One thing you can do with a degree in Geography is, well, teach geography to others. Matt Rosenberg is not your traditional classroom instructor; rather, he practices his pedagogy primarily via the World Wide Web. Matt has been disseminating geographic knowledge as About.com’s Geography Guide for the past ten years and has been a friend of the My Wonderful World Campaign since launch. Matt has written two books, has been featured on NPR and PBS, and has won several awards. He holds a Master’s Degree in Geography from California State University, Northridge, is currently attending rabbinical school, and recently became a new father. We were thrilled that he was able to take time out of his busy schedule to answer a few of our burning questions.
How did you first become interested in geography? Did you take any geography classes as part of your k-12 education?
I actually never took a geography class in primary or secondary school. I don’t even remember being tested on state capitals! My first geography class was a lower division introduction to urban and economic geography course at UC Davis. With that class, I fell in love with geography and declared my major shortly thereafter.
What are your favorite geographic topics to study and/or write about?
I love to write about urban, economic, and political geography. When I look at the content I’ve written over the years, there’s a definite bent toward those topics. I also like to create lists of the biggest, tallest, most populous, etc.
Your bio says that you’ve worked previously as a GIS technician for local government, newspaper columnist, and disaster manager for the Red Cross. Can you tell us a little bit about how you used geography in each of those careers?
Well, my work as a newspaper columnist took place for the town paper while I was in high school so it was before I was a geographer. The other careers were all intimately tied to geography. I think that my skills as a geographer really had a positive impact on my work as a disaster manager for the Red Cross. I would work with demographics, hazard maps, and disaster plans on a daily basis and my geographical skills helped me understand the relationship between human action and the physical environment. Obviously, working in the GIS division for my local government was intrinsically tied to my skills as a geographer.
How did you get to your current position as Geography Guide at About.com? What do you like best about your job?
I had just finished my undergraduate degree in geography at UC Davis and was working in the university library. Part of my job was the library website and so I was receiving various email newsletters about newfangled things on the Internet. I received word that About.com was looking for Guides to run websites about various topics. I found that they were looking for a Geography Guide (the title is unusual but it is somewhat of a cross between an editor-in-chief, writer, webmaster, librarian, and general go-to person for the topic). I applied and created a mock site while competing against other unknown candidates and I was selected. My site was one of the first to go live when About.com rolled out publicly in April of 1997.
I love to share my love of geography with people around the world. I love it when I inspire students to take classes, declare geography as a major, or even continue on into graduate school in the discipline. It’s a wonderful feeling to have that sort of impact outside of academia. Researching and writing about geography topics is a lot of fun, too.
What do you hope to achieve with your website?
Through my website, I hope to teach a passion for geography to as many people as possible.
What is the most frequently asked question you get about geography on your website?
I am most frequently asked who I don’t list Scotland
What are your hopes for the discipline of geography in the future?
I hope that geography will become a more popular and robust discipline. I would like to see more of our young bright students going into geography and helping it to grow by inspiring others and making geography the discipline at the forefront of the issues of the world, as it deserves to be. I would like to see increased investment in geographic education at all levels so that we can turn out the geographers of tomorrow.
What advice do you have for students looking to pursue a career in geography?
I recommend continuing your education as far as you’re comfortable and, while in school obtaining as many internships as possible during the school year and summer. Internships provide experience and help students to know where their interests lie.
What should every American know about the world?
I think that every American should know how to find every country on the globe. The world is a small place and through technology and transportation, it keeps getting smaller. It is vital to know where places are.
What do you think will be the greatest geographic challenge of the next 50 years?
I cannot decide whether the impacts of global warming or the global access to energy resources like fossil fuels is the greatest geographic challenge of the next half-century. Certainly the impacts of global warming could end up to be deadly to tens of millions of people worldwide. The solution to both of these problems, of course, is to utilize renewable fuels so as to reduce our carbon footprint and use fewer fossil fuels.
If you had five minutes to sit down with President-elect Obama, what would you say to him?
After I asked to be appointed to the position of Geographer
of the United States,
Want to hear more advice for Barack Obama? Stay tuned for our final Geography Awareness Week Guestblogger, National Geographic VP of Education Danny Edelson. To conclude the week with a strong call to action, Danny offers "A Hope for Obama."
Photo: Matt at the computer with four-month-old son Zachary.