BOONE, N.C. — Dr. Saskia van de Gevel, chair of Appalachian State University's Department of Geography and Planning, is the recipient of the 2023 Outstanding Service Award presented by the Southeastern Division of the American Association of Geographers (SEDAAG). She was presented with the Outstanding Service Award during the SEDAAG Honors Banquet and Plenary Address on Monday, November 20, 2023.
Established in 1987, the SEDAAG Outstanding Service Award recognizes a distinguished geographer who has exhibited evidence of exceptional professional commitment to geography at any level and worthy contributions to the discipline, such as journal editorships, leadership in public forums, and publication in the popular press. The recipient is selected annually by the SEDAAG Honors and Award Committee.
Dr. van de Gevel earned her bachelor's degree in forest science from Pennsylvania State University, her master's degree in forest ecology from Southern Illinois University, and her doctoral degree in geography from the University of Tennessee. She joined the Appalachian State Department of Geography and Planning as a lecturer in 2008 and was promoted to full professor in 2019. In 2020, van de Gevel was appointed department chair.
Van de Gevel's research interests include endangered mountain ecosystems, dendrochronology, biogeography, geography education, and professional ethics. Throughout her career, van de Gevel has authored or co-authored over 30 peer-reviewed studies in scientific journals, including Forests and Dendrochronologia. She has secured almost $1 million in grant funding as a PI or co-PI.
Since coming to Appalachian, van de Gevel has developed and taught a variety of courses relating to her areas of expertise, such as Global Change of the Biosphere, Ecoregions and Dynamic Landforms, Professional Development in Geography and Planning, and Grant Writing in Natural Resources. She received the 2017 Board of Governors Appalachian State University Excellence in Teaching Award in recognition of outstanding teaching.
Van de Gevel has devoted much of her career to leadership and service. Funded by the National Geographic Society, van de Gevel served as the Geography Steward of North Carolina (2018-2020) and led the North Carolina Geographic Alliance (2017-2019), including developing and organizing Geo-Inquiry Research Institutes in 2017 and 2018. In her nomination letter, Associate Professor Dr. Kara Dempsey discussed the importance of this work: "This Alliance is dedicated to highlighting the necessity and value of K-12 geographic education to North Carolinian legislators. For this, she lobbied state senators and other political leaders to help them recognize the importance of geographic education for our public school system. Part of her program included educational workshops that examined the presence and detrimental effects of political gerrymandering in North Carolina. In this way, she worked to educate our political leaders about geographic disparities in our state’s communities and a more just and equitable state."
In 2018, van de Gevel completed the University of North Carolina's "BRIDGES" program, a multi-week professional development program in higher education for selected female leaders to identify, understand, and build their management roles in the Academy. Since then, van de Gevel has pursued numerous professional development opportunities focused on improving equity at Appalachian and beyond.
A priority for van de Gevel is advocating for policies that prevent sexual misconduct in academia. Professor Dr. Kathleen Schroeder, former chair of the Department of Geography and Planning and recipient of the 2017 Outstanding Service Award, wrote about van de Gevel: "Throughout her career as an academic, Dr. van de Gevel has been at the forefront of efforts to combat the sexual harassment and bullying of women and of people in underrepresented groups. Along with her co-PIs, her work has been furthered through a USDA Higher Education Grant 'Promoting Professionalism in Remote Fieldwork.' This project brought together researchers to review the relevant data, develop a set of 'best practices' to make fieldwork safer for women and members of underrepresented groups, and develop materials to present to professional organizations. This work is difficult but impactful and requires that we reframe our understanding of 'normal practice' in field settings where women are frequently harassed."
In her letter, Schroeder noted the impact of van de Gevel's work on this topic, including her presentations to the USDA, AAG, and attendees of Appalachian State's 2022 Mountain to Mountain Women's Mentorship Symposium. "Feedback from women participants at the Symposium found Dr. van de Gevel’s work to be 'life changing.' It is truly a revolutionary idea that women do not need to be subjected to humiliating and dangerous workplace conditions to be successful in the Academy," wrote Schroeder.
All of the nominators highlighted van de Gevel's service to the Department of Geography and Planning. During her four years as chair, van de Gevel has organized 40 curriculum proposals; updated foundational documents; recruited and retained faculty; mentored junior faculty; and raised funds to support student scholarships. Notably, she accomplished many of these tasks while leading the department through the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic.
Associate Professor Dr. Maggie Sugg explained how van de Gevel's leadership has benefited the department: "Her work has allowed us to grow as a department and continue adding faculty and students to our program. Most importantly, for junior faculty like myself, Dr. van de Gevel has been a champion, encouraging both scholarship and teaching at a predominantly undergraduate institution. Her mentorship has allowed me to continue to be successful, even with the birth of my three young children during my eight years at Appalachian State. Students and other faculty always note the key contributions Dr. van de Gevel has made to their academic trajectories."
The nominators also emphasized how van de Gevel goes the extra mile to serve students, including establishing a department food and toiletry pantry and coordinating the construction of an accessible active learning classroom. "Additionally, in response to the Black Lives Matter movement, she spearheaded an anonymous inclusion study and questionnaire among students. She then designed a department plan-of-action to implement changes in order to increase inclusion on campus. In and outside of classes, she works to mentor international, ethnic minorities in a town that is rather ethnically and religiously homogeneous," shared one colleague.
The College of Arts and Sciences congratulates Dr. van de Gevel on this honor and thanks her for her service to the college, university, and broader academic community.
About the Department of Geography and Planning
The Department of Geography and Planning promotes the understanding of the spatial dimensions of human behavior within the physical and cultural systems of the earth, and the role of planning in achieving improvement in those systems. The department offers degrees in geography and in community and regional planning. Learn more at https://geo.appstate.edu.
By Lauren Andersen
November 27, 2023