Dr. Rick Roth joined UW Geography in March 1988, as the first person to fill the department’s new role of academic advising. He’s seen many changes in the nearly 30 years that have passed. He was expected to wear a jacket and tie, and the faculty was very “male” with Vicky Lawson being the only female faculty member. The emphasis was primarily on graduate students and research. Rick says that over the years the department has become more interested in social and environmental justice, inequality, critical and feminist theory, globalization, and more recently, digital geographies. The faculty as a whole has become remarkably comfortable with digital technologies and have adapted their teaching to the new ways students are learning. They also have adjusted well to some of the tectonic shifts in pedagogy that have happened since 1988: emphasizing learning rather than teaching, and writing to learn instead of learning to write, for instance. Prior to Rick joining our staff, there was no one attending to course scheduling, TA allocations, room assignments, degree requirements, and many other essential day-to-day operations, which have all undergone massive transformations thanks to his efforts.
Serving under seven different department chairs, Rick has brought many things to our community. His greatest contribution to the department is his work on learning assessment and accountability within our undergraduate program. We were first on campus to talk about learning goals and outcomes, to interview students about their learning, and to apply these goals and outcomes to revisions of geography major requirements. Thanks to Rick’s efforts, UW Geography led the way in soliciting student assessments for improving the department’s curriculum. His favorite memories over the years have had to do with individual student successes: seeing graduate students finish their dissertations and get teaching jobs, seeing undergraduates who had struggled to find a major discover geography and begin thriving at UW, and seeing undergrads blossom when they got that first internship.
With regard to his future plans, he calls them “conventional”, because they center upon family, travel and new pursuits. He plans to see more of his daughters (one living in Seattle and another in New York City), to travel (including a return to India), and to write about political rhetoric – a long-standing interest. He is confident that after his retirement the department will continue its commitment to improving undergraduate learning, and maintain its DNA – a commitment to social justice and equality, public service, and positive social change.