Brewer named head of the Department of Geography

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.—Cynthia A. Brewer, professor of geography and director of the Peter R. Gould Center for Geography Education and Outreach, has been appointed as head of the Department of Geography effective July 1, 2014. She succeeds Karl Zimmerer, who will remain an active member of the faculty after serving as department head for seven years.

“I’m proud and pleased to be chosen to lead our department,” Brewer said. “My challenge is to encourage successes across our four fields of research and teaching -- human, physical, nature-society, and geographic information science. We have a powerful set of online programs, and I want to integrate the strengths of our resident and online faculty and courses to build the perfect place for students to learn and grow into the fascinating professions and avocations they discover with us.”

The Penn State Department of Geography is consistently ranked as one of the top departments of geography in the United States.

“The geography students, faculty and staff will get a tireless and devoted advocate, and a leader who will work to ensure that Penn State geography remains one of the world’s leading geography programs,” said William Easterling, dean of the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, noting that Brewer’s appointment is a trifecta of exemplary teaching, research, and service. Brewer will be the first woman to head a department in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences (EMS).

Brewer has been a member of the faculty since 1994 and currently holds an endowed position as the E. Willard Miller and Ruby S. Miller Professor of Geography. She is a respected and engaged researcher in cartographic design, having authored 30 peer-reviewed articles and 65 additional publications and cartographic design resources, with more than 2,000 citations of her work. She has authored four books, including the popular "Designing Better Maps" and the "Census Atlas of the United States,"with U.S. Census Bureau authors. She also is an affiliate faculty member at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Center of Excellence for Geospatial Information Science. In 2013, she received the Henry Gannett Award for Exceptional Contributions to Topographic Mapping from the USGS.

Brewer is recognized as a distinguished teacher and received the EMS Mitchell Award for Innovative Teaching in 2005. She has advised 16 graduate students to degree completion while at Penn State.

Brewer previously served in multiple roles on the University Faculty Senate, and in the department as associate head for two years, as graduate officer for six years, and as undergraduate officer for three years. In 2014, she received the EMS Wilson Award for Outstanding Service.

Easterling also noted that Brewer’s extended service on many aspects of faculty development has prepared her to guide the department. She has served on department, college, and university-level committees for promotion and tenure, led the faculty affairs committee of the university faculty senate, served on the university faculty rights and responsibilities committee that hears grievances, chaired the EMS faculty advisory committee, and completed a year as a Penn State administrative fellow, mentored by then-Provost Rodney Erickson.

“Cartographers work with detailed data and are careful about accuracy, and they also deal with the realities of what is on the ground, with the overall goal of creating a useful and clear end result. They emphasize important spatial features and support these with high quality background information,” Brewer reflected. “That’s a good parallel for organizing a top department.”

Prior to joining Penn State, Brewer was an assistant professor of geography at San Diego State University and a visiting lecturer at the University of California at Santa Barbara while she was a doctoral student. She earned her doctorate in geography with emphasis in cartography from Michigan State University in 1991.

Especially well known for her ColorBrewer online tool for selecting map color schemes, Brewer’s research interests include map design, color theory in cartography, topographic map design, multiscale mapping, and atlas design.

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Last Updated May 23, 2014