Higher Education

Enhancing Departments and Graduate Education (EDGE) in Geography

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Project Overview
Background & Purpose: 

EDGE is a research and action project with three major goals: 1) developing a methodology to measure departmental climate and gauge its influence on graduate student experiences, 2) researching the ways geographical competencies are applied in business, government, non-profit, and higher education organizations, 3) disseminating book, journal, and web publications that provide research-informed advice for improving graduate curricula and professional development in geography and related disciplines.

Setting: 

Data were collected from a national survey of graduate students, professional geographers, and employer organizations; through site visits to five master’s and five doctoral geography programs; and from workshops held at geography association meetings and university teaching and learning centers in a variety of states.

Research Design: 

The research design for this project is comparative, and is designed to generate evidence that is descriptive (using case study and observation), and associative/ correlational through the use of factor analysis/cross tabulations’ ANOVA. This project collects original data using survey research, including online self-completion questionnaires, face-to-face structured interviewer-administered questionnaires, both face-to-face and telephone semi-structured/informal interviews, focus groups, and logs. Instruments used are surveys assessing workforce skills, employer needs, and departmental climate; focus groups and interview protocols assessing career interests, professional development strategies, graduate student experiences; evaluation questionnaires gathering feedback on publications. Originally collected data will be shared with a partner on the project, Oxford University, in support of collaborative research. The project is also disseminating findings to other organizations such as the Center for Innovation and Research in Graduate Education (CIRGE) and the Council on Graduate Schools.

The analysis plan for the surveys includes factor analysis, ANOVA, and cross tabulations. The interview and log data will be coded using qualitative coding techniques.

Findings: 

Since 2005, the Association of American Geographers has led “Enhancing Departments and Graduate Education in Geography (EDGE)”, a broad-based project aimed at strengthening graduate programs and enhancing the preparation of professional geographers for careers in higher education, government, business, and non-profit organizations. The project’s methodology has implemented surveys, interviews, and site observations to examine issues affecting the professional development and experiences of students in M.A./M.S. and Ph.D programs. This research has discovered, for example, that employers are facing shortages of talent with regard to hiring professionals skilled in methods of geographical analysis and problem solving. Such skills are needed for successful work in a wide variety of careers. EDGE has also examined the environments of geography graduate programs, highlighting certain cases where conditions in a department tend to marginalize women and minorities whereas other programs have successfully created a climate of support for all students. This research provides the empirical foundation for two AAG books, Aspiring Academics and Teaching College Geography, which were published by Pearson Prentice Hall in April 2008. The books provide engaging and practical advice to graduate students and early career faculty, and feature a companion website giving access to workshop materials, discussion forums, and other community-building technologies. The AAG has now implemented new programs designed to sustain the EDGE project and provide long-term support for the next generation of geographers.

Publications & Presentations: 

Solem, M., Cheung, I., and Schlemper, B.  2008.   Skills in Professional Geography: An Assessment of Workforce Needs and Expectations.   The Professional Geographer, 60(3): 1-18.

Solem, M., Lee, J., and Schlemper, B. 2009. Departmental climate and student experiences in geography graduate programs.   Research in Higher Education, 50(3): 268-292.

Solem, M. and Foote, K. 2009. Enhancing Departments and Graduate Education in Geography: A disciplinary project in professional development. International Journal of Researcher Development, 1(1): 11-28.

Solem, M., Foote, K., and Monk, J. (eds.) 2009. Aspiring Academics: A Resource Book for Graduate Students and Early Career Faculty Pearson Prentice Hall: Upper Saddle River, NJ.

Solem, M. and Foote, K. Teaching College Geography: A Practical Guide for Graduate Students and Early Career Faculty Pearson Prentice Hall: Upper Saddle River, NJ.

Other Products: 

Companion website for Aspiring Academics and Teaching College Geography: www.pearsonhighered.com/aag

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