GEOGRAPH SU17: From the Department Head

Summer 2017 Newsletter
Wednesday, August 30, 2017 - 10:30am

(Your name here): building community, supporting international travel, and celebrating excellence

Cynthia BrewerA few times during the year, our college development folks email me about upcoming visits with alumni, and they ask me what our department funding priorities are. They might also ask what specific opportunities exist for someone with a special focus on x-y-z.  So, as head, I need to think about our development priorities from two different points of view; first, what will strengthen and position the department overall for success, and second, what unique projects will appeal most to particular donors.
I currently have four things on my general department funding wish list:
1. Global Experiences Endowment for our Undergraduate Students
As a geographer, you know how valuable travel is. International experiences are key to educating global citizens, but only about two percent of Penn State students actually travel each year on study abroad, in part due to the financial cost.  What if every geography major graduated with at least one academic international experience on their résumé?
2. Outstanding Graduate Research (RA) and Teaching Assistant (TA) Awards Endowment
Being able to provide recognition for the best RA and TA in the department each year shows how appreciative professors are of their work, and it helps these students with the costs of attending graduate school. (Remember all the ramen noodles you ate?) It is a required first level of recognition that allows our best graduate students to be eligible for college and university awards for research and teaching. And, that recognition strengthens their CVs when they start interviewing for their new careers in research and teaching.
3. We Are Geography Endowment
An unrestricted fund is important for a department because it gives the department head flexibility in how it is used.  One thing we use this kind of funding for is creating a vibrant community that helps attract top talent in faculty and graduate students and supports cross-disciplinary research. It is another way we can support emerging programs that do not already have an endowment or students who are pioneering projects outside the mainstream.
4.  A Gift to Renew the Department Front Entry
Do you remember when you first came to the third floor of Walker Building and found your hometown on the giant relief map outside room 302? The same map is still here; students and parents still come to find their town on it.  As one of the main visual representations of our department’s presence, it has not aged well; there are holes, tears, and tape.  Its condition is making a shabby impression, and I would like to plan a renewed look for this entry wall.
There are also opportunities to add to existing endowments, such as the C. Gregory Knight Endowment in Geography, Coffee Hour to Go Fund, and others, so a modest gift lasts forever.
We recently reorganized the financial aid and awards pages on our department website to make it easier for students as well as alumni and friends to learn about the support available and ways to give. If you visit:, you can see all the ways we are providing financial aid to students.
In addition to my general needs wish list, there are many ways to create incredible and specific funding opportunities that align with a donor’s passion. For example, if you are passionate about unmanned aerial vehicle research, or supporting environmental justice fieldwork in Africa, endowing a faculty chair in landscape ecology, or creating a crowdfunding campaign on Let’s Grow State, we want to work with you to make it happen. 
When prospective students are exploring programs, what stands out is the support provided to them, the resources available in the department, and the kind of community they will be joining. Your philanthropy, general or specific, is what gives a  prospective student the push to say yes to an acceptance letter, buy the plane ticket to travel abroad, or learn from the top minds in our discipline.  These moments define each Penn State geographer’s experience and stay with them for the rest of their lives.
We recognize and thank our benefactors in a variety of ways.  We send thank-you letters and write news stories about major gifts. Penn State recognizes the most generous supporters by inviting them to become members of University or college giving societies. But one of the most meaningful, in my mind, is that we see a gift as a tangible connection, and we want you to participate in the department activities related to what you support.
If you’re ready to put your name on something I’ve mentioned above or have another creative idea, give me a call. Our development office can work out the details for nearly any giving scenario we can come up with. I’m looking forward to hearing from you and realizing our shared vision for excellence in geography.