Academic journal article The Geographical Bulletin

Leon Yacher: Scholar, Mentor, and Eclectic Geographer

Academic journal article The Geographical Bulletin

Leon Yacher: Scholar, Mentor, and Eclectic Geographer

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

It was the Summer of 2011, and I found myself engaging in fieldwork in southern Mexico. Pleasantly surprised with my Blackberry's reception along the Usumacinta River meandering along the edge of Chiapas, I noticed an e-mail had arrived from an esteemed colleague at the University of Oregon, Susan Hardwick. She asked me to speak at the National Conference on Geographic Education in a special session devoted to Leon Yacher of Southern Connecticut State University, a recipient of the Distinguished Mentor Award.1 So it was for that reason I found myself in Portland a few weeks later talking before an audience that included Past Presidents of the National Council for Geographic Education (NCGE), Association of American Geographers (AAG), and Gamma Theta Upsilon (GTU).

Yacher was in many ways an unusual candidate for the award. His scholarship often addressed matters that others normally left unexplored, and he had engaged in fieldwork in many countries at a level that was matched by only a few academic geographers. Moreover, unlike all but a fifth of those honored as Distinguished Mentors before him, he was not on the faculty of a Geography doctoral program. He spent nearly his entire academic career in a relatively ordinary public higher education institution devoted principally to undergraduate studies - the type of academic institution that is home to the majority of American Geography programs, and also the type of institution that has been home to all but two Gamma Theta Upsilon presidents of the past 50 years.2 It is striking that prior to 2011, of the 66 NCGE Distinguished Mentor Awardees, 54 were affiliated with doctoral programs, 8 served as faculty in departments that awarded master's degrees, and only 4 served in programs solely devoted to undergraduate studies. Clearly, faculty in doctoral programs are disproportionately represented on the list of those awarded with distinction by the NCGE and AAG, for of the 494 American geography programs recognized by the American Association of Geographers (2016), only 61 actually offer a geography Ph.D.; an additional 18 collaborate with other disciplines in the award of doctorates in related fields, and just 48 Ph.D. programs reported doctoral dissertations having been completed. In essence, 85% of geography programs do not award the doctorate, and it is the programs that are largely devoted to undergraduate studies that house the majority of academic geographers. Leon Yacher in many ways has exemplified the majority of geographers in higher education, and like him, their stories should also be told. Fortunately, as Kenzer (2001) has noted, "Unlike practitioners in other academic fields, when it comes to the intellectual history of our discipline, geographers love to dabble." However, examining this dabbling has normally been restricted to examining the contributions of faculty in Ph.D.-granting departments. Certainly, our discipline's history is rich; but written accounts are incomplete, for along with a marked absence of attention directed toward women in geography (DeVivo 2016b), the voice of geographers serving in colleges and universities of little prestige has for the most part been silent.3 Selected Ph.D. programs are investigated in books devoted to explorations of our discipline's past (DeVivo 2015; Johnston & Sidaway 2016; Martin 2005); but with the exception of widely scattered unpublished departmental histories, the history of undergraduate programs in geography, and their faculty, is largely unexamined.

Of late, undergraduate programs have drawn considerable interest among those in our discipline's leadership, for these are the training grounds for many in our field. In 2016, an undergraduate teaching award was established in memory of Harm de Blij,4 and in a recent article in the AAG Newsletter, the association's president, Sarah Bednarz, commented, "I believe we need to pay careful attention to undergraduate education in geography to strengthen our research base and to make the case to students, their parents, administrators, and others that geography is a worthwhile investment, financially and intellectually" (Bednarz 2015). …

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