For all those individuals who think geography is only about naming the continents and state capitals, meet Allyssa Sobey, a graduate student entering her second year in the Master of Arts in Geography program, concurrently pursing a Graduate Certificate in Women’s and Gender Studies.
“Geography is not just about the removed maps. It is also about the way in which people see and experience the world,” she explains. The field is a combination of social and hard sciences, taking the facts of what phenomenon has transpired and asking why—why there, why those people, why then?
Sobey demonstrated that connection recently in a collaborative project with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, West Virginia Women’s Commission, WVU Center for Women’s Gender Studies and agencies from across the state with an interest in women’s policy issues to help produce the 2013 Status of Women and Girls in West Virginia report. The goal of the report is to provide policy makers the data and analysis they need to make important decisions regarding education, government planning and business development.
Using the theories and concepts of feminist geography, Sobey used her knowledge of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) mapping to compile and analyze data on various socio-economic aspects of women in West Virginia.
“It is important for policy makers to be able to visualize the spatial disparities across the state. Having this type of information can help them determine whether a blanket policy is needed, or whether or more direct intervention could have a greater impact.”
Through her analysis of statistical figures and geographic data, Sobey was able to show that women in the eastern panhandle have the highest median income, while the highest poverty rate for women aged 18 years and older exists in the southern-most region of the state. Her findings also revealed that the southern region of West Virginia has the highest percentage of women over age 25 that have less than a high school diploma.
Originally from Dallas, TX, Sobey says that her experience at West Virginia University has been incredible. Of particular interest is Brooks Hall, and its comprehensive GIS Technical Center and an interactive geospatial visualization system called the CAVE which creates a complete 4-D experience for the user to really see the mapped environment.
“Geography isn’t just about removed mapping, but how people see and experience the world around them. We use tools to try to bridge the gap between people and technology,” Sobey explains. Despite her background in “hard” sciences, she explains that her fascination with geography stems from its ability to connect the human experience with facts in order to conceptualize the spatial disparities between people and phenomenon.
So what’s next for this intrepid student? She mentions casually that she will be getting married in May. But what seems to be most exciting to her, is that she will be teaching a section of Geography 102, World Regional Geography, over the summer.
“That is the class which initially sparked my own interest in geography, so I am really excited. I am going to make it fun. Everyone should take it!”
By Brianna Lovell