Pathways to Success

My current career as a Senior Data Scientist in the private sector would not have been possible without my time at “The” Ohio State University (OSU).

Jordan Pino at PhD Commencement Ceremony

I arrived at OSU [the result of some unique circumstances], after my Ph.D. advisor accepted a job as a professor of Atmospheric Sciences in the Department of Geography in the Fall of 2016. At the time, I was a wide-eyed first semester Ph.D student at Texas A&M University with ambitious plans for my dissertation. Upon hearing the news that my advisor was accepting the position at OSU, my initial thoughts ranged from fear to excitement. Once I accepted that I would need to trade the hot, muggy summer of Texas with the occasional sub-zero temperatures in Ohio, I became very excited! A new adventure started in the Fall of 2016, and I never looked back. The Department of Geography at OSU provided me with all the tools I needed to succeed during my Ph.D. studies, even allowing me to graduate in only 3.5 years. The openness of all the professors in the department, to the support I was given after revealing that I wanted to pursue a non-academic career upon graduation, led me to not only succeed, but to excel. It can be intimidating to let your professors and colleagues know that you have passions outside the academic track, but the department provided an open door and highly supportive environment.

Jordan Pino and Professor Steven Quiring at commencement ceremony

Specifically, my advisor Dr. Steven Quiring was instrumental in providing the support needed to pursue a career outside academia. The work I was involved in, modeling power outages caused by severe weather events, fit quite nicely in the private sector. As many know, weather events cause significant power outages each year. Utility companies seek highly educated people to work on such problems. With the support from my own advisor and other professors in the department (e.g. through working on projects with local utility, American Electric Power, presenting at academic conferences, and obtaining certificates through the College of Engineering), I was able to glide into a nice position at a large utility soon after graduation. Overall, the support the Department of Geography provided during my time allowed me to fulfill my dream. Even though I was one of a few in my program who wanted to pursue such an odd career post-graduation, I got no pushback at all. Without my time in the program, I cannot say I would be as successful as I am today! My time at OSU not only allowed me to gain career success, but also lifelong friends and colleagues.

Jordan Pino

Baltimore Gas & Electric (BG&E)

PhD Alumnus, Department of Geography

The Ohio State University

50 Years Later

In September 1971 I arrived in Columbus from England to enroll in Geography at Ohio State. Initially, I was there as an MA student but then I stayed on and finally graduated with a Ph.D. in 1976. In 1975 I took a job at Syracuse University, even though when I first came to Ohio State I had no plan on staying in the United States. Graduate school certainly changed me in terms of job expectations and with respect to what I thought it was possible to study under the rubric of “geography.” In this piece, I want to address this question of the continuing impact of my time at Ohio State on my life and career in the years since.selfie of John Agnew

I must say that in the immediate aftermath of graduate school I was pleased to go to a department and to a university that was much more “relaxed” than Geography at Ohio State had been in terms of what was required of graduate students with all of its compulsory analytic and quantitative courses. This was to wane as I reflected on all I had gained by taking a course of study in which the educational whole increasingly appeared to me as greater than the sum of its parts. At face value, in the early 1970s Ohio State was one of the great centers of geography’s quantitative revolution, overthrowing all of what had long gone for geography. This was perhaps down to how much Professor Ned Taaffe had produced a curriculum at Ohio State that focused on the virtue of analysis and rigorous thinking even as it was packaged perhaps too simplistically in terms of opposing quantitative methods and spatial generalization to the excessively descriptive place accounts of what was viewed as “traditional” geography.

Indeed, I discovered that obscured by this sort of rhetoric were the achievements of many of the people I encountered at Ohio State whose work was open to making place accounts (emphasizing particularity and similarity but eschewing positivist generalization) more rigorous and comparative. I am thinking, for example, of Kevin Cox’s research on suburban voting behavior and so-called locational conflicts over public housing and various NIMBY land uses (my doctoral dissertation is an example of this inspiration), Emilio Cassetti’s contribution of an inferential statistics (his expansion method) explicitly based on searching for regional and local relationships between socio-economic variables that might differ significantly from place to place, and in the encouragement I had received from John Kessel in Political Science (within his course on Public Opinion and Political Behavior) in searching for regional differences in popular attitudes to foreign policy across the United States. These and others suggested in fact that geographical difference could be studied rigorously.

John Agnew and granddaughter playing chessSo, rather than looking back on my graduate school experience and seeing it as something completely different from what I did later, I came to see within a very short span of time that I had learned much that fed into what was to become my work on place and politics and, in fact, much of what I have done in the years since. The influences may have been serendipitous, like my showing up at Ohio State in the first place, but what I learned there was foundational for everything thereafter.


John Agnew 

Professor, Ladder Faculty


Geography on Higher Ground

In August 2021, I celebrated the 30th anniversary of my PhD from Ohio State Geography. In 1991, I left with my PhD to become an Assistant Professor at the University of Utah; a starting gig that lasted over 20 years.  In 2013, when it was time to move on, OSU Geography was recruiting for the first endowed chair in the history of the department, the Bob and Mary Reusche Chair in Geographic Information Science. I applied, was interviewed, and they (surprisingly) offered the position. I am now back where I started, and I’m very proud and happy to be a faculty member in this stellar program.  Interestingly, I now occupy an office that is directly above the basement office where graduate students were crammed during the late 1980s. After three decades, I have arrived 20 feet above where I started. This is an amusing observation, but also a metaphor.

Left: Harvey Miller in 1988.
Right: Harvey Miller in 2017

Geography was very different in the late 1980s: it was a conflicted discipline in search of its soul.  Human and regional geographers criticized the “space cadets” in spatial analysts and the new subfield of Geographic Information Systems. In turn, the cadets had their own criticisms to lob back, while physical geographers and atmospheric scientists watched the slugfest from the sidelines. Meanwhile, Geography was reeling from decades of academic decline and departmental closures.

When I was a PhD student, I had the privilege of taking History of Geographic Thought from Edward J. “Ned” Taaffe, a former AAG President and department Chair who elevated OSU geography. When thinking about writing this blog, I went back to his 1973 AAG Presidential Address, “The Spatial View in Context.” This captures some of the soul-searching and defensiveness of the time: What is Geography? What is our value?  I remember asking one day during the seminar – why do geographers apologize for their existence?

Fast forward to 2021. Geography is a more confident discipline.  We have learned the value of diverse approaches to knowledge instead of skirmishing over who has the only path to the truth. Our external enemies have mostly retreated: few question the value of mapping, GIS and the holistic, integrative perspective of Geography (although higher education has its foes). Interdisciplinarity no longer feels like begging for a place at the table; rather, it is now a valued approach to understanding and addressing the complexity of the world and its problems.  OSU Geography has maintained its traditional foci of human-environment, GIS/spatial analysis and atmospheric science, but we have arrived at a higher place.

We, as geographers, are still faced with the question – what is the core of Geography? What brings us together, besides a common TIU (Tenure Initiating Unit)?  To me, the persistent quantitative/qualitative split in Geography is a false dichotomy, and I am pleased to see the new generation of geographers rejecting this false choice. I am also pleased to see OSU Geography adopt “justice” as a common touchstone for the program: environmental justice, social justice, climate justice and data justice.  This is a crucial, cross-cutting challenge that demands the diverse perspectives encompassed by contemporary Geography.

A strong future for OSU Geography, and Geography at large, means continuing to work on what unites us.  We are on higher ground, but there are still heights left to climb.

Harvey Miller

Bob and Mary Reusche Chair in Geographic Information Science
Professor of Geography and Director, CURA
The Ohio State University

Uncertainty Problems and Census Data: The 2020 Census & Exurbanization Example

Last year, I had opportunities to learn about the 2020 Census from a research seminar and a professional meeting to promote Complete Count of the 2020 Census. As you may have heard already, there are some new characteristics in the 2020 Census as below (U.S. Census Bureau, n.d.-a, n.d.-c, n.d.-b):

  • The 2020 Census will be the first to offer options for internet and phone responses.
  • There will be a greater reliance on technology to prepare for and execute the count.
  • The 2020 Census will update its Master Address File (MAF) and ensure that every living quarter in the U.S. is included in the census universe by collaborating with state and local governments and using aerial imaging software.
  • For enhanced enumeration, Census takers will be equipped with smart devices, and data will be collected digitally in real-time.
  • There are no questions about citizenship on the 2020 Census.
  • Responses for the Census will never be shared with agencies of immigration or law enforcement.
  • The country is experiencing a period of heightened fear and deliberate misinformation.

Potential Uncertainty in the 2020 Census

Most of the characteristics above seem to be helpful to produce more accurate Census data. On the other hand, there might be some potential uncertainty in the 2020 Census data. First, there are some challenges to being counted on the Census data, including language barriers, mistrust in government, privacy/cybersecurity concerns, physical barriers such as inaccessible multifamily units, untraditional living arrangements, and lack of reliable broadband or internet access. Second, there may exist hard-to-count (HTC) groups for the Census, including children under five years old, racial and ethnic minorities, limited English proficiency households, immigrants, renters and residents who often move, alternative or overcrowded housing units, gated communities and publicly inaccessible multifamily units, persons displaced by natural disasters, persons experiencing homelessness, young mobile adults, and single-parent headed households (The City of Stillwater, Payne County, OK, n.d.). Thus, the 2020 Census may provide enhanced accuracy of the data and also uncertain data for some criteria of the Census.

Example of Uncertainty in Visualizing Exurbanization

Due to the potential uncertainty in the Census data, some geographic inquiries that utilize the Census data may reveal the uncertainty problems, such as visualizing the location of exurban areas. Simply speaking, the exurban areas have characteristics between urban and suburban areas. There are multiple different definitions of exurbanization in literature, and the location of certain exurban areas on maps may vary depending on the definition (Ban & Ahlqvist, 2009). In specific, you can visualize the exurbanization of certain areas by using the Census data, geospatial data, and fuzzy-set approach (Ban & Ahlqvist, 2009; Fisher, 2000; Wechsler et al., 2019; Zadeh, 1965), and could create a map that represents different degrees of exurbanization (Figure 1). In Figure 1, the degree of exurbanization of Los Angeles County, CA is visualized based on the definition of exurbanization in (Daniels, 1999). According to Daniels (1999), the exurban areas are defined using value ranges of some attributes, including population, distance from a major urban center, commuting distance, and population density. The definitions of Daniels (1999) themselves include semantic uncertainty due to the vagueness and the ambiguity (see Ban & Ahlqvist (2009) for details). However, in this blog, we will focus on the population attribute of the exurbanization definition. As mentioned above, the potential uncertainty in 2020 Census data may introduce another type of uncertainty, the error (Fisher, 2000). Most of the definitions of exurbanization use the population attribute (Berube et al., 2006). It is likely that the results of the visualization of exurbanization may present uncertainty in the locations of exurban areas.

Figure 1. Visualization of the degree of exurbanization of Los Angeles County, CA based on the exurban definition from Daniels (1999). (A) shows boundaries of exurban areas in crisp, non-fuzzy membership and (b) in the fuzzy-set membership (reproduced from Figure 16.5 of Wechsler et al. (2019)).

There would exist other geographical inquiries that might introduce uncertainty when dealt with the 2020 Census data. What would be the examples? Then how could the uncertainty problems be resolved? Things to ponder remains, and indeed, the initial process of thinking could be definitely uncertain.



  1. Ban, H., & Ahlqvist, O. (2009). Representing and negotiating uncertain geospatial concepts – Where are the exurban areas? Computers, Environment and Urban Systems, 33(4), 233–246.
  2. Berube, A., Singer, A., Wilson, J. H., & Frey, W. H. (2006). Finding Exurbia: America’s Fast-Growing Communities at the Metropolitan Fringe. 48.
  3. Daniels, T. (1999). When City and Country Collide: Managing Growth In The Metropolitan Fringe. Island Press.
  4. Fisher, P. (2000). Sorites paradox and vague geographies. Fuzzy Sets and Systems, 113(1), 7–18.
  5. The City of Stillwater, Payne County, OK. (n.d.). Historically Hard to Count Populations. Retrieved November 30, 2020, from
  6. US Census Bureau. (n.d.-a). About the 2020 Census. The United States Census Bureau. Retrieved November 30, 2020, from
  7. US Census Bureau. (n.d.-b). Census.Gov. Retrieved November 30, 2020, from
  8. US Census Bureau. (n.d.-c). What Is the 2020 Census? 2020Census.Gov. Retrieved November 30, 2020, from
  9. Wechsler, S., Ban, H., & Li, L. (2019). The Pervasive Challenge of Error and Uncertainty in Geospatial Data: Volume Eight (pp. 315–332).
  10. Zadeh, L. A. (1965). Information and control. 8(3), 338–353.

Hyowon Ban

Class of 2009, Associate Professor

Department of Geography

California State University, Long Beach


The Census Experience: 1990, A VW Bug, and a Dog

It’s 2020 and, once again, the Census is upon us. Slightly more frequent than the cicadas, the census always produces its own distinct buzz in our society. Every 10 years we engage in serious conversation about how the Census should be conducted, who did the Framers really intend to be counted and whether this Census is being manipulated for political purposes. And, once again, an enormous work force comes together for just a few months to carry out a truly Herculean task: counting every individual person in this populous and geographically extensive nation.

For me, the Census is not only socially and politically interesting but also is also somewhat nostalgic. For a few months in 1988 I was one of the thousands of people engaged as temporary workers in support of the 1990 Census. That summer, as I basked in the afterglow of a completed BA in Geography and contemplated how I would take the world by storm as a graduate student in the fall, I signed up to be a “Field Crew Supervisor” for the US Census Bureau. Obviously, 1988 was not a decennial census year: my crew and I were not involved in administering the Census questionnaire. Instead, we were engaged in some of the preliminary work needed for the actual enumeration to go smoothly two years later. The 1990 Census was the 4th decennial Census to rely primarily on “self-enumeration” for the count of persons in households across the country. With self-enumeration, the Census Bureau mails the census questionnaire to every household in the nation and tracks the return of the questionnaires by address. During the census year, the Bureau only sends enumerators to addresses from which it has yet to receive a questionnaire. My job in 1988 was to help generate the Census Bureau’s mailing list.

Another aspect my job that summer became part of Census Bureau history. In addition to the address lists we were given, my crew and I were sent into the field with digitally produced maps (a rarity in those days) and asked to correct errors relating to the road network and streams. Specifically, we were asked to edit our maps – draw on them – adding any road that wasn’t already represented, deleting roads that didn’t exist and correcting road names. For the stream network, we were asked to verify the points at which a road crossed a stream and correct if necessary. This data, gathered by thousands of people like me across the country, became the Topologically Integrated Geographic Encoding and Referencing database which we all know today knows as the TIGER files. The TIGER database was a joint product of the Census Bureau and the United States Geological Survey and was the first digital nationwide map of roads, boundaries and water. You can read about it at

The work that my crew and I did in the field that summer was a strange mixture of fun, tedium, and terror. Most workdays involved hours of driving alone along the back roads of Clay, Putnam, Greene and Monroe counties in Indiana in the 1971 orange VW bug my wife and I had (the good car). I had to systematically drive my assigned Census tracts, covering every road and recording or verifying every address I encountered. And, even though I love maps, and the chance to actually edit them was like being a kid in a candy store, the monotony of it would occasionally get to me. When I encountered a place that could reasonably be considered habitable but was not included in the lists of addresses, I was required to stop and try to determine the address. This usually meant knocking on the door and talking to a resident. These interactions were generally civil but, occasionally, I would encounter people who really didn’t want a visit from The Government. Some of these interviews were terrifying. I vividly recall a resident threatening to shoot me if I didn’t “get the hell off his land”, while his enormous and obviously lethal dog barked at me and surveyed the distance from his jaw to my neck. I can easily summon up the feelings of fear and helplessness from that experience to this day.

Even so, my recollections of my time with the Census are generally positive. They consist mostly of memories of warm summer days on dusty roads in Clay county; of visiting places in person that before I had only seen on a map (Stinesville – what a weird little town!) and of participating in a process that is distinctly American. It turns out that working for the Census is kind of a DeGrand family thing. My wife Cynthia worked on the 2010 census and my son Henry is working for the current Census. There are unconfirmed reports that my sainted mother worked on the 1980 Census. Who knows, maybe I’ll sign up for the 2030 Census. When the time comes, please remember to send in your form or that person who comes knocking on your door . . .  well, it just might be me!

James Degrand

Senior Researcher

Department of Geography

The Ohio State University

Re-visiting the Field Through Old Fieldwork Photos

One of the joys of geography, for me, has always been its invitation to get out and see the world “as it really is.” This has meant, in my case, visiting sites across China to conduct fieldwork activities like interviews, compile field notes, and collect primary materials. Though arduous at times, field visits are always the highlight of my year. But, as my colleague Kendra McSweeney has noted in this blog, international travel for immersive fieldwork is neither advisable nor ethically justifiable in light of the novel coronavirus. For the foreseeable future, we will need to blaze new trails for our research, ones that don’t involve travel that could endanger oneself and those with whom one comes into contact.

In response to this new reality, I’ve turned my attention to something that was always right under my nose: the enormous trove of photographs that I’ve taken over the past decade or so of research on urbanization in China. I have hundreds of digital photos of buildings, streets, alleys, skylines, demolition sites, encampments of migrant laborers, monuments, squares, gated communities, public art – in short, all the elements of urban landscapes that have drawn my intellectual interest and are at the heart of my research. The photos were taken with a basic point-and-shoot camera or with my phone as complements to my field notes, and they have served that purpose fine. And now they also permit me to re-encounter my field sites from a safe distance health-wise.

The revealing and sometimes unsettling experience of seeing my research sites anew through my own photographs has compelled me to engage some old and new questions. For decades, scholars of photography have grappled with the slipperiness of the image and its various collusions with power. Some years ago, Gillian Rose brought these concerns to fore in our own discipline by asking “How, exactly, is geography visual?” Her point was to highlight the frequently unacknowledged power of visual tools, such as photographs, in our published work and teaching. With all the critical voices directed at photographs over the years, a significant strain of skepticism has encrusted itself around images as a communicative media. But what about photos taken during fieldwork? How are they, as Peturdottir and Olsen suggest, a form of material engagement, rather than merely representation? What should we make of our own photos, even the unremarkable ones? While we might classify fieldwork photos in any number of ways, I’d like to simply highlight two types of fieldwork images in my own archive that I’ve found especially challenging to think through and with.

The first sort are photos that I staged but might appear randomly shot. These are photos I took to which I ascribed special significance at the time I took them. They were intended as claims that I sought in trying to make sense of my field subject, whatever it may have been at the time. In the moment, I was careful to center the subject, to frame it a certain way, to aestheticize it in order to sear its impression in my mind. Ironically, for this very reason, the photographs are somewhat opaque to other viewers, as they tend to condense a number of themes circulating in my own mind and that are evoked whenever I return to the images and use them to elaborate textually during the process referred to as “drafting one’s findings” (a term that affirms the priority given to the textual form of research dissemination). Here I include one such image, taken in Ordos, China, which brings to my mind the vast and socially ruinous system of informal finance that triggered a severe but localized financial crisis during my fieldwork. If you don’t see informal finance in the image, it’s because it’s not visible and you weren’t there. But to me, images like this are too pregnant with symbolism to submit to a journal to illustrate an article that the images helped inform, while at the same time quite meaningless to others. The caption, if I were to write one, would be too long, my communication of the image’s meaning would seem hopelessly partial, and it would seem redundant to make a claim through the image that I had rendered in words. And since the images were purposely made to craft an argument still germinating in my mind at the time, it would quash the resonance of the image were I to include it in my findings as mere documentary illustration, as most journals expect photographs to be outside of the occasional “photo essay.”

Photo Credit: Max Woodworth

The second kind of image is the offhand shot that might appear staged. These might easily be mistaken for an attempt at a claim that I did not intend to make, and so I tend to not like these images. For instance, the image below was taken in the small Chinese mining town of Daliuta as I took a shortcut through an empty lot behind a restaurant on my way to the bus station. In a trash heap I saw the broken plastic bust of Mao Zedong at the center of the image. This was the world “as it really is,” according to one way of understanding that phrase. I did not stage or crop this image, much less attempt to aestheticize the subject. But, seconds after I took the photograph with my phone, I recognized in the image a heavy-handed cliché of post-socialist China – that paradoxical country led by a Communist Party, yet unabashedly striding into a capitalist future – and therefore I filed it away and have never published it with a scholarly article. What strikes me most directly about this image now is its easy slippage from offhand photo taken as part of my quotidian data collection in the field to something that I regarded as potentially and undeservedly totemic, with symbolisms that are so obvious that I find it strips me of any control over the image’s meanings. An image of this kind is so nakedly unoriginal, I strain to imagine how it can inform discussions about today’s China. And yet, there was the bust of Mao on the trash heap.

Photo Credit: Max Woodworth

As mentioned, there are hundreds more such photos to comb through. It might seem self-indulgent in such urgent times to retreat into digital archives stored on one’s hard drive. But such a detour might actually serve a useful purpose if it provides a moment to reflect on the degree to which we rely on visual media not just to show what we find during research, but to craft what we have assessed the world to be. Geographers have long been sensitive to the ways images we share from our research, including maps and charts and graphs, are never innocent of social content. But what about those images we keep to ourselves? How can we make use of their various and unruly afterlives?

Max Woodworth, Associate Professor

Department of Geography,

The Ohio State University


The Environmental Protection Agency at Fifty: Promoting Deregulatory Science

photo of EPA headquarters

EPA Headquarters in Washington, DC. Photo Courtesy of Becky Mansfield

Established in the wake of the first Earth Day, the Environmental Protection Agency is also 50 this year. Today, the agency appears regularly in the news as a poster-child for President Trump’s regulatory rollbacks. I have researched the EPA for over a decade, including following the Trump EPA with fascination. What have I learned?

I have learned that when EPA takes its mission seriously, it makes progress protecting environmental and human health. Notable successes include reducing smog, acid rain, and lead exposure, and banning many dangerous pesticides [1].

Yet I have also learned that, not only are these issues ongoing, but EPA tends to downplay chemical harms, even in the wake of an avalanche of scientific findings and public awareness of the enormity of environmental change and long-term, cumulative health effects for humans and wildlife. EPA has always used a less-protective, risk-based approach that insists on certainty about harms before taking protective measures. Throughout its history, EPA has been influenced by corporate science-for-hire that highlights and even purposefully produces scientific uncertainty [2]. Also, EPA has not been good at addressing disproportionate harms. For example, my research showed that EPA’s approach to controlling exposure to the neurotoxin mercury was to tell pregnant women to eat less of certain kinds of fish; this makes women of color (who on average eat more fish) responsible for their own exposures while letting polluters (coal-fired power plants) off the hook [3]. A signature success of the Obama EPA was a rule finally requiring power plants to reduce their mercury emissions.

I have learned that the Trump EPA has assaulted protections from many angles [4]. For example, it found the Obama-era mercury controls to be inappropriate; repealed the Clean Power Plan; and decided against proposed bans of several deadly solvents.

Yet I have also learned that the Trump EPA does this not by disregarding science, but by producing deregulatory science. In particular, it has developed new approaches to scientific risk analysis that compel the agency to disregard many benefits of regulation, highlight its costs, dismiss many scientific studies as inadequate, and fail to evaluate many real-world exposures to chemicals (such as using them without protective gear). It justifies these moves using ideas of scientific transparency, reproducibility, and evidence-based decision-making.

A key lesson of fifty years of the Environmental Protection Agency is that when it comes to environmental protection, it is not enough to ask, “Is it science?” It is also crucial to investigate the values and interests that influence scientific judgment. Is evidence being produced and evaluated through the lens of protecting the fossil fuel and petrochemical industries and the interests of the powerful, or through the lens of being most protective to environmental and human health?


Becky Mansfield,

Professor of Geography,

Ohio State University



[2] On regulatory science at EPA, see e.g. Sheila Jasanoff,  The Fifth Branch (1990, Harvard University Press). On tactics of corporate science, see e.g. Kristin Shrader-Frechette, Taking Action, Saving Lives (2007, Oxford University Press).

[3] Becky Mansfield, Environmental health as biosecurity: “seafood choices,” risk, and the pregnant woman as threshold. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 102(5): 969-976. 2012.

[4] These findings are in an unpublished manuscript and were presented at the 2020 Dimensions of Political Ecology conference.