Some 200 CCSU students, including those pursuing education and master’s
degrees, are learning to understand the characteristics of place and the
human impact on environment.
Students taking The Environment, Culture, and Economy of Belize course during Winter Session are at Cahal Pech, a Mayan ruin in the western interior of Belize. They did research in the rain forest of Western Belize, in a coastal community, and on a coral island in the Barrier Reef under the guidance of Professor Tim Rickard and Assistant Professor Cynthia Pope (front row, third and fourth from left).
“Our programs for undergraduate majors cater to future occupational aspirations of students, whether they want to go into travel and tourism, environmental protection, urban and regional planning, education, computer cartography, or Geographic Information Systems,” says Sommers. “We offer six to eight internships a semester so students can try out working in town planning, with a GIS firm, with a convention center or hotel, or at the Department of Environmental Protection.” The geography master’s program is “the oldest and largest” in the state, and, Sommers smiles, “We attract highly-qualified, mature, stable students, many with full-time jobs and families, who attend part-time. They can avail themselves of our top-notch, advanced, night classes without a long commute.” To accommodate busy learners, the department has offered on-line courses since summer 2004.
Age of Exploration ancestors would be dumfounded by the array of equipment and fields of study available to CCSU’s 21st-century geographers: cartography, air photo interpretation, and microcomputer laboratories with networked computers. Undergraduate geography major Kevin Carifa observes, “The GIS laboratory and labs in physical geography, plus programs on maps and map reading and on climatology, were helpful tools to prepare me for my water monitoring/assessment summer internship.” Sommers adds, “Professor John Harmon, in conjunction with Information Technology Services, has stocked the GIS laboratory to the point where it is equivalent to a lot of Ph.D.-level programs.”
Diverse Faculty Support Traditions of Geography
As Thad Dymkowski ’00, now a GIS technician at Fuss & O’Neill Engineering, sees it, “The faculty each brings special knowledge—be it environmental, social science, spatial, or regional studies. Just as important to me is their mix of cultural backgrounds, from Africa to Asia, United Kingdom to the U.S.”
Associate Professor Peter Kyem and Assistant Professor Charles Button focus on environmental science to explain, for example, vegetation and soil patterns on the earth’s surface. Drawing from experiences in Ghana, West Africa, Kyem has written on forest management using GIS. With articles in the Annals of the Association of American Geographers and in Cartographica, Kyem also co-authored a $65,000 Fulbright Grant for field studies in Ghana.
Dr. Button’s expertise is in water resources, recycling, and waste management. He says, “Our graduates can be significant contributors in developing solutions for water resource quality and quantity, natural resource depletion and degradation, energy supply, waste reduction and management, and global climate change.”
Associate Professor Richard Benfield, with a background in the tourism industry in the United Kingdom, Canada, and the U.S., coordinates the tourism program and has done research in the area of casino gaming in Connecticut and on the evolving tourism industry in Post-Soviet Republics. He, along with Professor Timothy Rickard, coordinated the 2003 regional geography conference in Hartford and advised the department’s student team competing in the Geography Bowl. This year’s team did so well that student Jason Stone was selected to represent New England geography departments at the Association of American Geographers (AAG) Conference in Denver in April.
“Enrollment in Central’s degree programs in hospitality and tourism has grown rapidly,” according to Sommers. “Associate Professor David Truly has helped revitalize and consolidate our tourism efforts. He has developed linkages with Marriott hotels, the Connecticut Convention Center, Microtel, and American Cruise Lines.” Last spring, Sommers and Truly co-taught a studio planning course that is assisting the town of East Hampton.
Resident GIS guru Harmon has recently written GIS Design and Implementation (John Wiley & Sons, 2003). He brought in a $60,000 contract for GIS work for the State of Connecticut Plan of Conservation and Development. And his reach extends into explorations of vernacular regions in the northeastern U.S.—mapping the extent to which residents and organizations perceive certain regions exist, such as The Quiet Corner, The Valley, and The Gold Coast in Connecticut.
Assistant Professor Cynthia Pope’s research interests are geography of health and disease, AIDS and gender in the Caribbean (primarily Cuba), Latin America, and feminist geography. Having published and edited in these areas, she received a Yale fellowship to examine the interplay between political ideology, disease, and national security in contemporary Cuba. “What makes our department distinct,” she ventures, “is the international focus that really comes through in our teaching, scholarship, and course-abroad offerings, which span most of the world—Europe, Latin America, the Caribbean, Asia, Africa.”
Pope has just returned from teaching a course in Belize with Rickard. Now a member of the Association of American Geographers Executive Council, Rickard remarks, “Students can study abroad, discovering, as we did in Belize, the intricacies of the rainforest and of Mayan caves and ruins. Study abroad helps students understand the characteristics and problems of countries, especially developing ones, such as China, Jamaica, Belize, and Ghana. Tibet particularly fascinated students when Dr. Xiaoping Shen and I conducted a course there.”
Renata Bertotti ’03, a zone enforcement agent for Coventry currently working on her master’s, exclaims, “The trip to Tibet was remarkable. It was constant learning. Awesome!”
Associate Professor Xiaoping Shen, widely published in top-line journals, is an expert in economic geography and regional development, with a focus on China. She was invited to guest lecture on “Recent Changes in Economic Geography” at the Graduate School of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
“It’s a revelation to be in the places we teach about,” reflects Rickard.
“Most geographers get addicted to travel. Professors in particular get itchy feet to explore a region of their expertise. And our students do, too!”
— Geri Radacsi