Training in research methods allows students to investigate the questions that interest them most.
It is a rare privilege for undergraduates to explore the issues that most intrigue and motivate them using the equipment and methods of professional scholars. Valpo geography students are introduced to research methods in the many courses that have field components, and professors encourage students to progress through research-based class projects to independent research. Students learn how to frame research questions, design projects, collect and analyze data, and present their research in oral, written, and visual formats. Because the field of geography is quite diverse, the range of topics students may choose to investigate in a supervised independent-study course is broad.
Because communicating research findings is an important part of professional practice, students are encouraged to present their research at academic and professional conferences throughout the Midwest and occasionally beyond. These gatherings introduce students to the world and the work of professionals in the field, inspiring a lifelong interest in research and a thorough understanding of various geographic methods and techniques.
At the 2013 Annual Meeting of the Association of American Geographers in Los Angeles, California, three Valpo geography students presented their original research to peers and professionals:
- “Land use/land cover classification of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore using four band aerial data,” by Jared O’Brien, Marcus Mues, Matthew Lewitke, and Assistant Professor Bharath Ganesh Babu
Exceptionally qualified students may choose to pursue honors work during their senior year. For geography students, “honors work” is defined as a major independent project consisting of either
- original basic research on some geographical question, or
- a solution to an applied geographic problem.
Literature reviews and other descriptive studies, no matter how exhaustive, do not constitute honors work and are better suited to independent study.
Conducting an Honors Project
Honors work constitutes a significant investment of time and effort, both on the part of the student and the faculty advisor. The process spans an entire year — from topic proposal and acceptance to project completion — and so involves several steps. Honors projects in geography involve 1) identifying a geographic problem or question, 2) collecting data and other information related to the problem, 3) analyzing this data and information, and 4) arriving at a conclusion.
Honors work projects in geography must include the following components:
- thesis statement
- review of relevant literature
- discussion of research methods and data
- statement of problem and purpose
- review of relevant literature
- rationale of methods used
- discussion of data and its acquisition
- statement of outcomes/results
An especially exciting event for Valpo students is the Celebration of Undergraduate Scholarship, an annual student research conference sponsored by the University. Geography students present research covering a broad range of topics at this gathering. A sampling of geography research presentations from a recent celebration:
- "Up-Scaled Fish Barrier: Vertically Mounted Electrodes are Economical, Maintainable, Safe," by Brandon Benninger
- "Mapping Tobacco Smoking Hotspots on the Valparaiso University Campus," by Domenico Libreri
- "Exploring Patterns in November Snowfall Using GIS Mapping and Analysis," by Dana Koning, Alex Carne, and Assistant Professor Bharath Ganesh Babu
- "The Spread of Country Music to an Urban Setting Seen Through the Spread of Dance Halls," by Karl Walsh