People - Alumni
Recently hired by the Washington State Auditor’s Office as an Associate Performance Auditor, Isaiah Berg evaluates both qualitative and quantitative data to assess state government agencies and programs. Berg’s use of GIS technologies in the United States Army led him to the Department of Geography upon arriving at UW. While in the Geography undergraduate program, much of his focus was in the areas of GIS and spatial statistics, but Berg attributes much of his thinking to critical human geography, which has enabled him to think critically and better understand the context and implementation of quantitative methods. Specifically, he notes the ways in which mixed methods approaches advocated by Professors Elwood and Withers equip him to critically assess the ways in which quantitative approaches are often misused and can oversimplify complex spatial phenomena, a skillset that is very useful in the field of public policy. Berg recently completed his MPA from the Evans School at UW.
Luis Esquivel (Class of 2016) didn’t want to sit behind a desk all day, and he found a fantastic career that gives him the opportunity to be outside in the field as well as working with GIS software. As a GIS Analyst and field inspector for the Franklin County (WA) Noxious Weed Control Board, Esquivel spends some of his time in the field conducting noxious weed assessments and collecting GPS data that he then analyzes through GIS. He credits the Department of Geography with providing him with advanced technical training in spatial data analysis, as well as enhancing his ability to present GIS projects in a professional manner. His experience in the GIS Workshop course was especially useful in this regard. Esquivel is already working to connect his career back to UW Geography by establishing a collaboration between his organization and the GIS Workshop course.
As a member of the Tableau Analytics Team, Erin Gengo (Class of 2009) helps her company see and understand their data in new ways. After graduating with her BA in Geography, she completed a Master of Public Affairs (MPA) from the Evans School at UW in 2013. Before beginning her work at Tableau, Gengo held a variety of positions, including public sector consulting work and an internship with the United States Census Bureau in Washington, DC. She attributes a great deal of her professional success to her undergraduate education in Geography. Specifically, Gengo’s training in Geography equipped her to employ scientific frameworks to ask a research question, as well as gave her the tools to conduct research, collect data, and answer important questions. Beyond data, she notes that, “Geography sparked and fed my love of place and built environment, and gave me a better understanding of the social, economic, and environmental factors shaping Puget Sound and beyond.”
My experiences working and studying in a variety of cities throughout my twenties and a long-running interest in African politics led me to the discipline of geography in the first place. I am an urban geographer mainly interested in the politics of urban governance and development. Cities are vital sites for the remaking of social and material infrastructures and I attend to the practitioners that do this work.
My dissertation project focuses on the politics of planning in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Though "slum" infrastructures have long characterized its urban fabric, Addis Ababa is steadily being reordered through new investments, a variety of transnational flows, and state programs of massive redevelopment. Within this transformative and ambivalent period, I explore the work lives of planners who advance renewal programs on core urban land. As planning becomes a standard (if contested) practice of governing urban lives and landed property, it regrounds urban questions of class, citizenship and of the influence of party/political ideology. The project draws on "low theory" convergences of socio-legal studies, postcolonial studies, Marxism and new African urbanisms. With support from a Fulbright-Hays DDRA Fellowship and an affiliation with the Department of Geography and Environmental Studies at the Addis Ababa University, I completed the fieldwork stage of this project in 2015. Now I am writing. My dissertation commitee includes Dr. Steve Herbert (Chair), Dr. Ben Gardner, Dr. Lucy Jarosz, and Dr. Victoria Lawson.
My door is open to students, scholars, planners, policymakers, activists, urbanists, and others!
Comparative Law and Society Studies (CLASS) Center
As Assistant Attorney General in the Special Litigation Section of the Alaska Department of Law, Mike Schechter (Class of 2000) draws upon knowledge and skills from the UW Department of Geography on a daily basis. Representing the state in major civil litigation matters, his undergraduate background provides him with a common language to communicate with surveyors, cartographers, wildlife biologists, and environmental consultants. Schechter notes that “Many (if not all) of my cases draw directly on skills I developed as a Geography major at UW.” For example, he is currently working on a dispute between the State of Alaska and the United States regarding boundaries near the Arctic Ocean, where he is applying his training as a geographer to analyze maps, geographic naming conventions, cartography, survey data, and historical records. In addition to his work as with the Alaska Department of Law, he enjoys the many opportunities that life in Alaska has to offer, including hiking, fishing, and even biking in the snow during Alaskan winters!
Jess Wallach (Class of 2013) has devoted her time during the 2016 election season as a field organizer with the Yes on I-1464 campaign, a statewide ballot initiative that limits the influence of money in politics. After the election, she plans to return to teaching at the intersections of climate justice, decolonized pedagogies, and art as activism. As a Geography undergraduate at UW, Wallach’s professors and community were a rich foundation for this work. She constantly felt challenged to learn about social identities, to reflect on how they informed everyday experiences, and to critically examine the systems that shape them. Wallach has never forgotten the work of her female professors during her undergraduate experience. She attributes their “caring, authentic, and powerful leadership” to understanding what it meant to be successful as a woman. After graduating with her BA in Geography, Wallach more recently earned an MAED in Urban Environmental Education, a program that gave her an opportunity to blend her background in geography with multicultural, place-based education and build on her passion for “creating learning environments that build power, create community, and foster skills for systems-level change.”