PhD Alumni

The following is a sample of alumni who have completed a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in the School of Geography and Development.  You can also find a list of SGD PhD Student job placements from 2004 - 2013 at this page.


Majed Akhter (PhD 2013), Assistant Professor, Department of Geography, Indiana University, Bloomington

I want to study the economy, but I don't like Economics." I was desperate. I had thought Economics would be my refuge from Engineering, which I had studied as an undergraduate. I was frustrated by the stubborn rigidity of these disciplines with respect to the methods they adopted and the questions they allowed themselves to ask; I wanted to engage the world in all its dizzying complexity. The professor I directed these words to, a brilliant Economist in Lahore, Pakistan, suggested I consider Geography for my PhD. I was a little late to apply, unfortunately, and moved to Karachi to work a corporate gig. But I took with me library books I had photocopied in their entirety, because they were not available in bookstores: Harvey's Limits, Soja's Postmodern Geographies, Smith's Uneven Development, Livingstone's Geographical Tradition, Colonial and Postcolonial Geographies of India, and more. I would go about my work listlessly in the daylight hours, waiting to go home and read these books late into the night. I had, at last, come home.

At Arizona, I thrived in the culture of SGD. I reveled in the company of the brightest faculty and students I have ever met. I could not get enough of the discussions we had at Café Luce and in the hallways and seminar rooms of Harvill. I decided to research the history and politics of the Indus River in Pakistan, paying particular attention to how expert and nationalist discourses shape hydro-political tensions between upstream and downstream regions at multiple scales. I interviewed engineers and attended water forums in Pakistan, photographed thousands of archival documents in the World Bank Archives in DC, read legal documents and decisions, and compiled agricultural statistics to make sense of this incredibly complex problem. I drew on the thought of philosopher of technology Langdon Winner and the Marxist historian and theoretician Antonio Gramsci to help me interpret my data.

As an Assistant Professor of Geography at Indiana University in Bloomington, I am deepening my research by examining the history of federal water development in Pakistan over the past half century, and analyzing the relationship between irrigation technology and the spatiality of caste, class, and agricultural productivity in Punjab. I'm also looking forward to teaching Development Geography, Political Geography, Political Ecology of Water, and Geopolitics of South Asia at one of the most highly regarded public universities in the country. But what I look forward to the most is the great privilege of introducing Geography to students who are, like I was, seeking an intellectual perspective that is exciting, rigorous, inclusive, and flexible enough to acknowledge the complexity of our world.

Karen Barton (PhD 2000), Associate Professor, Geography and G.I.S. Department, University of Northern Colorado, Greeley, CO

I completed my undergraduate studies in California and was on the environmental law school track toward UCLA when at the last minute I took an impromptu turn toward Arizona. Through college I had been employed by a travel company, a position that helped fuel my passion for people and places. After graduation I realized I needed a career that would enable me to collect experiences rather than things, so I traveled to Tucson to study environmental and cultural geography.

At the University of Arizona I developed a appreciation for teaching and research, thanks largely to the field knowledge and experience of Drs. Marston, Young, and Sell. I was particularly interested in resource conflicts involving environmental groups and indigenous populations and conducted my masters and doctoral field research in Sonora, Mexico and the U.S. Pacific Northwest.

I'm now an Associate Professor in the Geography and G.I.S. Department at the University of Northern Colorado where I conduct research on both energy development (particularly hydraulic fracturing) and soundscape preservation national parks. This type of work gets me – as well as my students – outside, a place where I feel most comfortable. I've been fortunate enough to travel with my students from the heights of Machu Picchu to the depths of Colorado's wetlands to record soundscapes of critically endangered environments.


Meagan Cahill (MA 2000, PhD 2004), Senior Research Associate, Justice Policy Center at The Urban Institute, Washington, DC

I first became interested in geography as an undergraduate at Mary Washington College (now, University of Mary Washington); a geography professor was so enthusiastic about the topic of his class that I was instantly hooked, earned my B.A. in geography, and was inspired to focus my education and career on geography. I came to The University of Arizona with an interest in population geography and my advisor suggested research on spatial patterns of crime. Again, I was hooked. My thesis and dissertation both focused on the geography of crime and the reciprocal effects of crime, residents, and community structure on each other. I started at The Urban Institute, a non-partisan research organization in 2004. The Institute’s agenda focuses on such themes as housing, health, economics of low-income families, and education. In this position, have found that looking at topics through the lens of geography—and pushing my colleagues to do the same—has been an invaluable tool in my research. Most of my work focuses on addressing crime in places—especially among juveniles in schools and disadvantaged areas and among urban gangs and crews. I continue to appreciate the foundation and perspective that geography has provided me.


Angela Donelson (PhD 2005), President, Donelson Consulting LLC, Tucson, AZ

I describe my entry into the world of private consulting as serendipitous. Towards the end of my doctoral studies in economic geography (PhD, 2005) a non-profit organization in southern Arizona asked if I would help them with an affordable housing project. They knew me from my time as a Community Builder Fellow and Arizona Colonias Specialist for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Southwest Border Region, Colonias and Migrant/ Farmworker Initiative (1999-2003), a program focused on improving housing and social conditions.

My work with HUD followed my master’s program in Regional and Community Planning at Kansas State University and HUD also enabled me to do a summer executive training program in the JFK School of Government at Harvard. Together, these experiences helped me to develop an understanding of local needs, to engage with grant writing and project evaluation, and to learn about opportunities for collaboration among grassroots organizations, local governmental agencies, community colleges and universities. As a geographer I had perspectives on place, and knew how to draw on census information and GIS and to assess and document local needs and conditions. The idea of working as an independent consultant based in southern Arizona appealed to me not only because of my experience but because I had young children and my husband also had a local job he loved.

In the years since my entry into the world of consulting, my engagement has expanded. I established my own firm in 2006. When needed, I bring in additional colleagues. My clients are mostly in southern Arizona and Nogales, Sonora, though I have also worked for non-profits in the San Francisco Bay area. The projects support organizations to identify and analyze data to document their local community needs and assets in relation to housing, community services (for example for early childhood education, youth job readiness, microenterprise development, housing foreclosure mitigation). I provide support in grant writing, organizing workshops and conferences, and program evaluation. The work has brought millions of dollars into the region from private and governmental agencies to support local projects. In bridging theory and practice I especially enjoy the diversity of tasks and challenges, the participation in interdisciplinary teams, and being of service to communities.

David Fornander (PhD 2008), Biologist, CH2MHill Water Business Group, Boise, ID

After earning my BS at Washington State University I worked for two years in a youth education program in the Florida Keys, then went on for my MA in Biology at Boise State University. Next came a position as a fisheries biologist at NOAA. I continued my interest in fisheries and aquatic environments in my studies at the University of Arizona, earning my PhD in Geography in 2008. Since then I’ve worked in the Boise office of CH2M Hill, a company that provides environmental consulting, planning, and management services to governments and other agencies around the world.

My dissertation “Fish, Floatboats, and Feds” brought together environmental interests and policy issues. I now have over 15 years experience examining land use strategies and their effects on species and ecosystem function at the landscape level and in settings throughout the Americas, South Pacific, and Caribbean. The projects range from species surveys and habitat/watershed assessments to technical writing and environmental compliance. My most recent work examines the various scales of management, and intertwined ecological and political components that direct conservation and restoration strategies surrounding endangered species listed salmon and steelhead in the US West.

In addition to working at CMH2MHill, I bring my education and work experience together to teach part-time as an adjunct faculty member at the College of Idaho in a wide variety of courses including Biogeography, Field Methods, Water, Environment and Society, and Regional Studies. I also continue to develop and teach for expeditionary field programs that enhance awareness at the global, regional, and local level. These deal with such topics as community livelihoods, sustainable land use strategies, protected areas, fisheries, marine ecology, and environment and society.

Jeff Garmany (MA 2006; PhD 2011), Assistant Professor, King’s Brazil Institute, King’s College London (London, UK)

When I started college in my hometown of Boulder, CO, I never imagined how it might someday lead me – over and over and over again – to Brazil. Then again, a few years later when I began my graduate studies in Tucson, I never imagined how that might someday lead me to London. Such a career path certainly wasn’t one I envisioned for myself. But today, in 2013, that’s exactly where I am: teaching global studies in the Brazil Institute at King’s College London. It’s funny where geography can take you.

My work today focuses upon teaching and research in the areas of political geography, development, globalization, and social justice. In Brazil, my research comes mostly from the city of Fortaleza, where I’ve lived and worked on several occasions in a favela community (e.g., informal urban neighborhood) called Pirambu. I continue to conduct fieldwork there still, and in London I teach and work with graduate students upon interdisciplinary questions of globalization and international development.

Looking back, it’s dizzying to think how far geography has taken me. My job provides me flexibility, and the topics I study are my own to choose. To be sure, not all parts have been glamorous, but I’ve come a long way since my undergraduate years. Back then, I didn’t even have a passport; nowadays it’s the most important document I own.

Heidi Eileen Hausermann (MA, 2005, PhD 2010) Assistant Professor, Department of Human Ecology, School of Environment and Biological Sciences, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ

My academic interests in human-environment interactions began when I was an undergraduate at Willamette University. In particular, a semester in Tanzania inspired questions about the establishment of new conservation areas (described as “biodiversity hotspots”) and the subsequent alienation of rural people from historic resource bases. I did a lot of things after college—ranging from teaching English in South Korea to organizing teen naturalists at the Oregon Zoo. But my observations in Tanzania continued to bring up questions about how to best manage natural resources for people and the environment. These questions eventually led me to the School of Geography and Development at the University of Arizona.

During graduate school, I spent twenty-one months in Veracruz, Mexico working with coffee farmers and state officials. There I studied how coffee farmers experienced policy shifts and the decisions they made as a result of these changes. This work helped me understand the relationships between political economic processes, land-use change and continuity, and the Mexican state. I also taught six classes at Arizona as lead instructor, on topics ranging from physical geography to gender. In addition to research, I really enjoy teaching at the college-level. Graduate school allowed me to improve my research, writing and teaching skills.

After finishing my dissertation, I took a post-doctoral position at Penn State University. I was hired to work on an interdisciplinary project studying the relationships between land-use, climate change, water quality and a devastating skin disease called Buruli ulcer. My favorite thing about the project was the great team of people I worked with, including Ghanaian medical doctors, chemistry students and local community members.

Now I am an Assistant Professor in the Department of Human Ecology at Rutgers University. I’m currently developing a research project on foreign acquisition of land for small-scale alluvial gold mining in Ghana. I’m interested how foreigners get access to land (technically illegal under Ghanaian law) and the livelihood implications for local community members.

I also teach both graduate and undergraduate courses at Rutgers, including an interdisciplinary class on agrarian landscapes, environmental justice and political ecology. Rutgers is the most ethnically diverse university in the country and I really love teaching here. My students bring their unique experiences and perspectives into the classroom and, in conjunction with course material, it makes for great discussion and collaborative learning.

Adrian Mulligan (PhD 2001), Associate Professor, Department of Geography, Bucknell University, Lewisburg, PA

When I was a little kid I’d lie in my backyard watching jet planes etch their trails across the sky, thinking about the world and different places. Around the same age, I was also made responsible for packing the family station wagon for vacations –the only one (apparently!) with the necessary spatial reasoning skills to squeeze a huge amount of luggage into a small trunk. As I got older, I devoured the National Geographic magazine, covered the walls of my bedroom with maps, and started reading the newspaper. I was lucky enough to be taught Geography in a British high school, before earning Bachelors and Masters Degrees in Geography from universities in the UK and Ireland respectively.

I pursued a PhD in Geography at the University of Arizona so as to learn from specific individuals whose scholarship I admired; individuals who thought about the world not just spatially but also critically. By this I mean that most things that happen do so geographically; and in realizing this not only does one gain a better understanding of what’s happening, but also arguably a different understanding about the world in general.

Fast-forward seventeen years and I now teach geography at a small private liberal arts university, and it is my job to encourage students to think spatially and critically about the world; something which I am still passionate about. The University of Arizona prepared me well to not only conduct geographical research and to publish in my field, but also to be able to convey the essence of that geographical perspective at the undergraduate level. Additionally, it should be noted, that while I do have a job, it still feels like a hobby most days, albeit a very time consuming one for which I receive financial compensation! However, as I get older I’m endeavoring to achieve a better work-life balance, thanks in no small measure to my three little kids, not to mention the gal who accompanied me out to Arizona in the first place.

Cynthia Pope (PhD) 2003, Professor of Geography, Central Connecticut State University

I was bitten by the wanderlust bug early, and this inherent interest in experiencing other cultures has been the basis of my studies, my research, and personal pursuits. In fact, I often say to my first-year students that I was attracted to geography because it would pay me to travel. While that may be a slight exaggeration, the field of geography has been a good fit for me. I remember my great-grandmother telling me that women should be as educated as possible, and those words of advice have stuck with me. In fact, it may be the strong women in my family who led me to combine my interests in geography with feminist studies.

My first experience of living abroad was a summer in Japan during high school. This led to living in Venezuela after high school, a year of college in Puerto Rico, and to Master's research along the U.S.-Mexico border and dissertation work in Cuba. These graduate degrees (M.A. 1997 Latin American Studies, Ph.D. 2001 Geography) were at the University of Arizona, where I was lucky enough to be mentored by dynamic faculty who introduced me to medical and feminist geography. In my work in Mexico, Cuba, and most recently Belize, I explored the intersections of health care, health policy, geopolitics and various forms of risky behaviors and risky environments. I continue this research in my current position as Professor and Chair of Geography at Central Connecticut State University and recent Coordinator of the Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies program here, and our Geography Department has recently introduced a Master’s in Global Sustainability.

On a more personal note, I believe that challenges keep life interesting. As such, I have participated in Ironman triathlons, marathons, and long-distance swimming. I am a certified personal trainer and help coach programs that bring out people's "inner athlete" in the Hartford area.

Jennifer Rice (PhD 2009), Assistant Professor, Department of Geography, University of Georgia, Athens, GA

Despite growing up in a family that loves to hunt, fish, and hike, I always felt more at home in the hustle of an urban space than the openness of the outdoors. But my summers of family camping vacations gave me strong tie to the environment that I wanted to bring with me into the city. After taking an introductory Geography course my freshman year at Texas State University San Marcos, I discovered I did not have to choose between my love of the city and my passion for environmental protection. I went on to get a Master’s degree in Geography from The Ohio State University and a Ph.D in Geography from the University of Arizona. At each of these stages of my education, Geography led me to a new and interesting study of urban environmental issues, starting with people’s accessibility to public transportation during my undergraduate studies, the influence of urban growth politics on water contamination during my Master’s, and the role of cities in global climate change politics for my doctorate.

I am now an Assistant Professor at the University of Georgia, Department of Geography. My primary area of research is on climate change governance, with an emphasis on how cities and local governments can reduce greenhouse gas emissions and prepare for the impacts of climate change. My geographic training helps me pay particular attention to the processes of urbanization, mantras of economic development, and issues of environmental justice. This research has taken me to Seattle to learn more about how the city has implemented a climate action plan, to Denver to understand the role of climate change science in drought management, and to Macon County, North Carolina, to collect information about how local residents experience climate change in the context of increasing exurbanization of Atlanta and Charlotte.

As a professor at UGA, I hope to inspire my students to wrestle with the complexity of the world, rather than seek simple solutions that fail to acknowledge the inequality and unevenness that are drivers of environmental degradation. And, in addition to visiting big cities like San Francisco and New York anytime I can, I now find myself back in the outdoors as I try to pass my love of the environment onto my new son.

Ian Shaw (MA 2008, PhD 2011) Post Doctoral Research Associate, School of Geographical and Earth Sciences, University of Glasgow, Scotland

I arrived in Tucson in the summer of 2006. The first thing that hit me was the wall of hot air that gushed through the door after my plane landed. I was far away from the bucolic refuge that I called my England home—and after five years of Saguaros, burritos, and lifelong friends, I’m happy to call the University of Arizona a home-away-from-home. The School of Geography and Development imparted me with a lot of skills, and the professional development I received (both formally and informally) was second to none. For that, I’m eternally grateful. So too was the all-round experience of learning a real eye-opener, with a breadth of topics and issues that is the hallmark of a geographic education.

My PhD was called “The Spatial Politics of Drone Warfare”. It combined much of the innovative research already conducted at the School, from human-nonhuman interactions, geopolitics, and social theory. It sought to explore a single question: how are unmanned aerial vehicles changing the world we live in?

Since 2011 I've been a research fellow at the University of Glasgow – another location I never imagined to find myself in. I continue to research the geopolitics of drone warfare, and hope to contribute to meaningful political debate over the existence and role of drones in our shared world. As a geographer, I find myself in the unique position of collaborating with colleagues from many disciplines in the university, and engaging with an issue that continues to spark the public imagination.

Miguel Villarreal (MA 2003, PhD 2009) Research Geographer, U.S. Geological Survey

I grew up wandering the mountains and meadows of the Trinity Alps Wilderness of Northern California where my family ran a summer guest ranch. My early experiences were shaped by the forests, rivers, flora and fauna, but I never envisioned myself studying nature. My talents were in the visual arts and I majored in fine arts and art history at the University of California, Davis. After graduating I pursued art in unconventional ways: I interned at the Casa Na Balom photography archive in southern Mexico where I helped establish exhibitions of historical photographs depicting vanishing landscapes and indigenous customs, I later worked at an art school in San Francisco, and finally ended up in Arizona working as an aerial photographer for a cartography company. It was there that my interests in nature and photography began to merge, and I decided to pursue them jointly through graduate research in Geography.

My graduate research considered the ways natural and human disturbances (wildfire, floods, drought, urbanization, and water use) can rearrange ecosystems. I analyzed these changes using repeated images from satellites, field measurements of vegetation and soils, and Geographic Information Systems (GIS). I am now a Research Geographer with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) in Tucson, AZ, where I work with an interdisciplinary team of hydrologists, biologists and geologists. As a USGS Research Geographer I develop and conduct research projects, publish (books, journal articles, and government reports), mentor undergraduate and graduate students from across the UA campus, and occasionally lecture for a geography or natural resources course. My current research projects include using remotely activated cameras to measure wildlife responses to wildfire and drought, studying the effects of ground water use and floods on bird habitat, and measuring long-term vegetation changes using repeated historical photography dating back to the late 1800s. I find geography challenging and rewarding, particularly when the science is embraced by land managers and used to make natural resource decisions. I also appreciate that my fieldwork often takes me to spectacular places– and that my camera is still always within reach.

Erika Wise (MA 2004, PhD 2009) Assistant Professor, Department of Geography, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC

I may not have ever considered graduate school were it not for the caring and involved professors I had in the Earth Sciences department of the University of California at Santa Cruz. I was able to do a research-based honors thesis, and my advisor and other faculty strongly encouraged me to continue as a researcher. Still not sure that advanced studies were for me, I spent two years working for the US Geological Survey, two years working for an environmental consulting company, and a year traveling before I decided to look into graduate school. Although I began by looking at environmental science departments, I soon found geography. I was unfamiliar with geography as a discipline, but found that all of faculty research that interested me was being done by geographers.

I had been interested in climatology since I was an undergraduate. I pursued those interests at the University of Arizona and also got involved with the tree-ring lab, which has shaped my career. As a graduate student, I took advantage of the many opportunities for involvement that were available. I was the co-editor of you are here: the journal of creative geography, I attended conferences, and I applied for all of the grants, awards, etc. for which I was eligible. I also took professional development courses and served on several departmental committees as a grad rep, including search committees. Although I was not sure what my career path would be when I entered graduate school, I was ready to be a professor after my experiences at the UofA. Thanks to the grants, awards, and experiences I had in graduate school, I was able to find a tenure-track position, first at the University of Iowa and now at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Now I get to choose and pursue the research that interests me, interact with great graduate students and undergraduates, and hopefully inspire a few of them as I have been inspired by my own mentors.