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Major in Geography

Choosing your major can be difficult as you weigh your interests, skills, and the opportunities available. Learn more about the potential opportunities available for those with a major in geography, both as students and as alumni.

Opportunities in Geography

There are a few basic questions you're probably asking yourself as you consider whether a major in geography is right for you.

The view from the Economist:

Get some answers directly from those who have been down this road before — our alumni:


In geography, our world-class faculty members are extremely dedicated not only to our research, but to the teaching and mentoring of our students. That is why faculty-student collaboration on high-level research is not only one of Colgate's distinctions, but also a particularly strong feature of the geography department:
    By collaborating with our faculty on research, you can be doing graduate-level research and learning in the field and on campus as an undergraduate student. Without graduate students to compete with, you can quickly become an important contributor to research projects like the examples below:

    * = Former or current Colgate student co-author
    The resilience of Ethiopian church forests: interpreting aerial photographs, 1938-2015.
    Scull, P., Cardelus, C., Klepeis, P., Woods, C., Frankl, A. and J. Nyssen
    The resilience of Ethiopian church forests: interpreting aerial photographs, 1938-2015. (2016) Land Degradation and Development. doi: 10.1002/ldr.2633

    Church forests collectively represent the only surviving remnants of the original montane forest, serving as critical sanctuaries for many of Ethiopia's endangered and endemic plant and invertebrate taxa. Modern inventories of church forests suggest that they are vulnerable to degradation because of their small size and isolation. The aim of this study is to use historical air photos from the period of the Italian occupation of Ethiopia (1935–1941) to measure changes to church forests over a ~80-year time span. We find little evidence that church forests in the study region around Debra Tabor in the northern Ethiopia highlands are declining in size. Rather, church forests have proven to be remarkably resilient on the landscape despite decades of dramatic change to the world around them. Our findings, therefore, highlight the effectiveness of religion-based forest stewardship. Results also indicate, however, that while many church forests used to be buffered from intensive agricultural activity (e.g., cultivation and pasture) today, they find themselves significantly more isolated and vulnerable to edge effects as a result of a general decrease of trees and bushlands surrounding the forests.
    Water track distribution and effects on carbon dioxide flux in an eastern Siberian upland tundra landscape
    Salvatore R Curasi '15, Michael M Loranty, and Susan M Natali. Environmental Research Letters, 11(4), 045002 (2016)

    Shrub expansion in tundra ecosystems may act as a positive feedback to climate warming, the strength of which depends on its spatial extent. Recent studies have shown that shrub expansion is more likely to occur in areas with high soil moisture and nutrient availability, conditions typically found in sub-surface water channels known as water tracks. Water tracks are 5–15 m wide channels of subsurface water drainage in permafrost landscapes and are characterized by deeper seasonal thaw depth, warmer soil temperatures, and higher soil moisture and nutrient content relative to adjacent tundra. Consequently, enhanced vegetation productivity, and dominance by tall deciduous shrubs, are typical in water tracks. Quantifying the distribution of water tracks may inform investigations of the extent of shrub expansion and associated impacts on tundra ecosystem carbon cycling. Here, we quantify the distribution of water tracks and their contribution to growing season CO2 dynamics for a Siberian tundra landscape using satellite observations, meteorological data, and field measurements. We find that water tracks occupy 7.4% of the 448 km2 study area, and account for a slightly larger proportion of growing season carbon uptake relative to surrounding tundra. For areas inside water tracks dominated by shrubs, field observations revealed higher shrub biomass and higher ecosystem respiration and gross primary productivity relative to adjacent upland tundra. Conversely, a comparison of graminoid-dominated areas in water tracks and inter-track tundra revealed that water track locations dominated by graminoids had lower shrub biomass yet increased net uptake of CO2. Our results show water tracks are an important component of this landscape. Their distribution will influence ecosystem structural and functional responses to climate, and is therefore of importance for modeling.
    Burgess and Hoyt in Los Angeles: Testing the Chicago Models in an Automotive-Age American City
    William B. Meyer (with Christopher R. Esposito ’14). Urban Geography. 36 (2015), 314-325.

    For much of the twentieth century, the “Chicago models” proposed by E. W. Burgess in the 1920s, Homer Hoyt in the 1930s, and Chauncy Harris and Edward Ullman in 1945 dominated discussions of the spatial form of cities in the United States. The changes that have subsequently occurred in American urban geography naturally raise questions about the continuing relevance of the models. In recent years, a “Los Angeles School” in geography and urban studies has dismissed the Chicago models as outdated. But the critics have provided little empirical evidence in support of their claims. Identifying exogenous amenities—those of distance from the city center, terrain, and waterfronts—as central elements in the Chicago models, we analyzed the relation of these factors to the patterns of income in Los Angeles and Chicago using spatial statistical regression. The newer, automobile-age city closely follows, while the older city of Chicago deviates substantially from, the patterns predicted in the classical Chicago models. These models may best describe the most recently built American cities and may be more relevant than ever today in explaining the dynamics of urban form..
    Organic agriculture and volunteer tourism in the United States
    Daisaku Yamamoto and A. Katrina Engelsted*. World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) in the United States: Locations and Motivations of Volunteer Tourism Host Farms. Journal of Sustainable Tourism. 22(6), 964-982. (2014)

    This paper examines the WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) in the United States as a type of agri-tourism and volunteer tourism. WWOOF is an international movement in which host farms provide room and board in exchange for labor by tourist-volunteers. The study examines the supplier side of this phenomenon, investigating the locational characteristics and motivations of WWOOF host farms in the USA. A statistical analysis of WWOOF host locations is complemented by a survey and interviews of WWOOF host farms in upstate New York. The study finds that, of the 1232 WWOOF hosts with available zip codes, WWOOF host distributions are highly skewed spatially, with none in 2533 of continental USA's 3108 counties, but concentrations along the west coast and across Appalachia, plus outlying clusters. It suggests that lifestyle considerations are important factors, with WWOOF host locations in high environmental/scenic quality locations and “bohemian” cultural settings, but few in conventional farm regions, especially those with large farms and dominant “modern” agricultural practices. Potential conflicts between the motivations of WWOOF hosts and guests are revealed. For many hosts, cheap/flexible labor is an undeniable attraction, while WWOOFers may have potentially unrealistic expectations about their stays.
    “Changing Forest Recovery Dynamics in the Northeastern United States”
    Klepeis, Peter, Scull, Peter, Lalonde*, Tara, Svajlenka*, Nicole, and Nicholas Gill. Area
    45(2) 239–248 (2013)

    Historical deforestation and forest recovery in the northeastern United States holds important implications for ecosystem services and social conditions. Bridging natural and social sciences perspectives, and incorporating both quantitative and qualitative analysis, we contribute to a rich, multidisciplinary literature on US forest change by documenting at a fine scale changing land-cover patterns, identifying their key geophysical and social driving forces, and evaluating the strength and character of the on-going forest transition. The interpretation of five sets of aerial photographs – spanning the period 1936–2008 for a town in central New York State – shows that 25.8 per cent of the land area reforested. Two approaches explain the trend: (1) spatial analysis of landscape features (e.g. soil type, distance to road) and (2) a land-use history analysis based on secondary and grey literature as well as interviews with longtime landowners. Findings underscore the importance of cross-scalar analysis, with key explanatory variables ranging from local topography to national development patterns. Twentieth-century forest recovery is linked primarily to well-established inter-decadal processes: a decline in the farming sector, changing life and livelihood goals within farming families and associated land abandonment on areas marginal for agriculture. In contrast to historical trends, recent forest recovery is occurring on high-quality soils; in 2008 approximately 15 per cent of all forest occurred on such soils, which may hold implications for biodiversity. In addition, landowners are increasingly engaged in a mix of new land uses, including energy development, and there is a steady rise in the number of amenity-oriented rural residents. The Eaton study contributes detailed mapping of forest-cover change in an understudied part of the northeastern USA. It also informs debates about forest transition theory and the prospects for a ‘regressive tertiary stage’ for the study region.
    The Color of a Jerry Can: Stigma and Treatment of HIV in Rural Uganda
    Kraly, Ellen Percy, Parrish, Lesley*, and Pons, Alex*
    Paper presentation at AAG 2011

    As a collaborative project with Bwindi Community Hospital, this research reveals dimensions of stigma associated with HIV/AIDS in communities in southwest Uganda. A goal of the hospital is to promote HIV testing, diagnosis, and treatment by identifying and addressing barriers to testing which are both geographic and social. To amplify the interpretation of survey data (including regional and national data) on HIV/AIDS, a series of focus group discussions were conducted in 2010 concerning social-spatial dimensions of stigma associated with the disease. The research design facilitated the comparison of men and women who are HIV positive, community members, and caregivers. Themes included community perceptions of the disease; characterization of the disease; attitudes and behaviors toward persons, notably children, known or believed to have the disease; the effect of the disease on marital and extended family relationships; and gendered dimensions of stigma. Emergent themes include issues of marginalization, blame, denial, and avoidance of both diagnosis and treatment, anticipation of death and family assets, and ways that personal privacy is challenged in community spaces and social and economic dynamics, among others. Results of this research have implications for both the evaluation, design of clinical and community outreach programs of the hospital, as well as social geographic research concerning vulnerability to infection and socio-spatial barriers to both diagnosis and treatment in rural areas. Provision of supplies such as the basic care package and the jerry can therein by international donors reveals a global source of the local stigma of HIV/AIDS.
    Human Dimensions of Earthworm Invasion in the Adirondack State Park
    Seidl, Dara E.* and Peter Klepeis
    Human Ecology, August 2011.

    The invasion of exotic earthworms in the Northern Forest of the United States alters carbon and nitrogen cycles and reduces forest litter and native plant cover. Humans are the principal agents of dispersal, spreading earthworms both inadvertently via horticulture, land disturbance, and in the tires and underbodies of vehicles, and voluntarily through composting and the improper disposal of fish bait. A study in Webb, N.Y. ─ a town located within the Adirondack State Park, one of the most celebrated cultural and ecological regions in the United States ─ exposes the human dimensions of earthworm invasion. Environmental history research, interviews with residents and bait sellers, and a mail survey of town residents show that positive attitudes towards earthworms and their ecological effects lead to casual disposal or use of them. Earthworm use is a strong cultural practice and the risk of their continued introduction in the Adirondacks is high.
    Poverty Assessment Tools - A report prepared for Bwindi Community Hospital, Uganda
    Kraly, Ellen Percy, Arditte, Stephanie*, D'Alessandro, Anna*, McArthur, Becca*, O'Shea, Grace*
    Stigma Concerning HIV/AIDS in the Bwindi Region of Southwestern Uganda: Implementation and Analysis of Focus Group Interviews
    Kraly, Ellen Percy, Frey, Frank, Scull, Peter, Parrish, Lesley*, Pons, Alexandra*