographic knowledge, and to apply that knowledge in the education of our students and in service to resolving social and environmental issues. We do so by being productive researchers, effective and engaged educators, and active citizens within our larger academic, professional and civic communities. A strong department is built on the strengths of its individual members, and we excel because of the quality and dedication of our faculty, students and staff. At the same time, we maintain a professional yet vibrant and collegial atmosphere that supports the diverse needs of our many members.
Fostering Undergraduate Education: We share our College’s and University’s commitment to excellence in teaching and to providing students with the knowledge, skills, and values necessary for success in life and responsible citizenship. The Geography Department serves an important role in undergraduate education at USC, through both the training of students in our majors and minors, and through our participation in university general education. We also contribute to the success of interdisciplinary majors across the college, such as those offered by the Environment & Sustainability Program and the Marine Science Program. Our commitment to high quality undergraduate education is reflected in the many national and university-wide teaching and advising awards that our faculty members have won, including the Higher Education Distinguished Teaching Award from the National Council for Geographic Education, the Michael J. Mungo Undergraduate Teaching Award, and the Ada Thomas Outstanding Faculty Advisor Award.
We also seek to provide opportunities for students to more fully integrate learning within and beyond the classroom though programs such as USC Connect and Study Abroad, providing greater exposure to research-oriented activities that build student knowledge, training and experience, and creating more experiences for honors and advanced students interested in geography. Our faculty members involve undergraduates in research projects that give them broader experiences in conducting and presenting research, and our students are regularly successful at gaining funding to support their own research interests through the Magellan Scholars program. Our internship program is another important asset to students’ overall educational experiences, helping them confirm their career interests, providing hands-on experience in a professional setting, and reinforcing what students have learned in class.
Developing Outstanding Graduate Students: Graduate students are the raw material of a successful geography department. They are junior colleagues who we train to become award-winning graduates serving in geographic positions in government, industry, business, and academia. We include them in our research and teaching activities not for our convenience but rather as a vital part of their training. The graduate experience in geography is USC is built upon our internationally-recognized faculty and first-rate facilities, both of which have contributed to our department being identified among the top geography departments in the nation by the National Research Council. Our students have been successful at publishing and getting grants and fellowships, both externally (through NSF’s Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement and Graduate Research Fellowship Programs, for example) and internally (through the Dean’s Dissertation Fellowship Program and the Vice President for Research’s SPARC Graduate Fellowships). As a result, we produce excellent graduate students who are readily employed after graduation.
To paraphrase the old adage that "It takes a village to raise a child," we believe that ‘It takes a department to raise a graduate student.’ We encourage students to work closely not only with their advisor but with other members of our faculty, often on topics that are of cross-cutting interest. We maintain not only long-respected research institutes and centers associated with hazards and GIScience, but also those in newly emerging departmental strengths. For example, the Geography Department boasts the largest concentration of faculty on campus with expertise in sustainability, development, and human adaptation to environmental change. We also host laboratories devoted to research on topics as diverse as beach and dune geomorphology to development and humanitarian assistance in the Global South, and we’re home to the Center for Excellence in Geographic Education and the South Carolina Geographic Alliance, whose primary goal is to bring the concepts and methodology of modern geography to the K-12 classroom by providing high-quality, low cost, professional development opportunities and materials for South Carolina educators. While we still emphasize that graduate students should gain expertise in their primary disciplinary areas, our collaborative approach to graduate training is one of the things that sets us apart from many other top-rated programs.
Building Faculty Excellence and Engagement: Our faculty members are widely recognized as leaders in their fields. We define ourselves for our own purposes and for communicating to the world outside the department by defining the programs within which we operate, and our primary departmental programs reflect our individual and collective interests. The department includes internationally-recognized senior and mid-career faculty who have recently received prestigious research awards from the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Fulbright Program, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (among others) while also serving on National Research Council committees and NSF Senior Advisory Panels. We’ve been highly successful at recruiting a diverse, dynamic and highly-qualified body of young scholars over the last decade whose research is at the cutting edge of the physical and social sciences. Our faculty includes a former AAG president, the editors of numerous journals, and members of many influential boards, panels and committees within and outside of the discipline of geography.
Despite having well-established core areas of expertise, many of us are also broadly-based and interdisciplinary by nature. We bring an evolving set of skills and interests to the intertwined pursuits of teaching, research and service. Our faculty work across disciplines in the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences, and a number of us serve vital teaching and service roles in USC programs and institutes outside geography. The success of the Environment and Sustainability Program and the Walker Institute of International and Area Studies, for example, are in part a direct result of commitments made by our faculty.
While ‘space’ is the defining element of geography, geographic research often centers on interactions between humans and their environment. Research, education and community engagement are inextricably linked in the activities of many of the department’s faculty, allowing us to foster positive change in the state, the nation, and the world. At a time when funding for basic research is harder to come by, we are uniquely positioned to take advantage of alternative opportunities with greater societal importance, including those that bridge the humanities, social sciences and physical sciences. The knowledge that we create, preserve, and disseminate, in turn, serves a broad range of public concerns: K-12 education, business and industry, government, science, medicine, mental health, and cultural and arts institutions. At USC Geography, we continue to build partnerships with public and private entities that are often unaware of the potential contributions that geographers can make to address their needs.
The Take Home Message: People come to department webpages for a wide range of reasons. Often, they’re simply looking for a phone number or information on graduation requirements. Other visitors, though, may be looking for details on the activities of specific faculty members or of our department as a whole, perhaps as they begin their search for a graduate program. Regardless of what brings you here, I hope you’ll take the time to explore our pages and discover more of what we do. Whether you’re a prospective student, a parent, an alumnus, or just someone interested in geography, I encourage you to drop by (Callcott 127), call me (803-777-5234), or email (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you have any questions.
- John Kupfer, Professor and Dept. Chair