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NMSU, UNM collaborate on New Mexico Ph.D. program in geography


Starting in fall 2020, New Mexico State University students will have the choice to get a doctorate in geography through a joint program developed with the University of New Mexico.

New Mexico State University Department of Geography faculty members include (front from left): Department Head Carol Campbell, Christopher Brown, Michael DeMers, (back from right) Michaela Buenemann, Eric Magrane and Daniel Dugas. (NMSU photo by Michaela Buenemann)
“UNM and NMSU professors had been approached by the national laboratories, LTER stations and also the U.S.G.S. (U.S. Geological Survey) and the BLM (Bureau of Land Management) state offices regarding the need for a Ph.D. program,” said Carol Campbell, NMSU geography professor and department head.

“UNM didn’t offer it. We didn't offer it. There wasn’t a geography Ph.D. program in the state. The two departments have complimentary expertise across the discipline, so it seemed very logical for us to collaborate and to develop this joint program.”

Campbell estimates 30 percent of NMSU’s master’s degree of applied geography graduates are employed by federal agencies; another 30 percent go into local or state government. Many of these professionals seek opportunities for advancement within New Mexico. Nearly 10 percent of NMSU students earning a master’s degree of applied geography continue on to pursue a doctorate, but at other universities across the country. UNM also has a robust program with its fair share of geography master’s degree students seeking a Ph.D., indicating a healthy supply of candidates from both universities.

“Geography is a really integrative discipline that draws on the social sciences and humanities as well as the natural sciences. Both programs focus primarily on human environment interactions, and geographic information science and technology,” said Campbell. “So, we create maps and surveys about places and interactions, or analyze satellite images and spatial models to examine issues such as land degradation, water management, public health, food and drugs and species distributions.”

With New Mexico’s national labs, federal research stations and state government agencies in need of diverse spatial researchers who hold a doctorate, the two universities have spent the last several years working together on the joint Ph.D. offering.

The process began in 2012 with a discussion that led to the proposal for a joint Ph.D. in geography in New Mexico. By 2016, the NMSU geography department was nearly finished with the internal review process. After successfully completing the internal and external processes, the proposal was approved by the state in April 2019. The New Mexico doctoral program in geography will be delivered jointly by faculty members at both campuses and will allow cross-enrollment. First-year courses will integrate distance-learning technologies with in-person meetings on each campus.

Campbell expects the joint doctoral program will encourage a diverse range of Ph.D. students to develop research that addresses human-environment relations. NMSU’s geography department is multifaceted. Its newest faculty member does community-engaged work around literary and artistic representations of place, in the Southwest and beyond.

“Environmental challenges are so complex at this time in history that you really need to have a broad background and a broad perspective to address many of these issues,” Campbell said. “Researchers need to be able to bring together their backgrounds and think about how natural processes are going to be influenced by what people are doing, and vice versa. What are the implications of these interactions?”

Among benefits of a doctoral degree, Campbell emphasized, is the collaborative nature of the research that can expand students’ perspective of geography and give them valuable tools to help them approach their jobs.
“They're going to be able to think outside the box and may be stepping into other researchers’ shoes to get a feel for how their specialty or how their research might contribute to the bigger picture.”