Department History

A short history of the SDSU Department of Geography begins with the founding of the university as San Diego Normal School in 1897*. The first geography instructor, Vinnie Clark, was hired to teach a geography course in the 1914 summer session. From 1914 to 1926 Vinnie Clark was the only faculty member with a geography degree. In 1921 it was renamed San Diego State Teachers College (SDSTC), and was permitted to begin issuing degrees (as opposed to teaching credentials). In the mid-1920s an undergraduate major in geography (BA) established.

In 1926 the second faculty member, Alvena Suhl (Storm) began teaching at SDSTC, having received an A.B. from the Univ. of California (Berkeley). From 1926 to 1937 Vinnie Clark and Alvena Suhl were the only two departmental faculty members. The 1927-28 SDSTC “Bulletin”, under “Departmental Organization”, lists “Geography . . . [head] V. B. Clark”. Vinnie Clark is listed as Assistant Professor, thus becoming the first geography professor at what is now SDSU. Alvena Suhl was listed in that Bulletin as "Assistant in Geography; two years later she was listed as “Alvena Suhl, A.B, M.A.”, thus becoming the first faculty member with an advanced degree. That same catalog described Vinnie Clark as Associate Professor, our first faculty with that title.

In 1931 San Diego State Teachers College, with 1,220 students, was relocated to Montezuma Mesa. Four years later the “Teachers” was dropped, and it became San Diego State College. In 1937 Lauren Post was hired to replace the retiring Vinnie Clark, and Alvena Storm became department chair. Robert Richardson was hired as a third department member in 1939; a fourth was not added until 1948. One effect of WWII was that in 1940 SDSC enrollment was 2,077; in 1943 it was only 860.

A major advance occurred in 1956 when the San Diego State College Geography Department received permission to begin a Graduate Program and grant Master’s degrees. In 1958 the Donald Eidemiller Weather Station began operation. From 1961-1970 the department expanded rapidly, with 16 new faculty hires in the ten-year period. In 1973 “SDSC” became San Diego State University.

storm hall dedication plaqueThe 1980s and 1990s saw several major advancements. The department’s Center for Earth Systems Analysis Research (CESAR) was opened in 1986, and the Social Science Building’s west wing was renamed Storm Hall, honoring Alvena Storm. In 1990 the department’s first endowed chair was established, focusing on GIS. The State approved a PhD program for the department in 1991, and the next year the department hosted the 1992 Annual Meetings of the Association of American Geographers. In 1996 Alvena Storm became the first woman from the SDSU faculty to receive an honorary Doctorate. The Department’s research center for Youth Environments Society and Space (YESS) was established in 1998.

In 2012 the department’s second endowed chair was established, focusing on children’s and youth geographies. As of 2018, the department has been awarded four distinguished university professorships, which at the time was more than any other SDSU department.

These and numerous other significant achievements have resulted in the Department of Geography at San Diego State University being recognized as one of the finest and most respected in the country.

* [from Wikipedia]: “A normal school is a school created to train high school graduates to be teachers. Its purpose is to establish teaching standards or norms, hence its name. Most such schools are now called teachers’ colleges.” Both UCLA and SDSU began as Normal Schools. It is the origin of the San Diego City communuty placename “Normal Heights”.