Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Yoruba Richen
Photo 1 Yoruba Richen, filmmaker and director, speaks during the AAG ceremony at MSU during Geography Awareness Week in 2019. (Photo credit: Jacqueline Hawthorne)

As part of its annual celebration of Geography Awareness Week, the Department of Geography, Environment, and Spatial Sciences at Michigan State University (MSU), featured a screening of The Smithsonian Channel’s The Green Book: A Guide to Freedom followed by an engaging Q & A session with filmmaker and director Yoruba Richen. Richen’s film takes an in-depth look into the real story of Victor H. Green’s The Negro Motorist Green Book, during the Jim Crow era and beyond.

A $10,000 check was presented to the department on behalf of the American Association of Geographers (AAG) during the event held at the Clifton & Dolores Wharton Center for Performing Arts on the campus of MSU on November 14, 2019. This award denoted the first installment of a $30,000 gift in support of the Advancing Geography Through Diversity Program (AGTDP) initiative to support underrepresented graduate students who are African-American, Latinx, and Native American.

Karen Johnson-Webb
Photo 2 Dr. Karen Johnson-Webb speaks during the AAG ceremony at MSU during Geography Awareness Week in 2019. Johnson-Webb is a Professor of Geography at Bowling Green State University (BGSU) and serves as the elected secretary to the executive committee of the American Association of Geographers (AAG). Before earning her Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Johnson-Webb, a human geographer specializing in health and medical geography, earned a BA and an MA in Geography from MSU. (Photo credit: Jacqueline Hawthorne)

The Advancing Geography Through Diversity Program (AGTDP) at MSU is a nationally recognized initiative facilitating diversity within the discipline of Geography. The program’s goal is to recruit and support outstanding graduate students from key underrepresented groups, who are seeking to obtain either a Master’s or Doctorate in Geography. Students admitted to the MSU Department of Geography, Environment, and Spatial Sciences via AGTDP receive full funding.

Following a few brief remarks by Richen, Dr. Karen Johnson-Webb, Associate Professor of Geography at Bowling Green State University, and elected secretary to the executive committee of the AAG, presented the check in support of the professional development of underrepresented graduate students within the department. Before earning her Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Johnson-Webb, a human geographer specializing in health and medical geography, earned a BA and an MA in Geography from MSU. “Shortly before the presentation, I was told that I was the first African-American (U.S.-born) to earn a Master’s degree (1994) in Geography at MSU. This seemed hard to believe,” said Johnson-Webb. “Geography is a very diverse discipline in terms of ethnicity and nationality. However, scholars of African American, Hispanic American, and American Indian heritage are grossly underrepresented.”

Dr. Johnson-Webb commended the department for making a concerted effort to recruit and fund underrepresented scholars in geography. She also praised MSU’s Dr. Joe Darden, a professor of Geography for nearly 50 years and recipient of the 2019 AAG Lifetime Achievement Award, for his tireless efforts both in the department and in the discipline to increase diversity. Darden has served as a mentor to countless students and is also the recipient of MSU’s Distinguished Faculty Award (1984), the Ethnic Geography Specialty Group’s Distinguished Scholar Award (2006), the AAG Enhancing Diversity Award (2006), and the Distinguished Ethnic Geography Career Award (2015), and was elected to the inaugural cohort of AAG Fellows in 2018.

Rachel Croson
Photo 3 Rachel Croson, Former Dean of the College of Social Science, accepts a check presented by Dr. Karen Webb-Johnson on behalf of AAG. From left to right: Dr. Karen Johnson-Webb, Professor of Geography at BGSU and AAG Secretary; Rachel Croson, former Dean of the College of Social Science, Dr. Joe T Darden, Professor of Geography; and Dr. Dee Jordan, recent Ph.D. graduate and second African-American woman to receive a doctorate from the Department of Geography. (Photo Courtesy of Dee Jordan)

“I am honored to be a member of this pioneering initiative. AGTDP has facilitated the building of a lifelong network of support,” said Cordelia Martin, a health geographer pursuing her Ph.D. in MSU’s Global Urban Studies Program (GUSP). “I am inspired by the talent and passion of my fellow members, and I know they will go forward and be forces of progressive change within their local and global communities.”

Angie Sanchez, a Ph.D. student, says she has benefitted from AGTDP in several ways. “First off, the camaraderie build with other AGTDP scholars has been lifesaving during my first year as a Ph.D. student,” she said. “We have built a system of folks that understand the issues that go on in our lives as minorities, as minority scholars, and as minorities in a predominantly non-diverse field. We support each other through things as simple as having a social hour together, to having write-ins and study groups for classes we end up taking together.” Sanchez also appreciates the access AGTDP has provided to guest speakers such as Dr. Beronda Montgomery. “She has helped guide me through her words and is a support and source of encouragement.”

Funding through AGTDP helps lessen the financial stressors many graduate students face allowing them to focus on their studies. “Because of the financial assistance and support from the AAG, I was able to complete my first year as a doctoral student with a 4.0 and make numerous academic and professional connections,” said Kionna Henderson, pursuing a Ph.D. in Geography after receiving a Master of Public Health degree.

Photo 5 (From left to right) Rachel Croson, former Dean of the College of Social Science, Dr. Joe T Darden, Professor of Geography; and Dr. Dee Jordan, recent Ph.D. graduate and second African-American woman to receive a doctorate from the Department of Geography. (Photo credit: Jacqueline Hawthorne)

MSU is grateful for the ongoing support of AAG and is committed to AGTDP and to expanding the impact of scholars of African American, Hispanic American, and American Indian heritage in the discipline of Geography. For additional information about AGTDP, please visit geo.msu.edu.