Students and faculty find success at national geography conference

May 1, 2014
Pictured left to right are Steven LaBarge and Gabriel Brownell.

PLATTEVILLE, Wis. — Six University of Wisconsin-Platteville geography students and faculty members recently attended the Association of American Geographers annual conference April 8-12 in Tampa, Fla. More than 6,500 geography faculty, graduate students and undergraduate students from across the United States and abroad attended.

At the conference, Dr. Todd Stradford, associate professor of geography at UW-Platteville, received the Distinguished Service Award from the Asian Geography Specialty Group in recognition of his outstanding contributions in the field of geography over the past 17 years.

Stradford has a long-time interest in the Far East, especially Japan, and has taken students from all over North America and Asia to Japan each summer since 1977, traveling to a variety of locations of geographic interest. Stradford has been the editor of the Bulletin of Asian Geography since 2002, was the foreign editor of the Japanese Journal of Human Geography from 2004-08 and was the East Asia director of the American Association of Geographers from 2005-07.

Dr. Evan Larson, assistant professor of geography, presented on new fire history software he helped design that enables researchers to reconstruct fire history based on tree-ring data. During the spring semester, Larson worked in collaboration with Dr. Kun Tian, assistant professor of computer science and software engineering at UW-Platteville, and 16 students in Tian’s software maintenance course to redesign software used by researchers to manage and analyze fire history data to better understand the role of fire in forest ecosystems. The software produced by Tian’s class has now been integrated into a specialized software suite that is used by researchers around the world.

Nick Flinner, a UW-Platteville geography alumnus from St. Paul, Minn., presented research that he began while an undergraduate student at UW-Platteville. His presentation, which provided the capstone of his M.S. research at Indiana State University in Terre Haute, Ind., explored the patterns of growth in tamarack trees near their southern range boundary and how they were affected by both climate change and insect outbreaks. Flinner is defending his thesis this spring and will pursue a Master of Education degree at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Sara Allen, a UW-Platteville post-baccalaureate fellow working as the lead academic staff member on the Driftless Oaks research project in the UW-Platteville Tree-Ring, Earth, and Environmental Sciences Lab, also presented at the AAG. “The project looks at climate through the growth of oak trees,” said Allen. “Using tree-ring and other climate analysis, we are able to reconstruct past climate in this region, which will better prepare us for understanding and managing future climate change scenarios.”

Steven LaBarge, a senior geography major and research assistant in the TREES lab from Platteville, presented his research through which he produced a 532-year reconstruction of summer precipitation in central Sweden. “The conference was both rewarding and challenging, and I'm very appreciative to have been given the chance to attend,” said LaBarge. “This experience taught me about the importance of the research community and developing relationships with like-minded professionals.”

Gabriel Brownell, a junior from Walworth, Wis., who is triple majoring in geography, Spanish and international studies and is a research assistant in the TREES lab, presented his research on reconstructing long-term patterns of summer temperature for northern Wisconsin and Michigan through the growth rings of ancient eastern hemlock trees. Brownell also had the opportunity to speak with Michael Mann, an internationally recognized expert on climate change research, at the conference. “I was excited to hear him reference tree ring data when answering a question asked by someone who was denying climate change,” said Brownell. “Mann even cited information that can also be seen in research I've conducted.”

“This meeting gave students a chance to interact with world-renowned scholars from around the globe,” said Larson. “It was an incredible opportunity for students to experience the broad extent of geography.”

Contact: Evan Larson, assistant professor of geography, (608) 342-6139,
Written by: Jena Garrett, College of Liberal Arts and Education, (608) 342-6191,



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