Geography Awareness Week a resounding success!


Geography Awareness Week is an annual celebration during the third week in November to promote geographic literacy and education, organized by National Geographic Education Programs. Established by Presidential proclamation over 25 years ago, GAWeek is centered around events, policy advocacy, communication, volunteerism, and activities for students, families, and community members. Every year the UCSB Geography Department celebrates this week by sending volunteers to share their love and knowledge of geography with local schools.


Mingquan Chen, a graduate student, poses for a photo on the playground with one of the 3rd grade classes after his presentation at Mountain View Elementary.

This year, UCSB saw an excellent turnout of volunteers, much to the delight of the department’s graduate student Visibility and Outreach Committee, which spearheads the recruiting effort each year. A total of 34 presenters (26 graduate students, 7 faculty, and 1 undergraduate) visited classes from kindergarten through high school. Seventeen schools in Goleta and Santa Barbara participated, many for the second or third consecutive year. Our department provided a total of 51 presentations this year, which is almost double the number of presentations from last year. For the first time ever, we were able to provide presentations to every teacher that requested one. Although most presentations were during November 14 – 18, geography awareness will continue through January with at least seven more presentations.

Presentations discussed a range of topics including climate change in the arctic, spatial searching, carbon cycle, food security, sun-earth relations, and ocean health. A few presenters pulled double (or even triple) duty, including a team of faculty and a visiting scholar — Vena Chu, Qinghua Ding, Jennifer King, Marina Marinho  — who provided a total of eight presentations to 10 – 12th graders at Dos Pueblos High School!


Daniel Park, an undergraduate student, and Rafael Ramos, a graduate student read “Lucy in the City: A Story About Developing Spatial Thinking Skills” to a Kindergarten class at Mountain View Elementary.

Daniel Park, an undergraduate student, and Rafael Ramos, a graduate student visited two kindergarten classes and two 1st grade classes at Mountain View Elementary. They read “Lucy in the City: A Story About Developing Spatial Thinking Skills, written by our very own UCSB Geography alumna, Julie Dillemuth. After reading, the students participated in activities that explored spatial thinking. The teacher was very pleased with the presentation, saying, ”We greatly enjoyed having Rafael and Daniel share their expertise with our Mountain View scientists.”

Britta Schumacher and Katelyn Zigner, both graduate students found that the curious students at the El Camino Elementary School had highly relevant questions. “Students ended up being really interested in the “human geography” side of the presentation. They had been learning about Native Americans and colonial relations and were really interested in understanding how Native Americans related to the national park system,” remarked Britta. Britta and Katelyn’s presentations went over so well that they will be returning to the school to present to more teachers and classes.

Not only did Sara Lafia, a graduate student, give a presentation to 1st graders at Adams Elementary, but she also appeared on the KCSB radio station. The KCSB show Unknown Territories featured Sara in a twenty minute conversation about spatial studies including her research, geography as a discipline, and activities at the Center for Spatial Studies. You can check out her interview here:  https://www.facebook.com/UnknownTerritoriesRadio/

The level of engagement, from the youngest of students to those preparing for college, was impressive. Marcela Suárez reflected that “[students] had so many comments and questions, many of them were just bursting out of their seats with their hands up because they were so eager to participate. It made me really happy to see so much enthusiasm.” The students in Erin Wetherley’s class were so happy with her presentation that they sent her thank you notes. Thanks to the hard work of all the volunteers, it was one of the most successful Geography Awareness Weeks to date.

Thank you to all our volunteer presenters:  Jasmine Arpagian, Alana Ayasse, Jacqueline Banks, Kelsey Bisson, Sari Blakeley, Mingquan Chen, Vena Chu, Qinghua Ding,  Marli Heininger, Jennifer King, Jeff Kirkby, Natahsa Krell, Sara Lafia, Susan Meerdink, Marina Marinho, David Miller, Dan Montello, Alan Murray, Nick Nidzieko, Blaire O’Neal, Daniel Park, Daniel Phillips, Rafael Ramos, Britta Schumacher, Sarah Shivers, Marcela Suárez, Libe Washburn, Kate Voss, Erin Wetherley, Chen Zhang, and Katelyn Zigner.

Article contributed by members of the Visibility and Outreach Committee: Jasmine Arpagian,Nina Bingham, Sari Blakeley, Xin Feng, Susan Meerdink, and Rafael Ramos.


Washington Elementary students love Geography Awareness Week!


Susan Meerdink and David Miller, both graduate students,posed for a class photo after one of three presentations to 4th grade classes at Washington Elementary.