Rosemary herself took several classes before finding an interest in geography. Understanding the relationship between humans and the environment piqued her interest in the subject. But the tangible, hands-on research helped solidify her passion.
As an undergraduate student, her most memorable experience occurred on a research road-trip, which took her across the West from the west coast of Oregon to Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Utah and back through eastern Oregon. "The goal of the trip was to conduct field research in Yellowstone National Park and a few other locations, but the entire time as we traveled the professor showed me how the landscape told the story of how the West was formed…This experience changed the course of my life."
"Students gain a lot through being involved in research," says Rosemary Sherriff, Professor of Geography. Each semester, in addition to working with students in class and with teaching assistants and interns, she works personally with a small group of research assistants to conduct research. "One of the most rewarding parts of my job is to work with students individually. HSU undergraduate students are some of the most motivated and hardworking students I've worked with."
"They start by learning how to count tree rings and summarize information into tables and graphics." While the task may be simple, counting tree rings can reveal much more than just the age of a tree. They can indicate past climate conditions, fire history, and other natural and human effects on the ecology of an area. Mapping the location of historical changes documented in tree rings provides the geographic context of how landscapes have changed, and helps inform what to expect into the future in order to resolve how we deal with intensifying problems involving land, water and other natural resources.
During their lab and field research, Rosemary also helps students build advanced technical skills. They apply for research permits, learn how to operate technical equipment, methodically collect data, and interpret their findings. An independent work structure also allows students to expand on their own understanding of the research while exercising their unique abilities.
"Geography is interdisciplinary," Rosemary says. "I want students to walk away from my classes and research experiences with an appreciation for the physical environment, a base set of skills, and a sense of their ability to make an impact for the future of our planet. The focus on sustainability, environmental responsibility, social responsibility, and the inter-connection of social and ecological systems is a core thread woven throughout our interdisciplinary curriculum across colleges. It's certainly what attracted me here to teach at HSU."
Active participation in research is an opportunity Rosemary will continue to provide for her students. But it's also a valuable component of her career and love for geography. "It's not something I'm going to give up" she says. "It makes me a better teacher, keeps me up to date, and helps me stay motivated to be a conscientious citizen."