Careers Q&A with Matt Rosenberg

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One thing you can do with a degree in Geography is, well,
teach geography to others. Matt Rosenberg is not your traditional classroom
instructor; rather, he practices his pedagogy primarily via the World Wide Web.
Matt has been disseminating geographic knowledge as About.com’s Geography Guide
for the past ten years and has been a friend of the My Wonderful World
Campaign since launch. Matt has written two books, has been featured on NPR and
PBS, and has won several awards. He holds a Master’s Degree in Geography from California State University, Northridge, is currently attending rabbinical school, and recently became a new
father. We were thrilled that he was able to take time out of his busy schedule
to answer a few of our burning questions.

Rosenberg

How did you first
become interested in geography? Did you take any geography classes as part of
your k-12 education?

I actually never took a geography class in primary or
secondary school.  I don’t even remember
being tested on state capitals!  My first
geography class was a lower division introduction to urban and economic
geography course at UC Davis.  With that
class, I fell in love with geography and declared my major shortly thereafter.

What are your
favorite geographic topics to study and/or write about?

I love to write about urban, economic, and political
geography.  When I look at the content
I’ve written over the years, there’s a definite bent toward those topics. I
also like to create lists of the biggest, tallest, most populous, etc.

Your bio says that you’ve worked
previously as a GIS technician for local government, newspaper columnist, and
disaster manager for the Red Cross. Can you tell us a little bit about how you
used geography in each of those careers?

Well, my work as a newspaper columnist took place for the
town paper while I was in high school so it was before I was a geographer.  The other careers were all intimately tied to
geography.  I think that my skills as a
geographer really had a positive impact on my work as a disaster manager for
the Red Cross.  I would work with
demographics, hazard maps, and disaster plans on a daily basis and my
geographical skills helped me understand the relationship between human action
and the physical environment.  Obviously,
working in the GIS division for my local government was intrinsically tied to
my skills as a geographer.

How did you get to
your current position as Geography Guide at About.com? What do you like best
about your job?

I had just finished my undergraduate degree in geography at
UC Davis and was working in the university library.  Part of my job was the library website and so
I was receiving various email newsletters about newfangled things on the
Internet.  I received word that About.com
was looking for Guides to run websites about various topics.  I found that they were looking for a
Geography Guide (the title is unusual but it is somewhat of a cross between an
editor-in-chief, writer, webmaster, librarian, and general go-to person for the
topic).  I applied and created a mock
site while competing against other unknown candidates and I was selected.  My site was one of the first to go live when
About.com rolled out publicly in April of 1997. 

I love to share my love of geography with people around the
world.  I love it when I inspire students
to take classes, declare geography as a major, or even continue on into
graduate school in the discipline.  It’s
a wonderful feeling to have that sort of impact outside of academia.  Researching and writing about geography
topics is a lot of fun, too.

What do you hope to
achieve with your website?

Through my website, I hope to teach a passion for geography
to as many people as possible. 

What is the most
frequently asked question you get about geography on your website?

I am most frequently asked who I don’t list Scotland as an
independent country on my list of countries of the world. So, maybe it’s more
of a complaint than a question but people from Wales and Northern Ireland don’t seem to write quite as often as the Scots. 

What are your hopes
for the discipline of geography in the future?

I hope that geography will become a more popular and robust
discipline.  I would like to see more of
our young bright students going into geography and helping it to grow by
inspiring others and making geography the discipline at the forefront of the
issues of the world, as it deserves to be. 
I would like to see increased investment in geographic education at all
levels so that we can turn out the geographers of tomorrow.

What advice do you
have for students looking to pursue a career in geography?

I recommend continuing your education as far as you’re
comfortable and, while in school obtaining as many internships as possible
during the school year and summer. 
Internships provide experience and help students to know where their
interests lie. 

What should every
American know about the world?

I think that every American should know how to find every
country on the globe.  The world is a
small place and through technology and transportation, it keeps getting
smaller.  It is vital to know where
places are.

What do you think
will be the greatest geographic challenge of the next 50 years?

I cannot decide whether the impacts of global warming or the
global access to energy resources like fossil fuels is the greatest geographic
challenge of the next half-century. 
Certainly the impacts of global warming could end up to be deadly to
tens of millions of people worldwide. 
The solution to both of these problems, of course, is to utilize
renewable fuels so as to reduce our carbon footprint and use fewer fossil
fuels. 

If you had five
minutes to sit down with President-elect Obama, what would you say to him?

After I asked to be appointed to the position of Geographer
of the United States, I would talk to him about the need to improve geographic education at all
levels of school and society and would beg President-elect Obama to fund
geographic education and make it a priority nationwide.  Finally, I would also ensure that he
subscribed to my weekly email Geography Newsletter to stay up-to-date about the
world of geography.

Want to hear more advice for Barack Obama? Stay tuned for our final Geography Awareness Week Guestblogger, National Geographic VP of Education Danny Edelson. To conclude the week with a strong call to action, Danny offers "A Hope for Obama."

Photo: Matt at the computer with four-month-old son Zachary.

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