Many incoming undergraduate students are not familiar with Geography, and this represents a challenge for Western University’s Department of Geography, as well as a chance for renewal and rebranding, said incoming Department Chair, Jamie Voogt.
Voogt, an Associate Professor, is the new Chair of the Department of Geography, starting his five year appointment in January 2017. Voogt earned his PhD from the University of British Columbia, focusing on climatology and atmospheric science. He joined the Department of Geography at Western in 1995.
Voogt’s primary research focus is urban climatology, studying how cities affect atmosphere and surrounding areas. Voogt is particularly interested in improving how surface temperatures are measured in cities using remote sensing techniques. This is complicated since the three-dimensional geometry of the city means that no single view position can capture the full surface temperature variability and thus all measurements have some bias. His work also examines how modifications to city surface properties that affect their temperature, such as implementing ‘white’ and ‘green’ roofs, can impact climate. Understanding these influences is important to both adapting cities to larger scale climate change and mitigating their influence through reduced greenhouse gas emissions.
Along with his position as Chair, Voogt is president of the International Association for Urban Climate.
As the incoming Chair, Voogt sees opportunities and challenges for the Department of Geography.
Voogt feels Geography as a discipline faces some image and recognition issues. While Geography is the original discipline that focused on studying the environment, Voogt said there is now some question into how Geography fits into how environment is taught.
“Increasingly, we are seeing undergraduates come in who may not have taken Geography in a while, or who may associate the study of it with different areas or different terms,” he said.
Along with these challenges, the Department of Geography could see a change of about a quarter of its core faculty over the next four years. This represents an opportunity for the department to refocus, and show a wider picture of what Geography is.
Voogt said the Department may be able to expand its focus under the theme of Urban Environment, which can incorporate the three core elements of Geography—the social science, the physical science and the technical science—as well as build on established programs such as Urban Development and existing links to the Centre for Environment & Sustainability.
“The work we do is good in and of itself, and we can now build on this and build strength under that theme,” Voogt said.
Voogt feels there may be a social disconnect from the environment in general, and questions whether the general population is cognizant of the environment and geography in the same way they were in the past. “But”, he says “everyone has access to Google Earth, so maybe we’ve all seen more of the Earth than ever before.”
As Chair, Voogt looks forward to being able to represent what other people do in their research. “It’s nice to give someone else’s elevator speech,” he said.