About the Department

Geography at SDSU began on July 1, 1914, with the appointment of Ms. Vinnie Clark as a normal school instructor. One of our noted early faculty members was Ms. Alvena Storm, who joined the Department in 1926 after studying with the distinguished Professor Carl Sauer at UC Berkeley. Unable to attain any degree higher than Master because of UC regulations that favored men in the early part of last century, Ms. Storm came to San Diego to train teachers. She became a powerful force behind the early development of geography at SDSU and in Southern California. It was with great pleasure that SDSU bestowed on Ms. Storm an honorary doctoral degree in geography in 1992. In some ways the work of Alvena Storm reflects also the mission and work of Geography at SDSU. We embody the teacher-scholar academic model, and we excel in a number of areas as part of a state institution that struggles with limited resources. Recognition for this hard work has come to SDSU Geography in the last few years.

The last one hundred years has witnessed prodigious changes at SDSU and in the Department of Geography. Today our undergraduate teaching mission is augmented with a graduate program that is consistently ranked amongst the top ten in the nation. In 1991 the establishment of a joint doctoral program with the University of California, Santa Barbara, significantly changed the orientation of the department. A series of strategic hires produced a highly productive faculty, whose research encompasses projects in the USA and in over 25 other countries embracing the continents of Asia, Europe, Africa and South America (see the “global reach of research” poster). In addition, faculty members and students have numerous research projects in the local region and on the border (see the “local reach of geography research” poster).

The Department serves local and disciplinary constituencies through service, funded research and internship programs. The research and graduate focus of the department bolsters our teaching and undergraduate mission in several ways. For example, undergraduate research and applied geographic work is supported through funded initiatives, internships and special studies. In addition to our 100 year legacy as a geography program, the faculty is highly invested in interdisciplinary undergraduate programs and advising, and international programs. For example, in recent years, the department has taken on management and advising roles in a number of college and university programs including environmental sciences, environmental studies, environmental sustainability, and interdisciplinary urban studies. In line with our mission, we continue to set goals that enhance the geographic experience of students at SDSU by engaging them pedagogically and in research projects.

The SDSU Department of Geography comprised 18 tenured/tenure-track faculty, one full-time lecturer and three part-time lecturers, 20 Ph.D. Teaching Associates, four MA/MS Teaching Associates, and 15 MA/MS Graduate Assistants (funded from State and Foundation research project accounts). The Department usually hosts in excess of half-a-dozen adjunct and visiting professors each semester. The Department is home to the Center for Earth Systems Analysis (CESAR), Center for Human Dynamics in the Mobile Age (HDMA), Center for Information convergence and Strategy (CICS), The International Population Center, Watershed Science Institute, and the Young People’s Environments, Society and Space (YESS) Research Center. These centers fund faculty and graduate scholarship, help serve the local community and provide a fulcrum for research locally and in a number of countries around the world. Faculty members adhere to the teacher-scholar model of a university professor. Though research productivity is high, faculty are dedicated to their teaching mission and provide excellent classroom and out-of-classroom instruction. Faculty members routinely keep office doors open, and students can readily reach instructors personally for consultation.

In June 2010, Academic Analytics ranked nationally SDSU’s Geography Department PhD program 7th in the USA amongst 63 geography programs (z = +1.32; percentile = 90%). This was the last Academic Analytics ranking that was publically available. To create their ranking, Academic Analytics used five categories of faculty productivity: (1) books published in the last five years, (2) refereed journal article in the past three years, (3) citations of publications in the past four years, (4) research funding from federal sources and a few major foundations, and (5) professional awards and honors. The 2010 National Research Council (NRC) ranks SDSU geography 12th, 22nd and 36th respectively in terms of average number of publications per year, average citations per publication, and number of grants per faculty. The NRC data suggest that for a department of modest size, this ranking connects well to the rankings of Academic Analytics. Based upon measurable data that focuses on professional output, these ranking suggest a highly productive faculty. We are particularly proud of our publication record with students, including undergraduate students. Many of our Master’s students go on to attain PhDs from prestigious institutions including Cambridge University, the University of Washington and Arizona State University. For the past few decades, SDSU Geography has led all California universities in the number of master’s degree awarded, our PhD students have gone on to important jobs in the local economy and in academia.

This is an exciting time for the discipline of geography. The talents and skills of geographers are sought after more today than ever before. The ways in which human societies create and transform their social and physical environments is a pressing concern. There is global warming, global terrorism, global economic restructuring and heightened geo-political competition between countries, along with rapid internal political, economic and social changes within countries. We are increasingly aware of the impact of human-induced changes to climate, vegetation, oceans and the physical landscape. Ethnic minorities along with women, children and the elderly are increasingly exploited or disempowered. What we know as “nature” is rapidly disappearing with urban encroachment, while at the same time our susceptibility to hazards such as wild-fires increases. The study of these and many other issues and concerns comes under the geographers’ purview. Through the development of a variety of theories, methods and technologies, geographers work comfortably at the scale of the entire planet or the scale of a region or community, or even an individual. San Diego State University is at the forefront of research and teaching within the discipline of geography.