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The AAG is pleased to announce that the Department of Geography at DePaul University will receive the inaugural AAG Award for Program Excellence, which was established to recognize geography programs at U.S. colleges and universities. This award honors non-PhD granting geography programs that have significantly enhanced the prominence and reputation of geography as a discipline, and demonstrated the characteristics of a strong and engaged academic unit.

The Department of Geography at DePaul University, housed in the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences, offers a BA in Geography. DePaul’s dynamic and innovative department has seven tenure-track faculty members along with two to three adjunct faculty members. Formed in 1948 as a single-person academic unit, the Department was threatened with closure in the late-1990s. In response, the Department set out an ambitious plan to rejuvenate and transform its institutional position and departmental health over the past 15 years.

The Selection Committee noted the success that the Department of Geography at DePaul has had in: 1) diversifying its faculty membership and student body; 2) developing a curriculum that advances urban social justice, community service, and geotechnology; 3) promoting Geography both on and off campus in Chicago; 4) taking a leadership role in the West Lakes division of the AAG; 5) engaging in local, national and international scholarly debates and research; 6) attracting talented students who later pursue graduate study in geography or geography-related careers; and 7) creatively using social media to maintain and advance alumni relations and public outreach.

The DePaul program’s application was marked by effusive letters of praise and support from current students, alumni, the Dean’s office, and colleagues outside the university. The Geography Department at DePaul is led by Dr. Euan Hague, who serves as Chair.

The Selection Committee also chose to grant an honorable mention to the Geography Program within the Department of Geography-Geology at Illinois State University. Housed in the College of Arts & Sciences, the program offers BA and BS degrees in Geography with four possible thematic concentrations and a Geography Teacher Education Major. Illinois State University had the first stand-alone Geography department in Illinois, dating back to 1902, and was among the very first in the country. Now residing in a blended department with Geology and Hydrogeology, the Geography Program embraces shared governance built upon consensus-building, participative leadership, accountability, open communication, and a commitment to diversity.

With eight tenure tenure-line faculty members who balance scholarship, teaching, and outreach activities, Illinois State Geography’s curriculum is deeply rooted in liberal arts tradition while also demonstrating innovations in field-based education, internationalization of learning, and individualized undergraduate research. Every major student is required to engage in off-campus experiential learning and career preparation and the program’s geospatial initiative, called GEOMAP, is a frequent source of collaborations for faculty and students. The Illinois Geographic Alliance has been headquartered on campus since 1987. The Geography-Geology Department at Illinois State is led by Dr. Dagmar Budikova, who serves as Chair.

The AAG Award for Program Excellence will be presented in alternate years to bachelor’s programs and master’s programs with the inaugural 2016 award going to a department that offers no higher than an undergraduate degree.