Photo illustration by Tammy Beeson August 15, 2023
Two UD professors are chosen for inaugural AAG cohort to support public scholarship
Geography is an interdisciplinary field with many sub-disciplines. Broadly defined, it is the study of places and the relationships between people and their environments. Research can take place at a local level or span the entire globe. Because of its diverse nature, it can sometimes be hard to explain to the general public and policy-makers what exactly the subject of geography entails.
To elevate the subject of geography in the public mind, and to help everyday people understand the importance of geography, the American Association of Geographers (AAG) has welcomed the first cohort of 15 geographers to their Elevate the Discipline Program which will aim to train geographers to connect their work to public and policy issues.
“It’s exciting to support the work of these scientists as they engage in community-oriented, justice-based work on climate change,” said Rebecca Lave, AAG’s 2023-24 president and a professor of geography at Indiana University Bloomington, where her specialties include critical physical geography and the political economy of stream restoration. “We want to open up avenues to value and protect geographers’ opportunity to do public and engaged scholarship.”
Of these 15 geographers, the University of Delaware has two professors in the inaugural cohort: Pinki Mondal, assistant professor in the Department of Geography and Spatial Sciences who also holds a joint appointment with the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences and is a resident faculty member at the UD Data Science Institute, and Rebecca Nixon, assistant professor in the Department of Geography and Spatial Sciences.
Mondal’s research focus is on remote sensing and using geographic information system technology as well as looking at how climate change has an impact on agriculture. One of her most recent paper publications looks at how coastal farmland across the Mid-Atlantic is turning too salty for traditional farming. Mondal talked about the process of writing this paper in an accessible blog post on the Earth and Environmental Sciences Community website.
Mondal said she is looking forward to learning how to more effectively leverage media and other channels to help guide public policies.
“My research group at the University of Delaware conducts policy-relevant research,” Mondal said. “We are currently working in multiple countries on different aspects of climate and society interactions. Yet, I share the frustration with many of my academic peers who are struggling with making their science count where it matters — on the ground.”
Having been exposed to geography in an in-depth way for the first time when she joined the geography doctoral program at the University of Florida, Mondal said she has been attending the regional and national AAG meetings regularly ever since. Because of her close association with AAG, she said it feels great to receive the recognition from the organization.
“It is extra special to be a part of the first-ever Elevate cohort, as this year's theme — Climate and Society — is particularly relevant to my work,” said Mondal. “Unfortunately, people often don't realize that geography is much more than making maps or memorizing country names. Our future generation must have a solid foundation in geography in order to survive and thrive in our rapidly changing world. A program like this, along with public-facing geographical research and strong media presence, can play an important role in elevating our discipline in the public consciousness and attracting more students to geography.”
Nixon said she is honored to be a part of the inaugural cohort and that she is looking forward to receiving training and gaining experience around the communication of her research.
“For many scholars, including myself, we have had limited training opportunities focused on communicating the implications of our research to public audiences,” Nixon said. “I’m looking forward to a space that is dedicated to learning how to communicate research findings in a way that is consumable by the public and therefore more applicable outside the academy.”
Nixon is an environmental social scientist and human geographer who examines environmental decision-making processes and outcomes at the individual level, the community level and the institutional level in both urban and rural settings. Her research sites include post-industrial cities in the Midwestern U.S., agricultural areas in northwestern Pakistan, and cities on the East Coast of the U.S.
For the individual level, her research looks at how single individuals make decisions about how they adapt to climate change and use natural resources, but at the community and institutional levels, her research looks at how policies are formed especially in the face of climate change and increasingly stressed resources.
In addition, she uses the lens of climate justice to understand how the impacts of climate change are differentiated across different groups of people based on race, income and ethnicity and other social identities.
She said she is excited to learn not only how to communicate her research to a broad audience, but to help more people in general understand the field of geography.
“I have found my academic home in geography but I was not introduced to the truly interdisciplinary nature of the field until graduate school, so I resonate with the need to increase awareness of the discipline,” Nixon said. “The interdisciplinary nature of our field means that it may be more difficult to communicate what we do as geographers, but it also makes the field vital to the study of complex issues such as climate change.”