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Students rank high at geography contest

Geography Professor Julie Commerford (left) and geography student Gabrielle Gittens stand next to Gittens’ project, “Reconstructing Ancient Landscapes: Pollen as a Key to the Past.” Gittens came in second place. Courtesy Photo | University Communications

Two SVSU students took first and second place during a geography poster presentation competition.

SVSU hosted the East Lakes Division of the American Association of Geographers in October. In total, 117 students from 22 colleges and universities attended. Six SVSU students attended.

Samantha Turner, who received her bachelor’s in biology from SVSU in 2019, presented her current work at Michigan State University. She took first place for her poster titled “Characterization of Cold Air Movement in Apple Orchards using High Resolution Topographic Data.”

Gabrielle Gittens, a geography major, focused on using pollen to rebuild ecosystems that have been destroyed over time. Her post
er, “Reconstructing Ancient Landscapes: Pollen as a Key to the Past,” took second place at the conference.

“My enthusiasm about this research was really infectious, and I knew my stuff,” Gittens said. “I love talking to people about (my project) and hearing peoples’ comments.”

Julie Commerford, a geography professor, coordinated the conference with help from the geography department.

“A year ago, SVSU was asked by one of the people in a leadership position for the East Lakes AAG if we would be interested in hosting,” Commerford said. “Around last November, we started preparing for the conference this October. We had a lot of help from the ABS dean’s office.”

Judges evluated student on several aspects of their project, including how well they articulated their research, whether they had results, if the results were meaningful and the organization of the poster.

Geography professor Rhett Mohler helped set up the judging criteria.

“I wasn’t a judge, but I did see the judging forms because Mohler organized the judging packets,” Commorford said, “Judges were faculty members from various other universities that attended and volunteered to do it.”

Commorford said the conference was a way for students to experience a real-world application of the skills they learned in courses during their studies. Students interacted with each other, geography professionals and faculty from other schools.

“I had people come up, and they didn’t know anything (about my project). I was able to talk to them about it and explain it in a way they could understand,” Gittens said. “Seeing people understand what I’m doing and thinking it’s cool – it’s nice to see other people do that.”

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