Department History

The Geography and Regional Planning Department (GARP) started out as a Geography Department when Westfield State was incorporated as a normal school, or teachers' training school, in 1839. Geography, during that period, was part of the social science curriculum, which played a role in training future teachers for elementary and secondary education programs. Particularly notable among the geography professors during this era was Dr. Will Seymour Monroe, who taught both geography and psychology at WSU from 1896 to 1904. Professor Monroe expanded the geography curriculum and later, after leaving WSU, became a noted author.

After WWII, the number of students in geography courses increased along with the expansion of the number of education majors at WSU. Geography was still primarily a Social Science course supporting the education major, and the geography staff consisted of one or two faculty. However, with the addition of Professor J. E. O'Shea to the WSU staff in 1957, the Geography Department began to expand over the next few years.

In the 1960s several new professors joined the Geography Department and added their particular strengths to the curriculum. Professor Vincent created a cartography course that focused on geographic techniques, and introduced physical geography as one of the lab-lecture courses in the science core curriculum. Professors Psychas and Bonacquisti offered new regional geography courses, including respectively, Geography of Africa and Europe. Over the next ten years, four new faculty were added as well as many new regional, social and cultural geography courses. The department began to evolve as a strong independent entity on campus.

By the mid-1970s the Geography Department was offering elective courses as well as common core courses. In the late 1970s Professors Leiker and Bennett joined the department. Professor Leiker introduced behavioral geography and a series of meteorology courses that evolved into the weather-climate program. Professor Bennett initiated urban geography, regional planning, computer mapping, transportation geography and quantitative analysis courses.

The late Peter Bulkley, an urban history professor, and Professors Bennett and Leiker began developing the regional planning major as a B.S in Regional Planning in the spring of 1981. In 1983 the Geography Department became the Geography and Regional Planning Department and began granting B.S. degrees in regional planning. Thus marked the inception of the illustrious Regional Planning Program, which has had a very prosperous history of educating insightful, successful planners. As the only public college in the New England region offering the Regional Planning degree, we stand at the forefront with a strong planning education that offers a foundation in physical and social geographic theory as well as pragmatic techniques to solve city and environmental problems.

Shortly after the establishment of the Regional Planning major, Professor Stephanie Kelly was hired as the Coordinator of the Regional Planning Program. In this capacity Professor Kelly recruits new majors, serves as primary adviser for the major, and supervises the internship program. Professor Kelly was the first member of the department with an extensive background in planning, including professional experience with the Phoenix Planning Department in Phoenix, Arizona and the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission in West Springfield, Massachusetts. Professor Kelly created courses in city and regional planning, legal issues in zoning and planning, environmental impact analysis, and several Special Topics classes where students develop a community plan. Examples of these fieldwork project courses include An Affordable Housing Plan for Plainville, MA, Tannery Brook Bioremediation Plan for Holyoke, MA, and the Open Space Plan for Agawam, Massachusetts.

Concomitant to the development of the Regional Planning major, the department also added several techniques courses in cartography and remote sensing, which led to the formulation of the Cartography Certificate Program. The most recent member, Professor Robert Bristow, joined the GARP Department in the late 1980s and added his expertise in remote sensing, recreation geography and developed the Geographic Information System curriculum.

The 1990s were equally exciting and progressive as the department accomplished several goals:

  • We created a Regional Planning Advisory Board made up of Planning Directors, business representatives, and city planning officials. The purpose of the Regional Planning Advisory Board is to initiate a dialogue between the RP Program with public/ private planning agencies, and business and industry. Organized by Professor Kelly, the board meetings focus on ways to improve our curriculum, internship program, and community service outreach.
  • We collaborated with the Biology Department in the development of the new Environmental Science major, which represents a merger between the GARP and Biology Departments. The co-coordinators of the new major are Professors Bristow and Phillips. The Environmental Science major is up and running, with 10 students slated to graduate this year and a strong showing of undergraduates joining the major.
  • We established the Western Massachusetts Geographic Alliance under the guidance of Professor Vincent. The WMGA is a program designed to support primary and secondary geography teachers. Offering coursework and special workshops in the summer institute, the program also features a resource center for teachers in Bates 203.
  • We instituted, pending approval of the Air Pollution Meteorology course taught by Professor Leiker, a formal minor in weather and climate.

1992 During the summer, Lisa Mason-Fradette (now Pentz) in her work-study role organized the geography resource center (Bates 203) and started the task of updating department documents including brochures and records.

1993 We published our First Alumni Newsletter and received almost $6,000 dollars in grants and gifts. Some of this money was devoted to the creation of the Geography Resource Center. Our First Alumni Survey measured responses to graduate attitudes about major requirements, and revisions to the curriculum and program development plan. Trust fund budget exceeds $3,000. The GARP Department starts to consider Physical Geography as a four credit lab science rather than a separate lecture and lab.

1994 Prof. Psychas develops the new course Cities in the Third World. GARP faculty works with area schools for in-service training of teachers. As part of the requirements for Data Collection and Analysis, a survey for Westfields Boys and Girls Club was conducted by planning students.

1995 1995 is recognized for the First Westfield River Symposium! The GARP Department establishes presence on the world-wide-web as WSU's first academic website ! In his second term as chair Professor Bristow worked to strengthen financial support for the department and to broaden outreach to schools and the public. Continued to recommend geography courses for education students. Commercial Recreation and Tourism Minor established.

1996 In 1996 we saw the first publication of the Regional Planning Students Handbook. Students help call alumni asking for donations to create regional planning scholarship. Liberal Studies advising becomes important. PC and projector installed in Wilson Auditorium A.

1997 Jean Placzek joins WSU in 1997 as the secretary for GARP and English departments. Trust fund budget reaches $5,500. External review of program takes place. GARP0238 Environment Impact Analysis offered as pilot course. Brendan Brady receives the first (and only) Picknelly Scholarship!

1998 The campus declared Professor John O'Shea as the department's first Emeritus faculty. During this year, we expanded our articulation agreements with local community colleges. Professor Bristow returns from sabbatical for third term as chair. Professor Psychas becomes sole campus coordinator for International Education.

1999 Professors Kelly and Psychas received Fulbright Seminars for research! Regional Planning advisory board formed. The Environmental Science major approved by State Board of Higher Education in June. Facts from our 3rd alumni survey indicate that over 80% of alum would recommend the planning program to prospective students! GIS Software Site License for entire campus expands offerings.

2000 Y2K is not the end or the start of a new millennium, it is also the year of our first entering class of environmental science majors. World Regional Geography becomes a social understanding core class, and Cultural Geography is a new diversity core class. The Quantitative Methods class enters the core as an applied mathematics core class.

2001 Regional Planning scholarship fund large enough to start distributing awards. The GARP Department delivers environmental data on a new server: Professor Stangl moves to Parenzo Hall, stretching our campus presence to three buildings.

2002 Professors Kelly and Bennett go on sabbatical. Professor Kelly travels to Brazil to teach at the University of Barra Mansa, and to develop a strategic plan for a medical clinic. Professor Bennett develops a manual of exercises for the Quantitative Methods course.

2003 Stephanie Kelly begins her tenure as chair, setting curricular revision and recruitment as major initiatives. The regional planning major is revised in the land application tracks, and Intro to Community Planning is added to the common core. David Vincent retires, and Mirela Newman is hired as an urban geographer.

2004 The GIS certificate is redesigned to become the GIS Minor. Michael Vorwerk becomes coordinator of Environmental Science and Roderick Francis is hired as an urban planning professor.

2005 Stephanie Kelly is awarded an I3 grant to develop Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) modules in collaboration with the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD). Michael Vorwerk in conjunction with the Biology Department is awarded an I3 grant for an Environmental Science Center. Robert Bristow leaves the GARP Department to become Vice President of Enrollment and Management in Academic Affairs.

2006/2007 Professors Carsten Braun, a physical geographer, and Professor Marijoan Bull, an urban planner are hired to replace Robert Bristow and George Psychas who retired.

2007/2008 The GARP Department has had a very productive year of change and transition. Our two new professors, Carsten Braun and Marijoan Bull, had very successful years. Carsten, who is acting GIS coordinator, taught physical geography, GIS classes and climate change. Carsten's research involves glacier changes and impacts on climate change. Carsten participated in a research team study to measure glacier change in Tanzania in January, and plans to go to Peru this summer for glacial research. Carsten is chair of the Sustainability Committee and co-authored a sustainability report for the college with Marijoan. Marijoan, who just defended her dissertation in April, taught world regional geography, land use planning, site location analysis and legal issues in zoning and planning. Marijoan plans on going to Kenya this summer to investigate potential WSU connections with planning programs there.

The GARP Department ran two searches and hired two dynamic professors who will start in the fall 2008. Lorena Munoz comes to us from the University of Southern California. Lorena's dissertation deals with Latino vending street-scapes in Los Angeles. Lorena's research includes cultural/ race ethnicity, and medical needs assessment studies for Latinos. Lorena is an accomplished photographer and an external evaluator of GIS programs for the National Science Foundation. Lorena will teach cultural and urban geography, and Cities of the Developing World for us next year. Brian Conz, who will defend his dissertation in the geosciences at UMSS this July, is a cultural and political ecologist. Brian focuses his research on the contested terrain of the indigenous Mayan peoples in highland Guatemala, documenting forest change and protected area management in Totonicap'n, Guatemala. Brian speaks the K'iche Mayan language of the indigenous people. Brian will teach physical geography, Regional Geography of New England and Global Issues of the Future next year.

Professors Bennett, Leiker, and Kelly continue to teach their core of courses and conduct research. Bill Bennett has added numerous entries to his genealogy research and revised his world regional geography classes to include pandemic modules. Karl Leiker continues to teach physical geography, the cluster of weather courses, and conduct urban heat research. Karl will be acting chair while Stephanie Kelly is on sabbatical in the fall 2008. Stephanie continues to teach community planning, legal issues and the seminar research course. Stephanie's ongoing medical geography research will continue in Thailand in the fall 2008, where she will develop a needs assessment for a medical clinic. Stephanie traveled to Qatar and Dubai in April for the UNESCO conference in knowledge villages. The new president, Evan Dobelle, sent a group to investigate the possibility of establishing a WSU satellite school in the Academic City in Dubai. The educational directors and administrators are very excited about a Town Planning/ GIS Program.

The vision of the GARP Department continues to be the education of regional planners who will solve urban and environmental problems, and shape and protect our communities for the future. We continue to strive to provide the best coursework, equipment and mentoring to reach our goals. To this end the department has submitted a plan for an interdisciplinary GIScience Center, with a GIS Lab, which will serve our majors, and integrate GIS related coursework from criminal justice, environmental science, business and management and the natural sciences. The coordinator of the GIScience Center will develop coursework and faculty/student research projects that integrate content and GIS related analysis from across disciplines on campus, and develop connections in GIS applications with area communities.