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Department of Geography


Department of Geography News – Fall 2022 


Message from the Chair 

Headshot of Jerry MitchellWelcome (back!) to the Department of Geography at the University of South Carolina. For nearly 10 years, the department had a newsletter called “South Carolina Geographer.” That publication ceased in the early 2000s, but we’re back: back from Covid, and back in your inbox. 

The department continues to thrive with 19 full-time faculty, approximately 20 graduate students and 70 undergraduate majors who also actively participate in the global studies, environmental studies, and cyber intelligence degree programs. 

We remain a leader not just in the discipline but in providing actionable research for the people of South Carolina. Such is befitting a top-ranked department at our state’s flagship institution. In this newsletter you will hear some about our students, faculty, and alumni and how they make geography matter each day. You – our geography alumni and friends – matter to us, too. 

Thank you for supporting our mission of great geography teaching and research and for taking time to read further about how you can engage with us. 

— Jerry Mitchell, department chair & professor 

Undergraduate Alumni Spotlight - Sophie Kahler 

Headshot of Sophie KahlerSophie Kahler is a 2021 graduate with a B.A. in geography and minor in history. During her time at USC, she focused on urban and historical geography, including working on a research project about the history of USC’s urban renewal efforts targeting Black neighborhoods in the 1960s and 1970s. Her Honors College thesis, “The Evolution of Columbia’s Neighborhoods: 1900s to Present,” charted the ways in which the city’s residential neighborhoods were shaped along racial and socioeconomic lines. 

Sophie is currently a master’s student at the George Washington University studying Media and Strategic Communication. At GWU, she works for Planet Forward, a media platform for students focused on sustainability and climate solutions. This summer, she interned for the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators, a policy resource group for state lawmakers. Her experience in the Geography Department was helpful in pursuing environmental and political communications, from teaching her about environmental issues to sharpening her writing skills. 

The interdisciplinary nature of geography helped her explore connections between her interests — history, politics, urban studies, and the environment — and practice essential analytical, critical thinking, and communication skills. She says that geography gives her a great conversation starter, even though most people mistakenly think she majored in geology. 

Now living in Washington, D.C., she loves exploring museums, restaurants, bookstores, and parks, and her sharp geographic skills ensure that she never gets lost on the Metro. 

Graduate Alumni Spotlight - Seth Marcus 

Headshot of Seth MarcusSeth Marcus (M.A. Geography, 1999) entered the USC Geography graduate program after receiving his B.A. in geography from Binghamton University. He studied urban and economic geography, political science, and GIS, and focused his thesis on evaluating the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program in Atlanta and Jacksonville. For his assistantship, Seth helped the city of Cayce, South Carolina, set up their first GIS system and mapped land annexations, street lights, and other data. 

After graduating, he worked for two years as a GIS consultant in the private sector in Maryland.  He began his Federal career at HUD in Washington, D.C., working first as a data analyst, then overseeing database and business intelligence projects, and ultimately as the IT manager responsible for systems that award and track $5 billion in grants. 

In 2012, Seth left HUD to join the Health Resources and Services Administration where he managed several major data systems including the National Practitioner Data Bank (, Data Warehouse (, and Telehealth ( systems. Across his 23-year career, Seth has worked to modernize technology, strengthen data quality, reduce costs, and expand capabilities for GIS and data visualization. Seth has earned the top level of certification in Federal IT project management and has also won several significant awards for his work. 

In March, 2022, Seth became the Director of Enterprise Data at Ginnie Mae. Ginnie Mae's mortgage-backed security programs provide low-cost financing to expand homeownership. His team is currently working on data integration and cloud migration projects, as well as establishing a new GIS capability with the goal of analyzing and mapping mortgage data to understand equity in lending, financial risk for climate change, and other initiatives. 

Seth is married with two children, ages 12 and 14, and lives in the Maryland suburbs. In his spare time, he enjoys home improvement projects, gardening, swimming, and attending his kids’ basketball games and music concerts.

Faculty Spotlight - Conor Harrison 

Headshot of Conor HarrisonConor Harrison researches and teaches in the areas of energy, economic geography, and environmental sustainability. Conor’s recent teaching efforts have focused on teaching a course called Sustainable Cities. This course examines how cities pose both problems and solutions to issues ranging from climate change to poverty. Drawing on the urban, economic, and environmental geographic traditions, students in Sustainable Cities examine environmental, social, and economic sustainability efforts in both historical and contemporary contexts. Conor has set up the course to be highly hands-on, as it takes advantage of USC Columbia’s urban campus to examine issues as seemingly mundane as the impact of street width on walkability and as innovative as new technologies for small scale energy production. 

Conor’s research continues to focus on questions of energy. He is the primary investigator for two major externally funded research projects. The first, funded by the National Science Foundation, examines the role of the financial industry in shaping the transition to renewable energy in the U.S. While on research leave during the 2021-2022 academic year, Conor made significant progress on the research and writing for his forthcoming book, tentatively titled Power Brokers: Finance and the changing U.S. electricity system. The second project, funded by the Sloan Foundation, is an interdisciplinary project with law professors and geographers from the University of South Carolina, the University of Tennessee, and University of Pennsylvania. This project is considering what a more just energy system might be for energy-vulnerable households and energy industry workers in South Carolina and Tennessee.  

Upcoming Events 

2022-2023 Colloquia Series - Callcott Room 201 at 3:30 p.m. 

  • October 21 - Sarah Praskievicz, University of North Carolina Greensboro 
  • November 4 – Bill Solecki, City University of New York
  • November 18 - Liz Hennessy, University of Wisconsin Madison 
  • January 20 - Wright Kennedy, University of South Carolina Columbia 
  • February 17 - Mika Tosca, School of the Art Institute of Chicago 

Stay Connected 

The university has a Mentorship Hub to connect fellow Gamecock faculty, staff, students, alumni, and community partners. Whether seeking career guidance or providing professional support to current Carolina students, you are encouraged to sign up for an account at and join the Geography group.

Support Our Mission 

USC’s Department of Geography is successful in part due to the generous support of our alumni and friends. Your donations fund scholarships, student research travel, and the incoming graduate student field experience among others. If you’d like to help support our geography students and programs, you can visit our Giving page.

College of Arts and Sciences 

As an alum of the Department of Geography, you are also part of the university’s College of Arts and Sciences. To connect with the College and other departments, visit the college’s home page or read the college’s latest news. 

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