Eighteen students from Northern Michigan University's Earth, Environmental and Geographical Sciences Department recently attended the 2023 West Lakes Division of the American Association of Geographers (AAG) meeting hosted by DePaul University in Chicago. Undergraduates Mary Kelly and Julia Leitz placed first and second in the undergraduate paper award competition, and Eli Williams presented her project on placemaking implementation in downtown Ishpeming.
Kelly's presentation on using a LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) survey to support restoration and management objectives for four mitigation wetlands at Presque Isle Park in Marquette won first place in the undergraduate paper award competition. The environmental science major's paper was co-authored with assistant professor Adam Naito and associate professor Matt Van Grinsven of the EEGS department, along with Madeline O'Donnell from the Marquette County Conservation District.
“All three of them have played a role in helping this project come to fruition,” said Kelly. “I am so grateful for their wealth of knowledge, guidance and support. I am so grateful for the support of the NMU EEGS department, which organized and funded our group's trip to Chicago. The fact that NMU departments set aside money to help offset the cost of student travel to conferences speaks volumes to how much they value not just our academic and personal growth but our professional development as well.”
Kelly used the data collected from the survey to construct maps of elevation and topographic wetness. Her project has the potential to inform regional conservation and invasive species monitoring efforts, in particular when combined with the work of future NMU students integrating current vegetation and hydrology patterns in the mitigation wetland area. Kelly looks forward to sharing the study's results with the Marquette County Conservation District as they prepare for their next field season.
“Attending the AAG West Lakes conference in Chicago was so rewarding,” said Kelly. “I've been to a few conferences while a student at NMU, and each has been an enriching experience, both personally and professionally. The act of presenting your work publicly is a great skill for both career and graduate school prospects, in addition to being fun. Also, not many undergraduates get to travel to present their research; these are typically, but certainly not always, opportunities reserved for graduate students.”
Williams, a senior environmental studies and sustainability major, shared her passion project on Reimagining Streets as Spaces for Wealth Creation.
“I am from Ishpeming and still live there as a commuter student at Northern,” said Williams. “My project entails participant observation by attending public meetings for the Ishpeming City Council, Planning Commission and Downtown Development Authority, and also document analysis. I have spoken at several meetings, specifically in support of reducing minimum parking requirements downtown. I'm hoping to inspire a shift in the conversation around public space allocation, especially in rural downtowns.
"Currently, most of the accessible public space in Ishpeming is used for free parking of private vehicles. Streets could be much safer, attractive to tourists and residents and economically productive if their use were reconsidered. I left the weekend inspired. I have a renewed motivation for my project, as well as interest in new ones.”
Williams said attending and presenting at conferences is a great way to expand one's knowledge of the field, interact with people passionate about subfields and create a network. She connected with undergraduate students from around the Midwest, spoke to faculty and learned about various graduate school and career opportunities.
Students from Associate Professor Weronika Kusek's urban geography class and other NMU undergraduates participated. Assistant Professor Jelili Adebiyi traveled with the group and mentored three students who shared their projects: Trevor Lewis, who delivered an oral presentation on food at NMU; Freshman Fellow Lola Rigano and Quinn Thibault co-presented a project about school gardens. NMU student participation at this conference was supported through gifts made by generous alumni and friends of EEGS.
The AAG provides students, educators, practitioners and partners with the needed resources to enter the field, develop their careers and form professional friendships. The West Lakes Division represents geographers and geography departments in Minnesota, Wisconsin, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, Iowa, Missouri, Illinois and Indiana.