Geography, service-learning get new staff

Ellen Nelson

Ellen Nelson

While SDSU says its goodbyes to some of its graduating seniors, it welcomes two new members to campus. California native George White is the new head of the geography department, and South Dakota native Joanita Kant is the new AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) member.

White joins the other six members of the geography department with plans for its future. Curriculum developments, re-energizing the geography information sciences program in Sioux Falls, along with developing online courses, are all focuses for the department, according to a press release.

“I think he’s a great addition to the department,” said Robert Watrell, associate head of the geography department.

A long way from his last teaching position in Maryland and original home in California, Watrell said he thinks the only family connection White has to South Dakota is through his wife’s aunt who lives in Iowa.

Along with serving as head of the department, White will teach courses in world regional geography, European geography and nations and nationalism. Before arriving at SDSU, White spent 15 years in Frostburg, Md., teaching at Frostburg State University.

A native of Oakland, Calif., White received his bachelor’s degree in geography and German studies from California State University in Hayward in 1987. In 1990, he received his master’s degree in geography from the University of Oregon. He remained at the University of Oregon four more years and earned his doctoral degree in geography, as well.

“He (White) will provide excellent leadership to the department,” said Watrell.

Much closer than California, Kant, the new AmeriCorps VISTA member, was born in Watertown. Hired for one year, Kant will work side-by-side with co-member Cassie Malinich to strengthen strategic community partnerships through service-learning opportunities at SDSU.

Kant’s placement at SDSU is part of a collaborative initiative with the Midwest Consortium for Service-Learning in Higher Education to expand service-learning throughout the states of South Dakota, Nebraska and Iowa.

“I’m very much interested in service learning and connecting the students and faculty to the Brookings community,” said Kant.

This year over spring break, Kant and Malinich have organized three different service-learning trips available for students. Kant said these trips are not only to unique places and a lot of fun but also look great on a resume.

“Joanita brings a strong interest in service, education, community involvement, and working with diverse populations, particularly American Indian and Hutterite brethren,” said Dianne Nagy, SDSU’s service-learning coordinator.

After earning her master’s degree in geography from SDSU this past year, Kant said she is very familiar with the campus and is pleasantly surprised at her good luck with finding a parking space so far.

Emily McConkey, a psychology and math education major from Cokato, Minn., said by hiring two new members, she hopes for more diversity of ideas to rise.

“I hope their past experiences can bring forth new ideas to the departments and overall benefit SDSU,” McConkey said.