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AAG President Sheryl Luzzadder-BeachI have said before that as an organization, the AAG punches well above its weight. It is among the healthiest of the academic membership associations and it has done wonders in reflecting and guiding geography. Much of the credit goes to the quality of the AAG staff, incredible people who churn out helpful materials, engage with us on social media, and put together a massive and delicious conference every spring. Heading the staff is the executive director. Since I have been a professional geographer, as a graduate student and faculty member, there have been only three executive directors: Robert Aangeenbrug, Ron Abler, and Doug Richardson. These capable individuals have provided remarkable stability and have propelled the organization forward. From when I first joined the AAG in the 1980s, we have tripled the number of members, quadrupled the annual meeting registrants, and vastly expanded our budget and operations.

Gary LanghamNow our organization will be directed by Dr. Gary Langham. Gary will leave his position as Vice President and Chief Scientist at the National Audubon Society on August 15th to join us as the new AAG Executive Director. This works out wonderfully since the AAG follows the rhythms of the academic year as new officers and councilors begin on July 1st, regional meetings take place in the Fall, and everything culminates in the big annual meeting in the Spring. Gary will be here for all of this, aided by the capable AAG staff.

While I realize that the search process was laid out for you beforehand, it might help to provide a postscript to this detailed and successful journey. Over the years and thanks to the growth of the AAG, the Executive Director position has become quite complex; most academics would not be equipped to take this on from the start. We required someone who already managed large budgets, acquired new funds, oversaw several staff members, interacted with thousands of members, and was accustomed to the world of non-profit organizations.

The AAG retained the search firm, Storbeck-Pimentel, to flush out potential candidates for the position. A Search Committee was then established, led by past-president Glen MacDonald and including councilors and past presidents, to make decisions on each of the applicants. Storbeck-Pimentel consulted a wide range of members to gauge what the AAG was looking for in an Executive Director. They then contacted 239 individuals which yielded 57 active candidates. Of these candidates, the Search Committee chose 23 to be rigorously evaluated, and out of this pool, 10 candidates were selected for interviews. Finally four finalists were brought to Washington, DC to be interviewed both by members of the Search Committee and by the AAG Council. Demographic diversity was stressed throughout the search process. The initial 23 candidates included eight women and six people of color. The 10 semi-finalists included five women and three people of color. And our final pool had three men, one woman, and two people of color. The AAG Council met in a special session in mid-June to make the final selection and found Gary Langham to be the best candidate for the job. An informal offer was extended that very day.

Gary comes to us from the Audubon Society where he has been since 2007; Audubon is a vast member-driven organization with dozens of chapters. His PhD is in ecology, and he double majored in both English and Biology. One of the key aspects of Gary’s current job is preserving bird habitat and providing the necessary policy tools with which to accomplish this. Gary’s job has taken him around the world and he is most proud of his efforts to link how climate change affects bird habitats in North America.

What impressed the Council the most was the degree of innovation and energy Gary would bring to the association. He wants to invigorate AAG regional divisions, increase our targeting of HBCUs, get college students involved at an early stage, and make the AAG more attractive to non-academics. He sees the core mission of the association as looking after its members and providing the types of services that matter the most. At the same time, Gary is mindful of the need to grow strategically, through increased grant acquisition and further broadening of our geographical network.

The AAG has become the necessary organization for geography, not just in the United States but around the world. We demand an outstanding executive director. I think that you will agree, after seeing Gary in action, that the Search Committee and the AAG Council made the right choice.

— Dave Kaplan
AAG President