University of Vermont

Vermont Quarterly

The Why of Where

Lamas in a field in Ecuador
Photograph by Ashley Weltz '18


The Why of Where

GEOGRAPHY | Maps and globes, likely the first images that pop in your head when you think of “geography.” Walk in the offices of UVM’s Geography Department, first floor Old Mill, and reality meets expectation. A stately globe tilting on its axis, colorful wall maps of the world, frayed around the edges. In this context, though, these old standards aren’t really teaching tools, but heirlooms of a UVM academic department that celebrates its 50th birthday this year.

Today’s geography students and faculty are more likely to be out in the world rather than poring over a scale model. Case in point, this semester’s GEOG 196 travel-study course focused on the grass paramo, a high-elevation Andean savanna. The semester-long class, led by instructor Stuart White, included a spring break trip for an immersive week in the dramatic landscape in southern Ecuador. 

Like the experiential component of that class, internships are another key element in UVM geography majors’ education. Conversations with several current students finds them doing internships with National Geographic, Vermont’s Department of Environmental Conservation, the Association of Africans Living in Vermont, and Burlington’s Peace and Justice Center, among others. 

Professor Lesley-Ann Dupigny-Giroux, department chair who has been on hand for nearly twenty of UVM Geography’s fifty years, notes that while her fellow faculty have global research interests, there’s also a strong local component to their research, teaching and service. Dupigny-Giroux, for one, adds Vermont State Climatologist to her professor title. 

Dupigny-Giroux led the charge as the Geography Department marked its fiftieth year with events in September and April. She had critical help in the process from UVM geography alumnus Matt Glass ’90, partner and chief creative officer of Eventage, a NYC-based events planning agency. Long an advocate for his alma mater, Glass funds an internship for geography undergrads. 

Glass’s path is one example of the many places a geography degree can go. Alumni have built careers at Google Earth, in state government, on Wall Street, in academia, among many other paths.  The fascination and strength of geography as an academic discipline with multiple applications is in its diversity of perspectives, Dupigny-Giroux says, drawing from political science, environmental science, history, sociology, and other fields. “It’s integrative,” she says. “We take all of these aspects and bring them together.”

Next story in The Green. 

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