outside of Storm Hall building at SDSU

About the Department

San Diego State University is at the forefront of research and teaching within the discipline of geography.  The SDSU Department of Geography is comprised of 17 tenured/tenure-track faculty, lecturers, teaching associates, and graduate assistants.  Additionally, the department adjunct and visiting professors each semester.  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 a consultation.

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 scholarships, help serve the local community and provide a fulcrum for research locally and worldwide.

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. The faculty are highly invested in interdisciplinary undergraduate programs and advising and international programs.  In recent years, the Department has taken on management and advising roles in many 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 students' geographic experience at SDSU by engaging them pedagogically and in research projects.

We are incredibly proud of our publication record with students, including undergraduate students. Many of our Master's students attain doctoral degrees 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 degrees awarded. Our students have gone on to important jobs in the local economy and academia.

The educational mission of the Department of Geography is to provide students with the knowledge, critical thinking skills, and techniques required to understand the complex and global interdependencies between people, places, and environments. Through classroom instruction, Geographic Information Science (GIS) training, fieldwork, community involvement, and internships, our students learn to appreciate the spatial processes and relationships that affect contemporary society and the earth's physical environment.

As an interdisciplinary department, geography students draw from theories and practices in both the physical and social sciences. In the physical sciences, they study the processes and resulting earth features, such as vegetation, climate, hydrology, soils, and landforms. In the social sciences, geography students explore topics such as water and land use patterns, urbanization, migration, resource and energy use, environmental conservation and sustainability, globalization, development, and social justice. Students can also specialize in GIS to learn frameworks, methods, and techniques to explore and analyze information about patterns and dynamics of physical and human phenomena.

Through their studies, students develop abilities to conduct research, assess and analyze evidence, and communicate clearly. They also learn to apply knowledge and develop solutions to real-world problems. These competencies prepare our students to pursue successful careers in a wide range of fields, including environmental and urban planning, spatial information analysis, GIS, natural resource conservation, energy development, water resource management, and education, among many other fields.

A short history of the SDSU Department of Geography begins with the university's founding 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 (instead of teaching credentials). In the mid-1920s, an undergraduate major in geography (B.A.) was 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 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 significant 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.

The 1980s and 1990s saw several major advancements. The Department's Center for Earth Systems Analysis Research (CESAR) 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 Ph.D. 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 community place name "Normal Heights".