Geography Awareness Week 2017


Six grade students stop for a second to give their approval of Geography Awareness Week while putting together aerial
images of Santa Barbara. Photo Courtesy of Susan Meerdink

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.

A total of 28 UCSB Geography presenters (21 graduate students, 5 faculty, and 2 undergraduate) visited classes from kindergarten through high school. Fourteen schools in Goleta and Santa Barbara participated, many for the second or third consecutive year. Our department provided a total of 43 presentations this year much to the delight of the department’s graduate student Visibility and Outreach Committee, which spearheads the recruiting effort each year.

Presentations discussed a range of topics including climate change, drought, spatial searching, geography of California, earth systems, food security, and ocean health. A wide range of presenters participated, from graduates students including our students in the field, to researchers in our department, to faculty.

Michelle Oyewole and high school students in Brooklyn, NY. Photo Courtesy of Michelle Oyewole

One such student, Michelle Oyewole, is currently working in New York on her PhD. Michelle met with Origins High School in Brooklyn, NY to speak to students about the skills they develop from working in a school garden that interfaces with the community. These students focus on sustainability and art, and noticed the amount of waste generated from their cafeteria, constructed a composting bin and system for collecting food waste. Additionally, Greg Husak, a researcher in the department’s Climate Hazards Group, gave presentations to several 5th grade classes, resulting in 75 students overall. His presentation showed students day-to-day geographers and their research. Overall, we had many outstanding presentations from our geography department.

Natasha Krell visited Adelante Charter school to visit a kindergarten class.  She read the book “Lucy in the city: A Story about Developing Spatial Thinking Skills”, written by our own UCSB Geography alumna, Julie Dillemuth. Natasha went to a Spanish immersion/bilingual program school, where most of the activity was in English but switched to Spanish occasionally. According to Natasha, “My visit to Adelante Charter school was easily the highlight of my graduate career so far. The students were really engaged and inspiring. They seemed to understand what I presented an had surprisingly insightful comments!”

Britta Schumacher and Katelyn Zigner, both graduate students, found that the interested students at the Ellwood School were “really drawn in by both the human geography and physical sides of the presentation. They enjoyed looking at the satellite imagery of some National Parks,” stated Katelyn. Britta explained, “You could tell they were all jazzed about how important they are in preserving/conserving the most beautiful parts of this country!”. One of the teachers said their students are busy “…extending the lesson and creating a google slides presentation on a national park of their choice”. Britta and Katelyn’s presentations went over so well that they plan to continue to give National Parks presentations to more elementary classes in the future.

Sara Lafia visiting the 4th grade classroom of Margie Ryckman at Isla Vista Elementary School. Photo Courtesy of Susan Meerdink

Sara Lafia, a graduate student, gave two presentations to 4th graders at Isla Vista Elementary School. As students’ are studying California Geography this year and Sara is interested in map design, Sara brought in an inflatable globe which piqued students’ interest. Sara stated that “Students enjoyed taking turns identifying landscape features and explaining how they knew which details to look for”. She also thinks “The more interactive props we can bring in as presenters, the better!” Sara’s presentations are really enjoyable to students and Sara also plan to spend more time on activities and answering students’ questions, as well as talking more about university in general!

Thank you to all our volunteer presenters: Alana Ayasse, Britta Schumacher, Dr. Dan Montello, David Miller, Diana Rosas, Erin Wetherley, Dr. Greg Husak, Jacqueline Banks, Jingyi Xiao, Kate Voss, Katelyn Zinger, Kelsey Bisson, Dr. Libe Washburn, Lily Cheng, Michelle Oyewole, Natasha Krell, Nina Bingham, Paige Hoel, Dr. Qinghua Ding, Ryan Avery, Sara Lafia, Sarah Shivers, Sari Blakeley, Dr. Stuart Sweeney, Susan Meerdink, Tessa Montini, Thomas Smith, and Yuchen Zhang.

Article contributed by members of the Visibility and Outreach Committee: Amelia Pludow, Nina Bingham, Sari Blakeley, Lily Cheng, Susan Meerdink, Dan Meltzer, Rafael Ramos, and Katelyn Zigner.