In 1926, when the Lutheran administration was established at VU, the only geography courses were Physiography and General Geology. Alfred H. Meyer was the instructor of both these courses as well as Zoology. By 1927, several courses were added: Geography of North America, Engineering Geology, Crystallography, and Economic Geography. In the 1929-1930 school year, enrollments totaled 189.
The Department of Geography and Geology as such was initiated in 1931. Curriculum changes indicated the beginning of a shift in emphasis from physical to human geography. New courses included World Geography, Geography of Europe, World Problems, and Field Geography. Between 1931 and 1941, enrolled students ranged from 71 to 402. By 1945, the growth of the department necessitated staff additions, and one new instructor was added in each of the 1945, 1949, 1950, and 1957 academic years. Fifteen new courses were taught between 1941 and 1951, with the shift to cultural emphasis again apparent as these included Political Geography, Maps and Man, Geographic Planning, Philosophy and Profession of Geography and one rather unusual sounding course entitled Geology and Genesis. Enrollments during this period ranged from 285 to 1,321. By 1961, the staff numbered seven and enrollments reached 1,385.
In 1963, graduate credit became possible in geography, as the University offered a Master of Liberal Studies. Historical Geography of the U.S., Geography of World Affairs, and Area Field Studies became 200-level courses offered for graduate or undergraduate credit. Straight graduate credit was given for the 300-numbered courses: Geographic Thought, Western Cultural Geography, and American Resources. The staff continued to grow, then numbering nine, with total enrollments near 1,800.
The success of the department at this time can be inferred at least in part by the large percentage of majors who went on for advanced degrees. As many as 60 percent of majors went on to graduate school at this time. Much of this record can be attributed to Dr. Meyer, who had been with the University since 1926, and was Head or Chairman of the department throughout much of its history. Recognizing his impact in the geographical community, the National Council for Geographic Education named him the recipient of its Distinguished Service Award in 1969, noting:
This undergraduate department has not only helped educate thousands of geography, social science, and physical science teachers for both the elementary and secondary schools, but has provided majors with such superior subject-matter backgrounds and teaching know-how that this private church-related college has had more of its graduates take advanced degrees in geography than any other undergraduate college in Indiana, the Midwest, and perhaps the United States.
Following Dr. Meyer's retirement in 1975, Dr. Ferencz P. Kallay assumed the chairmanship. In the coming years, the Department and its students enjoyed additional success. The stream of students to graduate schools--usually with grants, fellowships, and assistantships in hand--continued. Dr. Kallay was succeeded by Dr. Alice Rechlin and then Dr. Richard Hansis as chair, taking the department through most of the 1980s. In 1987, Dr. Ronald Janke became chairman, serving in that role through the 1990s. Dr. Jon T. Kilpinen became chair in 2000 and held that post until 2006 when he became Dean of the college of Arts and Sciences. Bart Wolf currently serves as chair of the department.
The 1990s were a period of much change in the Department. In 1991, the University approved the establishment of a separate major in meteorology, replacing the concentration in meteorology for geography majors. The Department was also renamed as the Department of Geography and Meteorology. Two degreed meteorologists joined the faculty, complementing the three geographers. The Department also moved out of its long-time home in Kroencke Hall, relocating to the lower story of Mueller Hall just prior to the beginning of the 1997-1998 academic year. There, faculty offices joined the expanded weather center and the laboratory classroom.
Today the department continues to prosper and grow. On April 30, 2005 Kallay-Christopher Hall, the new home of Geography and Meteorology was dedicated and in the fall of 2006 a Doppler radar was installed on campus. 2006 also marked the debut of a new Bachelor of Science major in Geoscience. In the first five years of the new millennium enrollment in Meteorology doubled to about 110 students. About 45 students either major or minor in geography each year. With the addition of two more meteorology faculty, these enrollment numbers make for ideal class sizes and allow for close interaction between the students and the faculty. It also permits frequent field study opportunities. Geography has conducted a number of field studies in the past few years, visiting Indian mound sites in the American South, landmarks of the Oregon Trail and Yellowstone National Park, and Grand Canyon and other national parks in Arizona. Similarly, meteorology has developed a field study component in its annual May/June severe storm chase trips to the southern plains.