UMU Lecturer Urges Students to Consider Geography Studies

Mr. Isaac G. Glay, teaching map reading in one of his classes

-- Says there are numerous career opportunities that come with the study of the earth and its people

Geography, like few other subjects or courses, is seldom on the minds of young people when making career decisions nowadays. To this, proponents of the subject want more attention given it by stakeholders, considering the increasing focus on globalization and the world economy.

Many people are beginning to fear that the ‘intentional neglect’ of such a critical field of study, which is often referred to as “the mother of all sciences”, would see a whole generation of future leaders become oblivious of geographical knowledge—presenting them a difficult time analyzing world events and making rational decisions.

Those future leaders will also have a hard time understanding basic physical systems of everyday life, like implications of the solar system on climate, water cycles, ocean currents, and many more.

The above are concerns raised by a young lecturer of geography at the United Methodist University (UMU), Isaac G. Clay.

Clay is worried that most, if not all, university students do not consider such an important field of study, despite the enormous career potentials it presents, not just nationally, but regionally and globally.

The fact that the youth are not encouraged to study geography means Liberia is neglecting or practically throwing away a very critical segment of its knowledgeable manpower, he told this reporter in an interview.  

“This means that we are losing a very critical essential portion of our national assets to foreigners. Who will collect and control our national data? Will we be dependent upon foreigners to do that for us? Don’t we know this information has national security implications?” he asked rhetorically.

He said it is high time Liberia commits a portion of its population to the pursuit of knowledge in geographical data, analytics, and computer systems, also known as Geographical Information system (GIS).

GIS is a computerized system used for the collection, storage, analysis, management, and presentation of complicated geographical information, for example, radar.

“We need to train geographers who will carry out the gathering and examination of geographical data generated by GIS,” he stated, adding that the data can be applied in a variety of areas, such as defense, meteorology, oil, gas, telecommunications, and transportation, to make decisions that benefit the country.

“There is a need for a paradigm shift in the country’s educational programs and this is even more urgent now than before,” he said.

Clay is proposing a robust national program that will encourage students to become geographers so that they can have control of our national data “or else, we will have ourselves to blame.”

“Who do we think will do our development for us if we do not have people trained to do that? There are so many things we are missing out on with what I could consider as deliberate neglect of geography. This burden squarely rests upon the government again. It has to ensure that we have geographers that are up to the task in this modern age,” he said. 

The reality of an acute shortage of geographers in the country is a situation that even affects the Geography Department at UMU and other institutions of higher learning, especially the state-run University of Liberia.

Clay has a Bachelor’s Degree in Geography and is in pursuit of a Master’s Degree in Regional Planning. He is one of the very few staff of his department at the university. He says the department has embarked on a project to encourage students to join and study as geographers.

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Mr. Clay seated in his office at UMU

The entire Geography Department at UMU has less than ten students currently pursuing degrees in geography. “We want to bring more young people on board. We are trying to convince them about the importance of this course,” he said. 

“I want to call on the young people to study geography. It is in the interest of them and our state. This course allows you to identify and appreciate important events and national and international policies; make better and informed decisions regarding the best use of national resources; and ask relevant questions about policies that optimize the landscape and land use,” he said.

Geography careers offer opportunities to develop solutions to some of the most pressing issues for modern society, including climate change, natural disasters, overpopulation, urban expansion, and multicultural integration.

Though many students believe that the field of geography is not economically attractive and does not come with much prestige, Clay says such a perception is false. There are physical geography and human geography, and both come with enormous employment opportunities, he noted.

He said there are many careers in geography that would suit anyone and increase a person’s employability in these areas — making specific reference to Environmentalists, Engineers, Cartographers, GIS officers, Lecturers, Landscape Architects.

“All of what I have listed are attractive fields that come with good salaries. We just like to find excuses just because we don't want to do the right things,” he said.

Clay added that those specializing in human geography are great for developing skills and knowledge that would be useful for a career in politics or the nonprofit sector.

“People who do not know the importance of the subject may look disdainfully on people pursuing a degree in the field, but,” the passionate Liberian geographer said, “this course provides students with strong research and analytical skills, which are highly regarded by many employers, especially internationally.”