Graduate School of Geography

HERO (The Human-Environment Regional Observatory) Fellowship recipient Albert Decatur interests ranged widely, from historical atlases to organic farming, but he officially majored in geography and minored in history. Those fields of study, in combination with his role as president of Clark's Philosophy Club, have provided him with the opportunity to "think of everything that's going on in history and through space, and what different people have thought."

Did you know you wanted to study geography and history when you came to Clark, and can you talk about your experience as a geography major?

Albert: I've always been interested in both subjects throughout my life. I absolutely love historical atlases and Goddard library has some excellent ones.

The first thing the geography department has done is allowed me to look at maps. As I was saying earlier I love historical atlases, I love maps of any kind and just being able to look at them is incredible. The second thing that the geography department introduced me to that didn't even occur to me, is that people have the tendency to think that if it's on a map it's definitely true and someone out there knows why it's true and if you can track them down they can tell you why. But Clark has opened my eyes to the extent to which maps can't be trusted, and that that can be extended to anything and how you have to be skeptical and think for yourself to form your own ideas of the world.

Geography at Clark has taught me not only a lot about the philosophy of science and how scientific ideas change, how ideas are questioned or new ideas come up, and how instruments don't always perfectly measure the environment.

As a HERO fellowship recipient, you have been participating in a program that provides opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students to analyze the causes and consequences of global environmental changes in Massachusetts. Can you talk about that experience?

I had an excellent experience with the HERO program, working with professors Colin Polsky and Gil Pontius, the first being more of a geography social scientist and the latter being a statistician. We have been doing half-meter, object-oriented land cover classification of twenty-six towns in northeastern Massachusetts. There's a lot to say and look at and plan for, and the great thing is that it will continue after I'm not here. I know I'm making an impact on something that will go on; it's not just going to get written up and shelved somewhere and never looked at again. So it's a living project.

It seems like you've been able to study a lot of topics from an interdisciplinary perspective. Do you feel that Clark stresses that approach?

Yes. Things are taught in an interdisciplinary fashion because that's how they exist in the world.

What do you like about being at Clark?

One of the things I like about Clark (that's often overlooked) is that it's in the city of Worcester and I really do like the city of Worcester. If you look down Main Street-- if you go in any direction--there's an incredible wealth of markets and different churches and all kinds of people trying to do different things in the same place. They're speaking different languages and they're paying for cards to call different continents. That's the sort of thing that exists in Boston, but it's more scattered around. In Worcester it feels like it's all in the same place. It's extraordinarily engaging. I definitely love Clark's motto, Challenge Convention, Change Our World. Looking at why certain things have become traditional, why they may have worked in the past--you also have to evaluate will they work in the future. So Clark definitely officially endorses an idea of critical thinking and questioning the past, not necessarily always concluding that it's been on an undesirable track, but constant evaluation of what we ought to do, how we ought to behave.

Do you know what you want to do after you graduate?

I know that one of the things I want to do is go fly a kite and someday I'd like to keep goats. There are so many things you can do with your life, there's no reason to restrict yourself. That's the great thing with a liberal arts education. Technical training is great--we need electricians and engineers and that sort of thing-- but it's really wonderful to branch out and do whatever strikes your fancy at the moment and to try your hand at it and see if you're any good. And if you're good and find it to be easy, then maybe you can make some progress there. But if not that's okay, because you can go and try something else.