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UW-Eau Claire’s geography program named tops in the country

| Gary Johnson

The University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire geography and anthropology department has been recognized as the top baccalaureate-level program in the nation by the American Association of Geographers.

UW-Eau Claire is the recipient of the 2024 AAG Award for Bachelor Program Excellence, recognizing excellence in geography programs at U.S. colleges and universities. The award comes with $2,000 for the department and honors a non-Ph.D.-granting geography program that has “significantly enhanced the prominence and reputation of geography as a discipline and demonstrated the characteristics of a strong and engaged academic unit.”

Ryan Weichelt

Dr. Ryan Weichelt, professor and chair of the geography and anthropology department

The recognition “carries a great deal of weight” because AAG is the largest and most respected national geography organization in the country, says Dr. Ryan Weichelt, professor and chair of the geography and anthropology department.

“Looking at past winners, I know those are all very strong programs,” Weichelt says. “To have our name with them makes us realize how strong our department is. We know we have a good program, but to be recognized by your peers solidifies that mindset.”

Dr. Aleks Sternfeld-Dunn, Dean, College of Arts and Sciences

Dr. Aleks Sternfeld-Dunn, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences

Dr. Aleks Sternfeld-Dunn, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, says the award recognizes the commitment of faculty to help undergraduate students make a global impact.

“The faculty in the department of geography and anthropology do far more than just educate students,” Sternfeld-Dunn says. “Faculty strive to create a tight-knit community for the students in the program and help them find meaning in what they do. They see how students’ work can have lasting impacts on the communities they work with.”

The award selection committee states that UW-Eau Claire’s “exemplary program has been fueled by faculty members’ active scholarly production, often involving students, and by student enthusiasm for geographic education.”

“The program supports undergraduate research opportunities in local and international contexts that have propelled high levels of student participation in a variety of conferences, some of which the department has hosted,” according to AAG selection committee. “These high-impact learning experiences have facilitated students’ pursuit of advanced degrees in geography and participation in geography-related professions.”

In its application, UW-Eau Claire focused on the program’s excellence in instruction, pursuit of scholarship and promotion of geography while emphasizing its unique curriculum and extensive student-faculty research.

Weichelt says that all geography faculty and staff contributed to the award in their own unique way, adding that everyone participates and contributes to the growth of the department.

“This award is the epitome of ‘It takes a village,’” Weichelt says. “I also believe this award honors the contributions of all past faculty, staff and students that have led to the department we are today.”

The 2024 awards celebration will be April 19 in Honolulu, Hawaii.