Student survey says UH needs geography minor

Michelle Norton

Staff Writer

A recent survey conducted by students revealed a crucial need for a geography minor program at the University of Houston.

The survey, designed to supplement the campaign to increase the UH geography program, was distributed to 169 random juniors and seniors. It consisted of 15 multiple choice questions asking students to identify the location of various countries.

Results of the test showed that 48 percent of students tested did not know the location of Vietnam, 57 percent could not locate Iraq and 69 percent could not locate Sweden on the map.

Eighty-six percent of the students tested scored below average.

UH professor Michael Doran said he was not surprised by the results.

"The United States is currently ranked at the bottom of geographical awareness," he said.

A separate survey was also administered to students taking the geography course, World Realms. This survey revealed that the mode for the class ranked between 11 and 12 out of 15 compared to the mode of the entire university that ranked between five and seven.

Jennifer Bridges, a senior journalism student and advocate for the geography program, attributed the low scores to the lack of geography classes offered, starting in high school.

"I only had one geography class in high school. I remember liking the class but wishing that I could take more classes like it," she said. "All the social science courses in high school focused very little on aspects of geography."

A recent national survey of 5,000 high school seniors showed that in a Boston sample, 39 percent of the students could not name the six New England states; in Dallas, 25 percent did not know what country was directly south of Texas; in Minneapolis-St. Paul, 63 percent could not name or point out all seven continents on a world map; and in Baltimore, 45 percent failed to identify the United States on a map.

"Without a thorough grasp of geography, we would see the world from our own narrow perspective," said President of the National Geographic Society Gilbert Grosvenor.

"We cannot afford this in the global village of which we are a part ... The world is too competitive and dangerous to be a vague blur of memorized names and places."

Last year, 100 UH students joined together to petition for additional geography courses in the UH curriculum in hopes of establishing a minor in that field.

In response, the university approved two new geography classes covering national geography and the geography of Europe. Currently there are five geography classes in the social science college including Human Use of the Earth, Special Problems, U.S. Geography, World Realms and European Geography.

At the time Hugh Stephens, associate dean for academics in the College of Social Sciences, said the university did not have a budget to establish a full geography minor program.

However, Bridges argued that such a program would not deny or remove funds from other departments.

"It would not cost them a penny to flip the switch," she said.

UH is the only school of its size not to offer a major or minor in geography, a fact that, Bridges said, has lead her to transfer to another Texas school.

"Some other Texas school is going to get my money. I'm going to go to a graduate school and get my Ph.D. in geography," she said.

Results of the survey were given to UH President/UH-System Chancellor Arthur Smith, Hugh Stephens and the new UH Provost Robert Sheridan. They were unavailable for comment.

"By this time next year we hope UH will have a geography minor program," Bridges said.

She said she hopes to meet with the provost to discuss the issue. She has started circulating a second petition around campus.

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