My department is in the middle of hiring a new GIS professor and we’re down to the final five candidates. For the last part of the interview process, each candidate is coming to campus and presenting a research talk, a guest lecture, and is meeting with faculty and students. As the Vice President of the Geography club, I was asked to schedule a time with each of the candidates. This past week, we had Dr. Kelley, the first candidate, visit.
During our individual meeting, he asked me how I became a Geography major, considering that the discipline is rather small and less common. I told him it all started with a Physical Geography course that I took. He then asked me to tell him more and all I could think was “that’s a story in itself.”
Back when I was at my community college, I was looking over the degree sheet requirements for my Associate of Arts. I needed 7 credits of science and had already taken Chemistry with a lab, frankly because that was the only science I knew that I liked.
When I saw GEOG 103 listed on the sheet as a science option, I was ecstatic. I had taken a Geography course back in 8th grade and was so happy that I could memorize countries, capitals, and cities for a science credit! It sounded odd to me, but I didn’t think to question it.
On day one of the class, it only took me about five minutes to realize that I was entirely wrong. When I first walked into the classroom, my professor told me to pick up the 17 handouts that he had scattered around the room- he wasn’t kidding, either. After I picked up the handouts, I went back to my seat and started looking at them- wind and pressure belts, an overview of the sun’s rays shifting during the seasons, the layers of the Earth… Yeah, this isn’t what I thought it’d be.
As the course progressed, it was the exact opposite of what I was anticipating- it was challenging, intriguing, thought-provoking, inspiring, and taught me more than any class ever had. Sure, I learned about weather patterns, volcanoes, earthquakes, mountains, biomes, and desert features, but I also learned to value my curiosity, I saw what really matters in an education, I learned to realize how lucky we are to be surrounded by the beauty, tranquility, and serenity of nature, and I became encouraged, challenged, and inspired enough to want to become a teacher myself.
When the course ended, I knew I couldn’t just move on and act like I’d never taken this course. I was pushed and touched in a way that made me want to take more Geography courses. From here, I took a Physical Geography Lab and a Meteorology course the next semester. Needless to say, these two sealed the deal for me. I was hooked and didn’t need any more convincing.
After I shared this story, our conversation continued to progress, talking about geography, UNR, and Reno. During a moment of silence, I asked him why he wants to be a professor.
He looked at me, and with a sincere voice, he said, “I want to be who Professor Clennan is to you for someone else. I want to inspire students to learn, to think, and to believe.”
With this comment, I knew that he was in the field for the right reasons.
In addition, though, his words have made my past few days a bit more pleasant, giving me a wave of special memories from my first Geography courses. The memories seem endless, but they include my night in Death Valley under the stars, the day I climbed Angel’s Landing, our night hikes under a full moon, the great memories we made on our lab hikes every week, and the lectures in which I learned a bit more about life and what really matters.
Thinking about and realizing how strong of an impact my Physical Geography professor had on me makes me fear if I’ll ever be as powerful and inspiring of a professor and makes me question if I have what it takes to be a teacher. While I may be doubtful now, I’ll continue on this path and I guess only time will tell the answer.
Though I started my Physical Geography course having absolutely no idea of what I wanted to major in, I walked out with an answer for the first time in what felt like decades. I am beyond thankful to my professor who started me on this path, the ones who keep me on it, and the ones who will help me lift my pen from this chapter, rather soon.
Dr. Kelley, thank you for allowing me to reminisce on my journey of discovering Geography. At first, it was one filled with lots of twists and turns, but once I saw that Geography isn’t just memorizing countries and capitals, I was reeled in, like a dog is when she’s offered a fat, juicy piece of steak. And now, I’m hooked and wouldn’t want it any other way.