August 2018 GeoMentor Spotlight
Amy Lilienfeld - Freelance adjunct geography instructor (university-level)
What was your favorite class in K-12? Although I don’t remember a particular class that was my favorite I remember having a very strong interest in other countries and cultures from the time I was very young. In addition to having pen pals in Norway and England for many years I voraciously read a multi-volume series entitled “The Land and People of ________ (country name)” and was especially fascinated by different environments and resources around the world.
How did you first learn about and/or use GIS? When I started my Ph.D. at the University of Kansas and got to take it with Dr. Terry Slocum. Although I liked it a lot when I took it at KU when I transferred to Indiana University-Bloomington where I finished my degree I developed a pretty strong dislike for it. This was because oftentimes things didn’t work the way you wanted them to and it was extremely difficult to figure out why but my teacher was a “tough love” type of guy… Through taking GIS at these two different institutions, however, it made me realize how very difficult it is to teach GIS well: it can either be very cookbook or you can be thrown in as described above and let “sink or swim”. Since I didn’t particularly like either approach whenever I have taught GIS I tried to make it somewhere in between!
Name one thing you love about GIS and/or geography: In addition to its interdisciplinarity what I love the most about geography is the concept of the “cultural landscape”. This is probably because I was a landscape photographer for many years with emphasis on the cultural landscape (see photo below). It was, therefore, actually the writings of scholars like John Fraser Hart, John Hudson and Pierce Lewis that were extremely influential in drawing me to geography. I also really love choropleth maps because of the questions that they generate such as Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s “County Health Rankings”.
Cornfield. From the “Iowa Series”, Johnson County, Iowa. 1984.
Why did you want to volunteer as a GeoMentor? I am very passionate in my love for geography and how extremely important it is to understand it. In my experience substitute teaching in the past few years in public schools in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area I have become very concerned that there are many missed opportunities to incorporate geography to a greater extent into teaching. This is particularly true in elementary schools where both social studies and science are marginalized because of the greater emphasis on math and reading. In addition to what I have already been doing in my capacity as a sub—and hope to scale up even more in the near future - I love the idea of getting into schools through the Geomentor program to explicitly improve geographic literacy.