Strengthening the AAG Through Cross-Disciplinary Outreach
Who belongs to the AAG? Who attends AAG annual meetings? Who reads and publishes in AAG journals? Hopefully, the AAG is the scholarly society of choice for professional geographers. Certainly that is the goal toward which the AAG must continue to strive, and recent substantial increases in AAG membership and annual meeting attendance point to strong progress toward this goal. But what about scholars and practitioners from other disciplines whose professional interests overlap with those of geographers? While many, if not most, geographers actively participate in more than one disciplinary society, my impression is that it is less often the case that those in other disciplines participate in the AAG. Is the AAG equally as attractive to scholars and practitioners from other disciplines as their scholarly societies are to geographers? Do non-geographers participate in AAG annual and regional meetings, read AAG journals, or submit quality manuscripts to the AAG journal suite at the level that geographers contribute to other disciplinary societies?
The AAG has been presented with a unique opportunity to experiment with modes of outreach to members of other disciplinary societies. J. Marshall Shepherd, Professor of Geography at the University of Georgia and an active AAG member, is currently the President of the American Meteorological Society (AMS), an organization for which I have served in several volunteer governance positions including Commissioner for Education and Human Resources and, more recently, Planning Commissioner. This mutual familiarity with organizational structure and culture provides a comfortable environment for both organizations to explore cross-disciplinary outreach. For the AAG, this is an opportunity to more broadly reach out to members of a scholarly society in which there is already considerable presence by geographers and in an area (physical science) where greater involvement from non-geographers could be highly beneficial to the AAG. Likewise, geography is an obvious choice for the AMS to broaden its cross-disciplinary interactions given the already large membership in the AMS by climatologists within geography, the increasing use of GIS methods and models in atmospheric science, and the relatively recent recognition of the importance of greater participation by social scientists in the weather and climate enterprise.
Credit for initiating this joint outreach effort goes to the AMS, and to date most activities have taken place at AAG annual meetings. At the 2012 annual meeting in New York City, Louis Uccellini, AMS president at that time and currently director of the U.S. National Weather Service, moderated two panel discussions that were organized by a small committee composed of atmospheric scientists and geographers. The first session highlighted the opportunities and challenges faced by younger scientists when communicating across disciplinary boundaries, whereas the second session included chairs from several of the AAG specialty groups as panelists and focused on potential linkages between geography and the atmospheric sciences. At the 2013 AAG annual meeting in Los Angeles, Marshall kicked off his AMS presidential year with a special session on extreme weather-climate and the built environment, the theme of the upcoming 2014 AMS annual meeting over which Marshall is presiding. Many of you may also remember the AMS booth in the exhibit hall at the AAG Los Angles meeting. This focus on the AAG annual meeting has been appropriate, in my mind, given the relatively greater presence of geographers, although primarily physical geographers, at past AMS annual meetings compared to that of atmospheric scientists at past AAG annual meetings.
The close proximity, both temporally and spatially, of the 2014 AMS (Atlanta, February 2-6) and AAG (Tampa, April 8-12) annual meetings, overlapping themes for the two meetings, and society presidents who are grounded in both organizations make this year a particularly opportune time to further strengthen linkages at the membership level between the AAG and AMS. With this in mind, the AAG will have a formal presence at the upcoming 2014 AMS annual meeting. Although plans are still being formulated, a major activity will be an AAG booth in the lively, well-visited exhibit hall at the AMS annual meeting. The booth will prominently display information on AAG publications, the upcoming Tampa meeting and future annual meetings, AAG K-12 educational outreach activities, and more generally on the diversity and breath of geography. Meeting attendees will have an opportunity to speak with AAG members and staff, and hopefully will be inspired to become more familiar with AAG publications, participate in future AAG meetings, and even become AAG members. Membership application forms will, of course, be available. In addition to the AAG booth, a “Meet the Presidents” session has been scheduled where Marshall and I will informally engage with meeting attendees on improved linkages between atmospheric science and geography and the benefits that the AAG and AMS can provide for both disciplines. The overall goal of these activities is to enhance the visibility of the AAG within the atmospheric science community.
This type of outreach is a relatively new endeavor for the AAG. In the past, AAG interactions with other disciplinary societies have primarily occurred at the executive director level through multiple-society advocacy organizations such as the Consortium of Social Science Associations or the American Geosciences Institute. In contrast, the outreach activities described above are explicitly directed at the members of scholarly societies. Clearly, this initial effort focuses on a single disciplinary society, although one with potential for interactions across the breadth of geography. The upcoming AMS annual meeting presents an opportunity to experiment with outreach strategies, evaluate their effectiveness, and potentially develop a model for outreach to a broad range of disciplinary societies. The AAG’s first and foremost obligation will always be serving the needs of geographers, but its reputation and long-term viability also depend on the how the AAG is viewed from outside the discipline. The AAG needs to be highly visible to, and well regarded by, scholars and practitioners across a multitude of disciplines, and active outreach is one means to promote greater visibility. I welcome your thoughts on potential outreach opportunities for the AAG to other disciplinary societies and look forward to hearing from you.
Past president columns can be found in the AAG President’s Column archives.