Jim Bingham passes

With great sadness, the Department of Geography and Geology announces the passing of James Morris Bingham, Assistant Professor of Geography, at the age of 67. Jim was born in Saltillo, Tennessee, in 1941 and is survived by several nieces, nephews, and cousins. He earned his B.S. in Geography, History, and Political Science from Memphis State University in 1963, remaining at MSU to complete a Master’s in Geography in 1965. His thesis titled “Northwest Hardin County: A Study in Industrial Development” presaged Jim’s lifelong interest in planning and economic development. He arrived at WKU in the summer of 1965 as a geography instructor and taught a number of general education and planning-related courses over the following five years.
In 1970, Jim received a teaching assistantship from Indiana State University to pursue a Ph.D. in economic geography. Although Jim only spent two years in the program at ISU, the experience and coursework broadened his academic skills and he arrived back at WKU in 1972 to take up an appointment as Assistant Professor in Geography, receiving tenure in 1977.
Over the years, Jim teamed with former Department Head Wayne Hoffman on dozens of research projects related to city and regional planning, not only through the Center for Local Government, but through partnerships with local and regional government agencies. He published as author or co-author several articles and planning reports, presented his research findings regularly at regional and national meetings, and received funding support from numerous local, state, and federal agencies, especially in the 1980s. Jim contributed to his department, college, and community in myriad ways over the past 40 years, serving on innumerable committees, advising WKU’s Gamma Theta Epsilon chapter, and working with area P-12 schools to promote geographic awareness and science education.
Jim loved teaching and was widely appreciated as a tough but fair professor who always went out of his way to help a student if the student showed a willingness to improve. A few student comments illustrate his no-nonsense approach to teaching:
“He’s the kindest man…he does expect the truth from students and is a ‘straight shooter.’ If you lie to him, you had better be prepared for the consequences. He’s as smart as a tack and loves what he does.”
“Overall, he is a fun instructor with numerous stories and anecdotes, but his tests are the bane of human existence.”
“I love this man. I’m going to take every class he teaches!”
“You were and may well still be the most colorful teacher in the Department. Geographers could save the world if anyone would just listen!”
“I just wanted to tell you that I really enjoyed your many classes I took at WKU. I still tell some of the stories you once told me. You are a credit to WKU as you make learning fun. That was a pretty tough time in my life and I really believe you helped keep me in college.”
In recent years, Jim suffered several health challenges and he opted for transitional retirement in June 2007. Jim was an engaging teacher, a feisty character, and a lifelong geographer. He believed in challenging students to rise above their own expectations and he pushed them to change the world. He will be sadly missed by friends and colleagues.

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Spring 2009

Welcome back to WKU and the Spring 2009 semester. The Department has many exciting speciality courses this semester, including Energy and Society (Dr. May), Geology of National Parks (Dr. Celestian), Cenozoic Geology and Florida Spring Break trip (Dr. Florea), and Dr. Wulff is organizing one of his famous Spring break adventures to California/Nevada. The GIS Certificate courses are now all online and can be accessed for distance learners starting this summer 2009. The Department is also hiring a new Cultural Geographer, a new Meteorologist, and a new Geomorphologist.
More news is available on the departmental website – www.wku.edu/geoweb

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Study Abroad 2009

Winter and Spring semester classes are now open on topnet.wku.edu – register early for several of the advanced courses that have a limited number of spaces available. The Department is also planning a Summer 2009 study abroad program to northern Spain in partnership with the WkU Alumni Association. Travel dates for alumni are May 20th through May 31st, and interested alumni should contact tracy.morrison@wku.edu. Students who are interested in the three-week Spain program (May 20th through June 6th) should contact debbie.kreitzer@wku.edu for more information.

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New Meteorology Program Leader

I’m pleased to announce that Dr. Gregory Goodrich has been appointed Program Leader of the Meteorology undergraduate degree effective immediately. Greg has taken a very pro-active role in building our new B.S. meteorology program, from recruiting new students to WKU who normally would have enrolled elsewhere, to working with individual meteorology students on their programs, and developing research opportunities for them. We currently have 44 students enrolled in the program and we are targeting significant growth over the next five years.
Dr Goodrich will assume primary responsibility for marketing and recruiting for the B.S. Meteorology program, for student advising, for curriculum development, and for managing our student retention efforts to ensure that every student who enrolls in the Department’s meteorology programs graduates with a degree from WKU.

Please join me in congratulating Dr Goodrich on this appointment and in wishing him, our students, and the Department every sucess in achieving these ambitious goals.

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New article on Latin American Transport

The latest issue of the international Journal of Latin American Geography features an article by Geography and Geology Department Head David Keeling on the region’s transportation challenges.
After working in Bogotá and Medellín, Colombia, over the past nine months on social and economic development issues, he found that accessibility and mobility adequacies explained much about the inability of Latin American societies to build up their economies.
Inadequate transportation infrastructure not only plagues Latin America but continues to be a serious problem for the United States. Many of the infrastructural weaknesses highlighted in this article are also evident throughout North America, as illustrated recently by interstate highway bridge collapses, computer failures at major airports, and a lack of alternate sources of energy (A recent Op Ed on this issue is available here.)
Solutions to Latin America’s transport ills include the introduction of new analytical techniques such as Geographic Information Systems (GIS), more attention to regional integration opportunities and new infrastructure.
Dr. Keeling will follow up on this regional research with a more in-depth analysis of transportation challenges in Colombia as part of a long-term research project funded by the American Geographical Society and the Foreign Military Studies Office.
Others from WKU participating in the Colombia project are assistant professor of sociology Dr. Holli Drummond; adjunct history instructor John Dizgun; GIS Center director Kevin Cary; geoscience graduate student Brandon Fowler of Bowling Green; and Gatton Academy student Samuel Crocker of Franklin.

More information about the Colombia research is available here.

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Medellin, Colombia, project

July 21, 2008
Bowling Green, Ky. – Faculty and students from Western Kentucky University’s Department of Geography and Geology returned this past weekend from 10 days in Colombia studying community change in Medellín.

Department Head Dr. David Keeling is the lead investigator for the American Geographical Society’s Bowman Expedition to Colombia, now ending its first full year of analysis.

The AGS Bowman Expeditions were established in 2005 as part of the Society’s broader goal of combating geographic ignorance in all sectors of society. The Bowman Expedition to Colombia is the third of these projects, following successful research in Mexico and the Antilles.

With full funding, the AGS would send a geography professor and two or three graduate students to every country in the world for a full semester each year, with teams rotating on a five-year cycle so that each country could be understood by five separate teams. Each team would collect open source GIS data and conduct one research project of the investigator’s choice.

Accompanying Dr. Keeling to Medellín were History Instructor John Dizgun and Brian Blickenstaff of Claremont, Calif., a Southern Mississippi University geography graduate student, as well as researchers from the WKU-GEOSCIRE Research Center in Bogotá.

Dr. Jerry Dobson, professor of geography at Kansas University and president of the American Geographical Society, along with Dr. Geoff Demarest from the Foreign Military Studies Office at Ft. Leavenworth, Kan., also joined the WKU team in the field. The research team met with the mayor of Medellín, government officials in planning, housing, security, transportation, and reconstruction, and with neighborhood leaders in Comuna 13.

The goal of the Medellín project is to create a virtual geographic and historical Atlas of Comuna 13, a neighborhood in the city afflicted by terrible violence over the past 20 years. During the late 1980s and early 1990s, a period when narco-traffickers such as the infamous Pablo Escobar terrorized the city, murder rates in the neighborhood of Comuna 13 soared past 400 per 100,000 inhabitants (the world average is eight per 100,000).

After the death of Escobar in 1993, paramilitary gangs and guerilla groups like the FARC (Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia), ELN and CAP, among others, seized control of the community and murder rates again soared. An alliance of national police, military and local security forces finally broke these groups’ stranglehold on the neighborhood with a series of operations in 2001 and 2002, culminating in Operation Orion.

Since 2003, the neighborhood of Comuna 13 in Medellín has enjoyed a minor renaissance, with enhanced security through local policing, new schools and medical clinics, a community library, and other infrastructural improvements. The WKU-led AGS project in Medellín will assess these changes in the context of the neighborhood’s geography and history, with the goal of producing the virtual atlas and several academic journal articles.

More information about the project is available online at www.amergeog.org/bowman-colombia.htm.

More WKU news is available at www.wku.edu. If you’d like to receive WKU news via e-mail, send a message to WKUNews@wku.edu.

For information, contact David Keeling at (270) 745-4555.

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Summer Study Abroad

Ten WKU students and four faculty returned from a month-long study abroad program through the eastern Mediterranean on June 6th. Organized and led by the Department of Geography and Geology, the program exposed students to a variety of physical and cultural environments in Turkey, Greece, Italy, and Slovenia. Leading the program were geography instructors Debbie Kreitzer and Will Blackburn , Department Head Dr. David Keeling, and Community College instructor DJ Urquhart.

Participating students represented nine WKU departments – Amber Hager (Elementary Education major from Bowling Green), Patricia Ide (Elementary Education major from St. Louis, MO), Nikisa Razban (Broadcasting major from Paducah), Jamie Jackson (Political Science graduate student from Bowling Green), Devin Moran (English major from Lexington), J. Kyle Thompson (Meterorology major from Henderson), John Deaton (Electrical Engineering major from Bowling Green), Laura Blackburn (Nursing major from Bowling Green), Laura Rosser (History major from Franklin, TN), and Jenna Jepson (Psychology major from Price, UT).

The Department of Geography and Geology’s annual field camp programs are designed to introduce students from multiple disciplines to contemporary social and environmental issues in different parts of the world. Previous international programs have visited Argentina, Australia, the Bahamas, Belgium, Britain, Chile, France, Ireland, Mexico, and Tanzania. During the eastern Mediterranean program, students learned about Turkey’s attempt to join the European Union and explored its secular Islamic culture. In Greece, visits to Mykonos and Santorini focused on environmental conditions on small Aegean islands, especially the historical impact of the Santorini volcanic eruption 3,000 years ago.

In Athens and Delphi, the roots of Western civilization were examined, with specific attention paid to acid rain damage to national monuments and the challenges presented by insufficient infrastructure. Five days in Italy gave students the opportunity to visit Bologna, Florence, Rome, and Venice, with discussions on environment, culture, and historical geography providing context for explorations of the built landscape.

The program ended with four days in western Slovenia. Dr. Martin Knez from the Karst Research Institute in Postojna hosted the students for a full-day exploration of the spectacular cave and karst landscapes of the region, providing maps, lectures, and research material on the various karstic systems around Postojna. A hike through the Vintnar Gorge in the Julian Alps near Bled provided students with an opportunity to study stream hydraulics and erosion processes. During the last day in Slovenia, students learned about communism in Yugoslavia, the post-1990 breakup of that country, and Slovenia’s independence and accession to the European Union, followed by a brief tour of Ljubljana, the capital city.

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Student Honors Night

Dr. Keeling is on sabbatical for the Spring 2008 semester. Keep up on departmental activities through the website /. The annual Department of Geography and Geology Student Awards night is scheduled for Wednesday April 23 at 5:00 pm in the lobby of EST. Presentations will begin at 5:30 pm in EST 260 – everyone is encouraged to attend.

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Bowman Expeditions

In partnership with the American Geographical Society and the Foreign Military Studies Office, Dr. David Keeling has been awarded a competitive grant to conduct research in Colombia. The FMSO already has a team of Colombian researchers in place, and Keeling’s role is to evaluate their materials and harmonize for open source publication on the Bowman Expedition website of the AGS. A workshop held recently in New York (see news story posted online) presented results from the México Indígena project led by Dr. Peter Herlihy at the University of Kansas (visit the website here). For more information about the AGS Bowman expeditions, visit the AGS website.

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Desperately Seeking Infrastructure

Over the past few months, there have been myriad news stories about problems with America’s transportation infrastructure. From congested airports, cancelled flights, collapsing highway bridges, and other tales of woe, the U.S. has a serious challenge ahead in providing adequate infrastructure to facilitate more productive engagement with the global economy. My latest Op Ed about this issue – titled Who will put America back together again? – was published in the Honolulu Hawaii Reporter and reprinted in Haitiweb online on September 29, 2007.

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