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What’s in a Name? Undergraduate Student Perceptions of Geography, Environment, and Sustainability Key Words and Program Names

Type: Panel
Theme: Expanding the Community of Geography
Sponsor Groups: Geography Education Specialty Group, Specialty Group Highlighted Session
Poster #:
Day: 4/8/2020
Start / End Time: 9:35 AM / 10:50 AM (Mountain Standard Time)
Room: Virtual Track 3
Organizers: Justin Stoler
Chairs: Amber Pearson


The academic discipline of geography, faced with increasing competition from cognate fields and declining undergraduate enrollments, continues to suffer an identity crisis. In recent decades, many geography programs have instituted department or degree name changes, or otherwise rebranded, without any evidence guiding these decisions. This study begins to fill this gap by presenting results from a survey of 4,388 undergraduates across four American universities to understand how students rate key words that commonly appear in geography course descriptions and titles, and phrases that comprise degree and department names. Undergraduates overwhelmingly and consistently preferred simple, thematic types of terms to those that sounded more technical or science oriented. Forms of the word geography were rated significantly lower than words or phrases containing environment and sustainability. Forms of geography that included the word science were rated particularly low. Student ratings varied by class standing, major, gender, whether the student attended high school in the United States or abroad, whether the student had previously enrolled in a geography course, and self-perceived numeracy. Multivariable analysis revealed potential opportunities for targeted undergraduate recruiting and curricular development. This study is an important step toward reconciling contemporary student perceptions of geography and related fields with departmental identities and the disciplinary jargon often used in program and course descriptions. We offer a toolkit for implementing similar research at other institutions and ultimately helping geography programs recruit and retain the next generation of geographers.

The panel/workshop will begin with a brief (15-min) presentation of highlights from the final study results, and then proceed as a one-hour, hands-on workshop that prepares other academic programs to implement this study at their institution. We will explain all the requirements for survey customization, set up a new Qualtrics instance to store your data, provide IRB language, and review all recruitment procedures and other protocols to facilitate a smooth implementation using our toolkit. This panel builds on previous sessions about the rebranding and renaming of geography departments over the past two annual meetings.


Type Details Minutes
Introduction Justin Stoler University of Miami 15
Discussant Amber Pearson Michigan State University 15
Discussant Justin Stoler University of Miami 15

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