NMSU professor elected president of national geography education organization
Las Cruces, NM (NMSU) — New Mexico State University professor Michael DeMers wants to change the way geography is taught in America. The newly elected president of the National Council for Geographic Education began his one-year term in January.
NCGE is a non-profit organization dedicated to "enhancing the status and quality of geography teaching and learning" at all levels, according to its website. Members include teachers, professors, students, businesses, and others who support geographic education. NCGE hosts presentations, webinars, workshops and an annual conference, and interacts with other geography-related organizations.
"Geography is incredibly rich and enjoyable," said DeMers, a geography professor in the College of Arts and Sciences. "It's about adventures, people, places, culture, plants and animals. The discipline is as vibrant as ever, but very few of us really know geography."
DeMers' goals for his presidency include increasing memberships by at least 500 members and offering virtual attendance for members who can't commute to the organization's national meeting locations.
NCGE publishes the Journal of Geography and The Geography Teacher, and recently published "Geography for Life," a teaching guide that sets the geography standards for K-12 teachers.
DeMers explained that contrary to what many people think, geography is about more than simply memorizing the capitals of different nations.
"What geographers do is observe patterns on the surface of the earth, and describe those patterns, usually in the form of maps," he said. "After that we try to explain why those patterns are there. If we're fortunate enough, we can exploit those patterns for planning. Those patterns can be political, economical, about natural resources, etc. We're able to integrate knowledge from many other disciplines."
The importance of geography, DeMers added, is often underestimated. "There are various branches of geography and each provides important insights into different aspects of our world, including how different cultures transform the world in which we live. It is essential that Americans try to understand other cultures' impacts on the global scene and their motivations," he said. "We cannot afford to be geographically ignorant. It is a matter of national security, in my opinion."
This year's National Conference on Geography Education will be held July 31 to Aug. 3 in Memphis Tennessee. The keynote speaker will be Brian Unger, host of the History Channel series "How the States Got Their Shapes." Professors, K-12 educators and students are encouraged to attend the event.
In 2015, NCGE will celebrate its centennial year and hold its conference in Washington, D.C. with many special events.
Before being elected president, DeMers served three years as vice chair of external relations. He is also the alliance coordinator of the New Mexico Geographic Alliance, funded by the National Geographic Society.. His research is focused on geographic information systems and includes creating new tools for learning and practicing geography. He is a recipient of the James R. Anderson Medal of Honor in Applied Geography.
"I want to be able to turn over the organization to the next incoming president better funded and with more members, better outreach and a larger budget to allow for lean times," DeMers said.
For more information about the National Council for Geography Education, visit http://ncge.org.