Tom Crawford, the Banpu Endowed Chair of Sustainability at Saint Louis University, has been named chair of the Department of Geography in Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources and Environment. He will begin his new position on July 10.
“We are so extremely pleased to have had such a successful search, which resulted in hiring an academic scholar, an accomplished teacher and researcher, and someone with the kind of leadership ability and aspirations that Dr. Crawford brings to us,” said Paul Winistorfer, dean of the College of Natural Resources and Environment.
“His research interests, which combine human geography and geospatial science in the study of land-use changes, make him an especially good fit for the department and for our college, and his extensive leadership in program development come at an important time as we continue to seek growth in our enrollment and standing of our already well-regarded programs,” Winistorfer continued.
“Most importantly, Dr. Crawford gets the essence of academic leadership, and I look forward to working closely with him to continue to advance the department and the college. He will be an excellent complement to our college leadership team,” he added.
Crawford follows Laurence W. Carstensen Jr., professor of geography, who served as department chair until 2016.
During Carstensen’s 10 years at the helm, the geography department grew exponentially. The department has doubled its tenure-track faculty since 2006 and added several programs, including the state’s only undergraduate degree in meteorology and a minor in geographic information science and remote sensing. Student enrollment in these programs has far exceeded expectations.
“The college has been very supportive of us, and we have a talented, diverse faculty who all work well together,” said Carstensen, who remains on the department’s faculty. “I’m excited about Tom coming in, because he shares so many of our interests. I think he’s going to be an outstanding colleague.”
Crawford began his career in geography at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, where he earned his master of arts degree and doctorate, after earning his bachelor’s in mathematical economics at Wake Forest University. A childhood love of maps inspired his interest in geography. He recalled poring over road atlases and often serving as the family navigator during vacations and outings.
“After finishing my undergraduate program, I mapped out a cross-country bicycle trip,” he said. “During that trip, I was exposed to so many different environments and groups of people, and I realized that studying geography could go beyond maps and would allow me to better understand how people interact with their environment.”
Crawford completed a pre-doctoral fellowship at the Carolina Population Center, working with faculty to investigate population studies, rural livelihood strategies, and rural land use in northeast Thailand.
He has served as a faculty member in environmental studies and geography at Gettysburg College, where he established a geographic information systems curriculum and laboratory. In 2003, he joined the geography faculty at East Carolina University, where he became interested in coastal and hazards research.
His recent position at Saint Louis University allowed him to engage in sustainability-related teaching and establish a master of science degree in geographic information systems.
Crawford is looking forward to continuing his research in sustainability and human-environment interactions at Virginia Tech. In September, he will begin a three-year project with the National Science Foundation examining impacts of monsoon dynamics on human land use and livelihood in Bangladesh.
He will also continue work on a project funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration investigating threats to infrastructure and related public health issues in the coastal Carolinas owing to coastal flooding from storm surges, sea level rise, and nuisance tides.
“My research interests center around the geospatial analysis of human-environment interactions and sustainability issues, including coastal development, land-use changes, natural hazards, and public health,” he said.
Crawford’s past research efforts have included a position as a lead consultant on the North Carolina Sea Level Rise Project, where he worked to project future land use and population impacts, and a 2013 Fulbright Research Award to spend five months at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland analyzing relationships between urban land use and carbon dioxide emissions.
According to Crawford, his new role as department chair should prove to be both exciting and challenging.
“I have long been aware of the outstanding quality of geography at Virginia Tech and the university’s national and international rankings and reputation,” he explained. “The department has a strong record of achievement with impressive evidence of engaged teaching, research, and service.”
“In addition to the university’s great qualities, I am at a career stage where taking on an administrative leadership role will give me new opportunities to exercise existing skills and develop new ones,” he added.
Crawford will take over for associate professors Korine Kolivras and Lynn Resler, who have served as co-chairs of the geography department’s Executive Leadership Committee since Carstensen stepped down.
Crawford hopes to help the geography department reach visioning goals already in place by providing leadership and coordination, and develop new goals to attract the best faculty and students.
“I’m most excited to develop new relationships with faculty and students that will help me be an effective leader,” he said. “This department is a vibrant community of scholars and professionals made up of students, faculty, and staff, and I was especially impressed with the enthusiasm of the students I met during the interview process. I’m excited to interact with the college and university leadership in ways that promote connections, both curricular and in research, that can lead to new opportunities for growth.”