Monday, February 19, 2001 Volume 66, Issue 99


 
 









 

Geography major won't be re-activated here

Program will be started this year at UH-Clear Lake

By Ken Fountain
Senior Staff Writer

A group of students made their case for the reactivation of a geography major program before the UH System Board of Regents Thursday, but were told that, despite "a compelling presentation," it was unlikely to take place.

"Since the regents have already accepted the merits of starting a new geography program at UH-Clear Lake, we ask that geography departments be started at the other branches as well," Christopher Thompson, a senior political science major, told the board members. "We also ask that the Department of Geography here at the main campus be reactivated."

Thompson cited several applications of geographic knowledge to studies of human behavior and the natural world.

"Geography is the study of why things are where they are," he said. "It involves the interrelationships of all spatially measurable phenomena, including anything that can be mapped on Earth's surface."


Johnny Kow/The Daily Cougar


Jeffrey Meyerson, manager of Geographic Information Services at Reliant Energy, makes his presentation at the UH System Board of Regents' meeting Thursday.

At present, two faculty members teach a total of nine different upper- and lower-division geography courses, for a total of 29 hours, with two more courses planned for 2002. "Almost all state-supported institutions of higher learning already offer an undergraduate geography program," Thompson said. "Geography is a fundamental part of a core curriculum. It interacts with many other disciplines."

Richard Boehm, Jesse H. Jones Distinguished Chair in Geographic Education at Southwest Texas State University, spoke about the success of that school's program, the largest in the nation.

During the same time that geography was being de-emphasized at UH, Boehm said, the SWT program grew from six to 29 faculty members, and currently teaches 550 underclassman geography majors and 165 master's students.

Boehm referred to the growing demand for geographers in the business world.

"Many of those jobs that our kids are getting are right here in Houston, and those are jobs that, in my opinion, ought to be filled by people who graduate from this university," Boehm said.

Jeffrey Meyerson, UH alumnus and manager of Geographic Information Services at Reliant Energy, told the regents about the practical application of GIS, a computer software program that uses geographical information for many different purposes.

"Geography is part of our business culture at Reliant Energy," Meyerson said. "Spatial data is transformed into maps, data, reports -- information that is used to make business decisions."

Meyerson described how his department's more than 100 technicians and analysts use GIS to create digital overlay maps of information about communities, Reliant's facilities and customers.

"Geography is the applied science that teaches the analysis of spatial data," which is used by economists, engineers and other business professionals, Meyerson said.

UH Provost and Senior Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Edward Sheridan, when asked to comment on UH's official policy on a geography program, said that UH offered five degrees in geography into the early 1980s, but that, since then, there had been little interest in such a program.

"More recently, there's been a change," Sheridan said. "This board has noted that change, and chose to promote a program which we'll start soon at UH-Clear Lake."

But Sheridan said that duplicating such a program at the main campus would not be a wise move.

Sheridan said that, while the number of geography courses offered has increased, the number of students taking them has gone down by one-third in the last seven years.

He said that the undergraduate curriculum is "under much more pressure in other areas," particularly in information management systems, interpersonal communication and technology.

"Eventually, students who want to major in geography will go to UHCL," Sheridan said.
 

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