BA/ BS Alumni

The following is a sample of alumni who have completed a Bachelor of Arts (BA) or a Bachelors of Science (BS) in the School of Geography and Development.

Michelle Coe (BS 2013), MA Student, School of Geography & Development, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona

I started my undergraduate career at the University of Arizona as a business major. I soon realized that business did not interest me nearly as much as my required undergraduate course titled “The Earth and Its Environment”, which went over basic applications of physical geography.  Soon after, I switched my major to a B.S. in Physical Geography, with minors in GIS and Anthropology. I have now recently graduated, and have participated in everything from the Undergraduate Geography Club, Gamma Theta Upsilon (the National Geography Honor Society), NSCS (National Society of Collegiate Scholars), NASA Space Grant Internships, the American Association of Geographers (AAG) conference, and working for the U.S. Geological Survey. In addition, while an undergraduate, I was lucky enough to study primatology in Rwanda, and study international carbon cap-and-trade business in Beijing, China. Overall, I have experienced working with physical geography GIS applications while at USGS concerning southwest grassland fires and their interaction with vegetation regrowth, as well as soil erosion dynamics on the Barry M. Goldwater site near Yuma, Arizona. I have had experience with various fieldwork tasks from both the USGS and studying abroad, and have a sense of international carbon policy and its limitations from my time in China. I will now be starting my M.A. in the Geography Department in fall, 2013 with a NASA Graduate Fellowship. With this fellowship, I will be working in Manzo Elementary’s greenhouse and school garden program, and will be incorporating GIS applications and soil/plant analysis experiments happening at the Biosphere 2 into Manzo’s program. I will also be studying how Clean Development Mechanisms (CDM’s)—project-based mechanisms from the Kyoto Protocol—are influencing biodiversity and community aspects in developing countries. My interests for the future include working as a political ecologist to evaluate the positive and negative effects of CDMs, and hopefully influencing environmental policy in developing countries.

Chelsea Halstead (BA 2012), Program Specialist, Missing Migrant Project, The Colibri Center for Human Rights, Tucson, Arizona

When I began college I had several misgivings. I wasn't convinced that anything in a classroom could teach me more than getting out in the real world and exploring, volunteering, and travelling, and I found the gen-eds I took freshman year to be mundane and uninteresting. Instead of quitting and disappointing my family, I decided to sign up for a study abroad program in Guatemala for the entirety of my sophomore year. It was there that I took my first geography course and found that all of my passions were somehow miraculously contained within this fascinating major that focused in on the relationships between people, economies, and the environment. Once back in the states, I dove head first into every geography class my schedule could accommodate. I learned Marxist theory and political economy through David Simon's "The Wire" and was sent to an Association of Pacific Coast Geographers (APCG) conference in San Francisco to present my paper on the Zapatista movement in Chiapas, Mexico. I learned about the human rights crisis taking place on the U.S.-Mexico border, where thousands are dying in the desert in pursuit of better lives, and have been involved with this heartbreaking topic ever since. I found that the geography department was full of brilliant, engaging professors like Liz Oglesby , Sallie Marston, and Jeff Banister, all of whom were eager to help me and my peers develop our strengths.

After graduating, I was offered a job at the Binational Migration Institute in the Mexican American Studies Department as a researcher on a Department of Justice funded study which investigated the handling of migrant remains across all four border states. That work helped me land a Humanity in Action Fellowship in the summer of 2013, which sent me to Washington D.C., Berlin Germany, and Warsaw Poland to study current international human rights violations through the lens of World War II and the Holocaust. Upon my return in July 2013, I was offered a position as a founding team member of a new NGO, The Colibri Center for Human Rights, where I now am a Program Specialist. Our work at Colibri is to identify human remains found on the US-Mexico border through comprehensive forensic research and reliable data on missing persons. Defense of human rights is something I have decided to dedicate my life's work towards, and I feel grateful everyday to have the chance to do work that feels meaningful and is service oriented. I was extremely lucky that my wanderlust led me to the geography department, and I highly recommend it to anyone curious about the world and the systems that influence everything from environmental degradation to human interaction on both a personal and international scale.

Daniel Majewski (BS 2011)

I have always had a major interest in geography and maps. I remember being young and memorizing the capitols as well as competing in the state National Geographic Geography Bee. When I learned about geography as a major, I was interested but reluctant: what could I possibly do with a geography major? The regional development major helped to bridge the gap with an emphasis in geography as well as planning and business. As I was working my way through my undergraduate degree, I became very interested in walking, bicycling and public transit as methods for moving around urban spaces. Why weren't more people using these methods to move around town? Why was the car so dominant even when the disadvantages to using it were (to me) so obvious?

I soon became involved with local organizations (non-profit and institutional) where I began to learn the ins and outs of bicycle transportation and planning, as well as the other "alternate modes" I previously mentioned.

As soon as I graduated with my BS in Regional Development, I began doing part-time bicycle planning work for the City of Tucson. I worked there until May 2012 when I went on a 6 month long adventure to Israel and beyond. I'm currently back in my hometown of Albuquerque, NM searching for a job doing transportation planning. I hope to soon be back in my preferred role of using my experience and my degree to give more people the ability to use methods other than the automobile to transport themselves across the city and beyond.

Roy Petrakis (BA 2011), Research Assistant/GIS Laboratory U.S. Geological Survey Western Science Center, Tucson, Arizona

Growing up in Albuquerque, NM, I had always been interested in geography. I simply loved to explore the Sandia Mountains and Rio Grande Bosque, both located in the heart Albuquerque, which offered me that freedom. However, when I began my undergraduate studies I had no intentions to pursue geography. That all changed when I took Dr. Robbins World Regional Geography course for general education credits my junior year. It took only one day in that class to remind me that geography was still my passion. Nevertheless, when I received a BA in Geography from the University of Arizona in December of 2011, I was unsure of what I was going to do with it. I had taken a wide variety of courses in the department but had no real focus or career goals. Fortunately, there was an open position to assist a U.S. Geological Survey researcher in the School of Natural Resources and Environment (SNRE) GIS Laboratory at the University of Arizona. For me, this was perfect. I enjoyed the few GIS courses I took and this was an opportunity to explore that interest. I took the job and have been working there ever since. I have been lucky enough to lead projects and assist on many more. The lessons learned throughout this experience have inspired me to apply for graduate schools and I will be starting the MA program in Geography here at the University of Arizona in August.

Philip Sparks (BS/BA 2013), Operations Analyst, The Goldman Sachs Group, Salt Lake City, Utah

You know how at the beginning of college, people and various how-to guides always tell you that you can list any major down during orientation because you'll probably change it anyways? Well, I'm one of those crazy kids who knew exactly what I wanted to study from the moment I stepped upon the UA campus. Having researched all the paths one could study as an undergraduate, I found that the study of geography is essentially the crux between the humanities and the sciences. The Collegeboard website also described geography as "the study of how the world works." I was sold.

If you make the decision to study geography, you may find yourself having to repeatedly describe or defend your studies to your parents and peers. I had many people (including my father) believe I was studying geology, and ask what my favorite rocks were. Others who did hear me correctly thought asked for my favorite country, and thought I was taking courses that involved looking at maps all day (well there was computer cartography, but it was way more involved than simply looking at maps). This, while at times annoying, is a highly valuable skill once you start working "in the real world", as it forces you to constantly prove and defend your choices and skills to other people. It also forces you to go to your teachers, as I did, and really dig into what geography has to offer.

In that same computer cartography class my sophomore year, I simply asked my teachers, "What is there for a geography major to do in the summer?" From that one question I was encouraged to apply to HERO, one of the only NSF-REUs in the country, hosted by Clark University in Worcester, MA. I felt as if I was launched on a springboard, as I worked on projects there, which led to presenting our results in New York City. From that experience, I was recommended by another teacher to work on more projects with Miguel Villarreal at the USGS, and we presented our work in Phoenix and Los Angeles as well.

Today, I currently work for Goldman Sachs in Salt Lake City, UT, and the first question you may ask is, "How did a geography major end up there?" Remember the first paragraph where I found that geography is the study of how the world works? Many people will limit that to the physical world, but the world includes the human as well as the physical, and any geographer worth their weight will tell you that. Studying geography is an excellent playground to think differently about the world than your peers, and the UA has the resources to make those studies fruitful to any of your future endeavors.

Larry Tom (BS 2000), Principal Planner, City of Phoenix Planning Department, Arizona

While studying for my BS in Geography and Regional Development at the University of Arizona with a minor in Political Science, I spent two summers as an intern with the City of Phoenix Planning Department. My work as a Planning Technician (summer intern) with the Current Planning and Zoning Team involved handling customer inquiries in person at a public counter and on the telephone. It gave me the chance to become acquainted with diverse people and issues.

Since my graduation in 2000, I have moved through the career levels in the Department, beginning as Planner I (2000-2003), then Planner II (2004-2007), and Planner III (2007-2011). Since 2012, I have been Principal Planner in Zoning Administration. While much of my work deals with issues of the zoning ordinances that affect how Phoenix develops as an urban area, the tasks have offered a variety of experiences ranging from dealing with residential and commercial developers, architects, and public agencies to elected city officials. I have worked with the Dust Reduction Task Force to develop and implement strategies to reduce particulate pollution, the Multi-Department Team to review production of Bio-Fuel and home production. I also led in drafting language of the ordinance regulations in Proposition 103 on Medical Marijuana. I have reviewed site plan proposals for downtown, infill, and light rail projects. Some of my other responsibilities have included special projects associated with major public events hosted in Phoenix, among them the 2009 National Basketball All Star Game, 2011 Major League Baseball All Star Game, 2015 National Football League Super Bowl, and dealing with local events such as teen dance clubs and event centers.

While a central part of my expertise relates to knowledge of zoning issues, I also have had to develop an array of “non-technical” skills: to work in teams, set agendas, oversee staff, negotiate with other professionals, communicate with the public and elected officials, and testify at City Council Meetings. The work has been and continues to be challenging and rewarding. It offers opportunities for a geography and regional development alum to play a role in shaping the city as a place to live. Bear Down and Go Cats!

Ann Vargas (BA 1994 - Geography & Urban Planning), Planner, City of Tucson, Arizona

Growing up in Tucson, my brothers and I spent countless afternoons building elaborate cities out of lego, hot wheels tracks and wooden blocks. Weather-permitting, we spent time outdoors connecting make-shift dwellings as a single “community”. It’s not hard to understand why we all grew up to become urban planners.

I registered as a Geography major at the University of Arizona to study the inter-dependent relationships between people, ideas, buildings, and the natural environment and to seek a foundation for community building. My advisor helped me create an unstructured minor in Urban Planning to link theory and professional practices

During my 25-year career I have been employed in the public, private and non-profit sectors. After a brief stint in property management, I spent several years in a fourteen-county service area in northern California designing and implementing home repair programs to benefit very poor families. In my first year at Rural California Housing Corporation I interviewed three disabled elderly siblings in their family-built shack that had barely survived regional flooding. They explained how they lived sequestered in the only two rooms of the house that were not exposed to the elements. This house and several others locally were declared “beyond economical repair” leaving families at risk of homelessness. I spent a year petitioning the federal government to institute new program guidelines, and my case studies were used to develop a new statewide standard that allowed dilapidated housing to be demolished and replaced. Through this experience I learned that good policy comes from field experience.

Ultimately I returned to Tucson and I have been immersed in planning projects related to housing and community development, with a special focus on redevelopment of the urban environment in and around downtown. I have become well-versed in the development process, managing everything from site preparation through the build out of large mixed-use, transit-oriented projects. I will continue my community work taking into account the evolution of planning as a discipline. Some trends that will shape policy and programs in the coming decades include new technology, aging infrastructure, national and global influences, multiculturalism and the economic and environmental tensions that call for changes in behavior at the household, neighborhood, community and international scale.