Name: Michele Abee
Occupation: PhD Student and Professor at UNCG
Area of Study: Geography, specializing in Historical Geography and Cartography
Hometown: Charlotte, NC
What is Historical Geography and Cartography?
“Historical geography studies place over time, and cartography studies mapmaking.” Michele is doing her dissertation on the Mercator projection, which she told us is the world map model that we see today almost everywhere--on globes, in textbooks, in classrooms, etc.-- which was created in 1569 and has remained unchanged since, even though technology has changed a lot since then. We are still using a map from the Renaissance, and her PhD dissertation focuses on why.
What classes do you teach and how has it been?
“I teach Introduction to Earth Science, and that’s the class I’ve been teaching for two years, and next semester I will teaching our Cartography class.”
“I love it, I just like being able to expand the information and just show how it relates to our everyday lives. Because most students, most people they come into a Freshman course or a 100-level course and they're just trying to fulfil a credit, and I love showing how this is applicable in their everyday life.”
What have been your favorite moments teaching?
“Generally when we have class discussions. This semester has been great; my students are asking more questions during class, about the material and about what these things mean for them, and for the world, and so we’ve been able to talk about real life scenarios, about how climate change and environmental science affects us.” When students ask questions, she says, they get to see that you’re as much of a human as they are, because sometimes she has the answers, but sometimes she doesn’t. “It helps them realize that I don’t have all the answers, but I will show them how to find them.”
In addition, Michele uses a lot of films and documentaries to help her teach. “You get more out of class that way instead of just listening to a lecture every day. It helps students to connect.”
“My goal has been to go into academia at a school of similar size to UNCG, because unlike larger schools, professors are able to individualize, to get to know their students and connect with them, and I thrive in that kind of environment. Most students just take their classes for the credits, and don’t really have the opportunity to really interact with their professors. Being in that kind of environment and getting to connect with my professors as an undergraduate student, and seeing the difference that it made is what encouraged me to go into [teaching].”
How has it been, being in school for this long?
“Hills and valleys. My undergrad was great, but Junior year was rough. I was both a double major and an honors student, and I was taking 18 credit hours. During my Masters degree, it was 100 miles per hour for 2 years. I was ready for a break so, after getting some advice, I took time off between my Masters and PhD, and I do not regret it.” That year, she traveled to Maine for a “one year challenge,” to do missionary work, before applying for the PhD program at UNCG.
She shared that her experience applying was that “at UNCG, if you go and contact people personally, they are very gracious and helpful--but the key thing is to go in person.”
She also shared that working on her PhD has been rough; it is a lot of work and a lot of long days, but that it’s worth it.
“Anything worth having is worth fighting for.”
“I just want to be able to give back with what I’ve been given to serve others.”
Do you have any advice for students thinking about going to grad school?
“Grad school today is the new Bachelor’s degree. It’s not for everyone, but it definitely gives you a competitive edge, and lets you get the better jobs. Make sure you know your field; talk to your professors. Know your job opportunities.” She emphasized that if students do not want to get their Master’s Degree, it is important to work towards getting an internship, or towards gaining more experience in their field after they graduate. Also, “pick one or two professors to connect with--to get to know, because they will probably be your grad school references, and references for future jobs...it is scary because there is always that fear of rejection--I wish I put myself out there more during my undergrad--but if you never put yourself out there, you’ll never know how far you’ll go!”
“Whatever it is you want to fight for, go and do it!”