Thursday, Jul 18, 2019

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President M. Duane Nellis

President M. Duane Nellis

Photo courtesy of: University Communications and Marketing

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President M. Duane Nellis shares his career path in November 'First Fridays' letter

Happy First Friday, OHIO students, faculty, staff and alumni!

Because it is Geography Awareness Week later this month and, as many of you know, I am a geographer, I thought I would use this First Friday letter to talk about how my own personal career path exemplifies the value of a liberal arts education. It’s a story I know many of you will be able to relate to.

My love of geography all began with a major in… engineering (No offense to my friends in engineering)! I have always been curious about a wide variety of subjects, and I got to dip my toe in several of them because of a liberal arts education. I learned that it was earth sciences and geography that allowed me to combine all of my interests in a way that appealed to me by learning more about the world and its people and applying spatial technologies, like remote sensing, to understand our dynamic world. I changed my major sophomore year, and that decision incidentally led to the meeting of another geography student named Ruthie… and the rest is history geography.

Fellow geographer and OHIO alumna Marie Tharp had a similar, non-direct route to our profession. She earned her bachelor’s degrees in english and music from Ohio University in 1943; however, it was a geology class here in Athens that first ignited a spark that not only changed the course of her career, but also the state of the geography profession. Ms. Tharp used her liberal arts skills from Ohio University to map the ocean floor during a time when superstitions and sexism prevented women from even setting foot on a ship. Her discovery confirmed the theory of continental drift and plate tectonics. Her work mapped 70 percent of the Earth’s surface at a time when no one fully understood what was beneath the ocean’s depths. The Library of Congress even named her one of the four greatest cartographers of the 20th century. I relied on her revolutionary breakthroughs countless times in my own work, and am extremely proud to now be president of her alma mater. 

Earlier in my career, I was dean of a college of arts and sciences at West Virginia University. I watched many graduates leave with their liberal arts degrees to have careers in exactly what they had studied. I also watched many graduates parlay their liberal arts degrees into other successful professions that they loved. Skills that we acquire with a liberal arts degree, like critical thinking, problem solving, communication and respect for the viewpoints of others, are transferable to a wide variety of professions; I hear this all the time from employers. Certainly other students at Ohio University also gain their liberal arts skills through their own pursuits as they engage in general education experiences.

In geography, we seek to make sense of the complicated world in which we live. In college, we try to do the same and map our own paths forward. But, as we have learned throughout history, maps change and evolve. New discoveries and revelations lead to better understanding.

Exploration is at the very heart of the human experience. So, keep exploring, Bobcats, and keep learning!

Kindest Regards,
M. Duane Nellis, Ph.D.


The Chronicle of Higher Education named Ohio University one of six institutions that encourage innovation in teaching, focusing specifically on OHIO’s Academic Innovation Accelerator.

Two perfect examples of the impact our donors can have on the long-term, enhanced student experience at Ohio University happened this month with two very exciting grand openings:

I recently penned an op-ed about how an Ohio University education has the potential to change the economic trajectory of the entire Appalachian region and the world in Education Dive.

Which Ohio business startup has fostered the best company culture? With your vote, the winner could already be residing in Southeastern Ohio:

  • Global Cooling, Inc., a TechGROWTH Ohio portfolio company generating jobs and building the Athens-area’s economy, has been announced as one of six late-stage company finalists for TechOhio’s inaugural “Best Startup Culture” award.
  • In an exciting twist, the community, not TechOhio, will ultimately determine the winner by casting their vote online. The voting phase is open to anyone and concludes Nov. 16, 2018. Cast your vote online today!

Not able to make it back to Athens for Homecoming this year? Here’s the recap.