Graduate School of Geography

Michele Bozeman '08, M.A. '09 talks about how she got involved in research on ice melt in Greenland.

Geography major Michelle Bozeman '08 is completing her master's degree in Geographic Information Science for Development and Environment through Clark's accelerated B.A./M.A. program. She began her research on glacial melt in Greenland during her junior year, and in pursuit of this project has traveled to Greenland, Iceland and Denmark.

When you applied to Clark, did you know that you wanted to study geography?

Michele: When I first got to Clark, I didn't know what geography was. I wanted to major in international development—I kind of wanted to go the Peace Corps route and do grass-roots efforts in Africa and things like that. But I realized that it would probably break my heart. I started taking a lot of classes that happened to be cross-listed with geography. Then I took an introduction to geographic information science course and it was really interesting. So I continued down that route and started looking at things from a spatial perspective and figured that I could do some good that way.

What do you like about the geography program?

Michele: I really have liked the environmental part of the geography program that's focused on climate change using an earth systems science perspective. I really like how different disciplines can work in partnership to better understand a problem. With earth systems science, you can look at the way the earth is responding to human impact. A lot of times a discipline is really tunnel vision, but with the geography department, it's a whole bunch of different pieces— everyone's discussing their research and their interests, and so it sparks new ideas that you wouldn't have thought about if you were in a narrower program.

What is your research about?

Michele: I'm looking at the Greenland ice sheet, specifically changes in melt-onset times and changes in the number of melting days from 1991-2008. Because I was also looking at how the melt water was affecting coastal Labrador and Newfoundland, I got interested in the way the ocean currents in that area worked, and whether fresh water from the melting glaciers in Greenland would heat up the climate of Labrador and Newfoundland and affect vegetation.

How did you become involved in research? Were you able to do fieldwork in Greenland?

Michele: I took the introduction to geographic information science course and Professor Ron Eastman came in to give a talk. I emailed him after the talk and got to be in a directed study with him with a bunch of grad students. There weren't any other undergrads: it was me and Ph.D. students and master's students.

I saw some things in the data set where there was this strange behavior of vegetation in Labrador and Newfoundland. I thought that might be due to the melting increase from Greenland. So I started working with Ron on that research. I applied for a fellowship, and Ron had some money from a research award, so we both went to Greenland and we were there for like a week and a half. We also went to Iceland and Copenhagen. It was an amazing trip of a lifetime. I also made contact with people in the University of Copenhagen Arctic Research Station and they have data that I'm going to be able to use.

Since geography offers a Ph.D. program, did you have a chance as an undergrad to interact with any of the graduate students?

Michele: I became good friends with one of the grad students so I got to know all of them. Through that, I think that my research blossomed, because they were working on more advanced things that I haven't yet encountered. So I kind of got a preview, a taste of what would come after I learned the basics. I got motivated to learn as much as I could so I could get to the fun stuff that was really exciting.

What do you like about Clark?

Michele: I really like the smallness of Clark because the faculty members are so accessible. I've been talking with friends from other schools, like really big state schools, and they don't know their professors at all. If the professors see them walking down the street, they don't say hi or anything, but here you walk into Acoustic Java and Professor Rogan is there and he's like "hello, how's your thesis going." It makes you stay on track more, too, because there's more accountability because you always see your professors and they know you by name and they can recall what you're researching and what you're interests are just because there aren't as many students as there would be at a big school.

I really like the diversity of Clark too, the student body as well as the neighborhood. The neighborhood adds a lot of different cultures, instead of blending in, their cultures are really vibrant. The speakers that come to Clark are so interesting. I go to ones that are listed for the philosophy department or for the women's studies department and they all have some relation to my studies—it helps you bring together the disciplines I feel by having all these speakers come to you. It's really a community.