What do you think of when you hear the word “geography”?

Maps? Rocks? Flags? All of these do relate to what geography means, but they barely scratch the surface. Geography is so much more than just making maps and memorizing place names. As a geography department at a small liberal arts college in an urban setting, Macalester’s geography program is one-of-a-kind. Few enter Macalester with the intention of studying geography, but many people have found in geography a compelling set of perspectives and approaches that help them engage with the world in rewarding ways

Geographers in the field, 2006

One of the goals of this project is to be able to introduce prospective majors to geography earlier in their academic career, but first it’s important to have a more complete understanding of the discipline. 

So, what even is geography and what can you do with a geography degree? Our team of seven student researchers was determined to get to the bottom of this question, and who better to ask than alumni of the Macalester geography department themselves?

Based on these questions, we created a more nuanced and specific research objective. We aimed to address the question of “How have alumni experiences with their geography major at Macalester influenced the way that they have engaged with the world?” By performing life history interviews with a diverse set of 19 Macalester geography alumni who graduated between 1994 and 2014 we identified many of the pathways followed by Macalester geographers. Through these interviews, we wanted to understand how skills and perspectives acquired through a geography degree influence how people engage with the wider world. More specifically, we aimed to understand the “pivotal points” of alumni post-graduation, their perspective on their experience at Macalester, how geography has impacted their decisions, and their values and hopes for the future. 

Geographers on the steps of Old Main, 1995

Three themes emerged from our research. First, geography graduates strive to find and make meaning in their work. Second, the values and educational experiences alumni have encountered through geography have motivated their decision-making along their journey. And finally, alumni have appreciated the unique perspective and tools that geography provides, and find that geography interacts with their life on a daily basis, from their deep connection to place as well as seemingly unrelated careers. 

From these conclusions, we found that geography is more than just a discipline leading to one specific career path. Instead, it is a way of viewing and interacting with the world, understanding complex problems, and discerning values. 

Geography class field trip, 2005

This website is the product of our research, and is intended to provide prospective majors with a more detailed and informative overview of the potential opportunities that a geography major might entail. To learn more about our findings, explore each of the themes, the life history story maps demonstrating the pathways of a pool of individuals, and the data visualizations demonstrating where alumni go and what they do. You can also learn more about the qualitative methods we used to conduct the research. Have fun exploring, and maybe our findings will convince you to become a geography major too.

QRM 2019