This news release describes past events and should be used for historical purposes only. Please note date of release.

University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire
News Bureau • Schofield Hall 201Eau Claire, WI 54702
phone: (715) 836-4741
fax: (715) 836-2900
$1 Million Endowment To Support
Wisconsin Geographic Alliance
MAILED: Sept. 20, 2001

         EAU CLAIRE — The National Geographic Society and the Wisconsin Geographic Alliance, with the passing of the state budget Aug. 30, launched a $1 million endowment to boost geography education in Wisconsin local schools.
         Gov. Scott McCallum included the geography education funding bill in the 2001-03 state budget, making Wisconsin the 20th state in the nation to receive an endowment from the NGS Education Fund to support the teaching of geography in primary and secondary schools.
         The NGS will match the state’s one-time $500,000 allocation, dollar for dollar, and all income from the endowment will funnel through the WIGA, said Richard Palm, coordinator of the WIGA and associate professor of geography at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.
         The WIGA, housed at UW-Eau Claire, is a 12-year-old non-profit educational partnership of the state’s K-12 teachers, college geographers and educators, school administrators and other concerned citizens. “We focus our efforts on revitalizing the teaching and learning of geography,” Palm said, adding that the Alliance offers a two-week summer institute, one-day workshops and in-services throughout the year.
         The need to address geographic literacy came about in 1987 after the NGS conducted a geography survey among adults 18 years and older in the United States. The findings revealed such facts as: the average American adult could identify less than six of 10 U.S. states; three in 10 adults could not use a map to tell direction or calculate the approximate distance between two points; only 57 percent of adults could identify England on a map of Europe; and Brazil was the only South American country correctly identified by even half of the respondents.
         With this, past NGS Chairman Gilbert Grosvenor donated $20 million of his own money to kick off an initiative to raise the standard level of enthusiasm for the study of geography in the nation’s schools. The NGS Education Fund does this primarily by matching grants to a network of state alliances to support geography education and teacher training.
         Every state plus Puerto Rico and Canada have their own alliances, but Wisconsin is one of only 20 states to qualify for endowment funds by creating a match for the National Geographic monies, Palm said.

         “This is a very exciting accomplishment for us,” Palm said, adding that UW-Eau Claire now is recognized as the Center for Geographic Education in Wisconsin.
         The WIGA has received $40,000 or $50,000 from the state each year since its existence, which was matched by the NGS. The difficulty with this, Palm said, was that each biennium he and other representatives from the Alliance would have to spend a lot of time talking with state legislators and traveling to Madison to get financial support for the WIGA.
         Since 1997 the WIGA has been trying to get the State of Wisconsin to approve a Geography Education Fund, as it is called, but the bill kept dying for lack of action, Palm said. This year, however, the WIGA was able to garner support from 25th District Sen. Robert Jauch, who attended UW-Eau Claire from 1968 to 1971.
         “Sen. Jauch persuaded Gov. McCallum to include the bill as part of the Governor’s budget, which was a big plus for us — it meant we didn’t have to push it through several committees,” Palm said.
         Income from the endowment will be used to support and expand the activities of the WIGA including:
  • In-service training programs for teachers.
  • Summer institutes on geography and environmental issues for K-12 teachers and administrators.
  • Geography Bee for Wisconsin students in grades four through eight.
  • Geography Awareness Week each November, where school children from across the state investigate and share the study of geography with their communities.
  • Geofest, an annual convention that brings together Wisconsin K-12 teachers to participate in hands-on sessions to help improve the teaching of geography.
  • Badger Basketball Geography, a 13-week program that has students in grades four through six complete a weekly quiz and mapping activity centered on the location and direction of travel of the UW men’s and women’s basketball teams and their opponents.

         The NGS will guarantee a minimum of $50,000 annually until the endowment is fully established. After about four years, the amount expected to be available to support geography education in the state will exceed $50,000 and continue to increase each year — assuming the fund’s growth continues to earn an average of 14.3 percent, as it has over the past 10 years.
         “The fund will support the Alliance’s efforts into perpetuity, so that future generations will benefit from the state’s investment,” Palm said.
         “It’s a great deal for kids and teachers as well as Wisconsin taxpayers.”

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Updated: Sept. 20, 2001