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Department of Geography

  • Geography alums Mel Bartis and Christina Finch stand on either side of Professor Cary Mock at the National Hurricane Conference in New Orlean

    Geographers in the Field

    Alums Mel Bartis and Christina Finch with Cary Mock at the National Hurricane Conference


Department of Geography News – Spring 2023


Message from the Chair 

Headshot of Jerry Mitchell

Things are blooming here in South Carolina. That also means cars and all things outside have been covered in bright yellow (pollen, not the sun). Such is the environment we work and play in.

Exciting things are happening in the department as always. Zhenlong Li has several funded projects with colleagues in Public Health, Jessie Barnes has a new book, Kirstin Dow is engaged in heat health work in the city, and Cary Mock continues what seems like a full-time gig explaining hazardous weather to our state’s media. And that’s just four of our faculty! I encourage you to explore the news section of the department’s website to see more of the research currently underway.

That’s a bit about some of those here now. How about introducing some new faculty? We have Sicheng Wang (Ph.D. Rutgers) and Yuhao Kang (Ph.D. Wisconsin) joining us in the fall. Both add to our strength in GIScience, and we will give them a full profile soon.

We remain proud of the accomplishments of our students, and you can read about two of them here. Your alma mater is a leader not just in the discipline but in providing actionable research and quality teaching for the people of South Carolina. You should be proud to call yourself a part of the geography family here at USC. Thank you for supporting our mission of great geography teaching and research and take time to read further about how you can engage further with us.

— Jerry Mitchell, department chair & professor

Undergraduate Alumni Spotlight – Ben Garris

Headshot of Ben Garris

Ben Garris is a 2021 graduate with a B.A. in environmental studies and a B.S. in geography. Initially a political science student, he quickly became disillusioned and discovered a passion for geography while taking multiple courses in the department. Finally, Dr. Kneas stopped him one day in a stairwell after class and encouraged him to take the plunge as a full-fledged geography major.

Studying geography helped Ben to integrate knowledge of various subjects, including anthropology, environmental justice, politics, climate, and energy. This interdisciplinary approach allowed him to develop a deeper understanding of the connections between people, spaces, and institutions. Working with Dr. Harrison on research into electric utility regulation, Ben’s contribution evolved into his Honors College Senior Thesis, “Politics of Power: The Changing Political Economy of Electricity in the United States,” which examined the sector’s ongoing transformation through the lens of utility decision-making, energy justice, and regulatory governance.

Ben’s experience in the Department of Geography led to an internship at a state regulatory agency focusing on utilities, rates, and services, paving the way for a career in public utility regulation. He currently works full-time as the public utility analyst at the nonprofit South Carolina Coastal Conservation League. As part of the League's Energy Program, Ben is focused on advancing clean energy through effective regulatory and policy advocacy, including increased adoption of renewable energy, improved energy efficiency, and market reform. He often relies upon the critical analysis and writing skills he honed during his geography courses.

Still residing in Columbia, Ben frequently attends hearings at the SC Public Service Commission. In his free time, he loves all forms of storytelling—including writing, acting, comedy, and many others—as well as spending time with his two cats, Bartholomew and Rosalind. He is a passionate advocate for science communication and is always eager to espouse the importance of utility regulation to anyone willing to listen.

Graduate Alumni Spotlight – Arleen Hill

Headshot of Arleen Hill

Arleen Hill (Ph.D. Geography, 2002) joined the Geography doctoral program in the fall of 1998 and worked in the Hazards Research Lab. She has fond memories of the Callcott basement, where she became a geographer! After graduating, Arleen joined the faculty at Bucknell University as a Visiting Professor of Geography. In her year at Bucknell she taught courses in environmental geography, global environmental change, and served as a volunteer coach for the Men’s and Women’s Track and Field teams. With family and friends across the northeast, the year in Pennsylvania was special. 

In the fall of 2003 Arleen found a home in Memphis in the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Memphis. The department formed in 2002 uniting applied and engaged scholars across archaeology, environmental science, geography, and geology into a diverse and innovative team tackling earth science questions through collaborative and interdisciplinary lenses. For Arleen, the New Madrid Seismic Zone and the Mississippi River make the UofM the perfect place for this hazards geographer to address vulnerabilities and enhance resilience.

While at Memphis Arleen has worked on projects supported by a variety of local, state, federal, and non-profit sponsors; she always has at least one project focused on west Tennessee and most often works on interdisciplinary teams. Arleen is recipient of an Early Career Research Award, Excellence in Engaged Scholarship award, and a finalist for multiple teaching awards from the UofM. She is also a co-recipient of a First Responder Award from the TN Department of Homeland Security and the TN Governor related to decision support provided in the Emergency Operations Center during the 2011 Mississippi River flood. That flood event and field work in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake had a profound influence on her teaching and research.

In Fall 2020 Arleen took on a new role as the third chair of the department (the first geographer). With 17 faculty, 45 undergraduate majors, 45 graduate students, research facilities in three different buildings, a fleet of field vehicles, and ties with five different research centers on campus, Arleen is always on the go. Arleen, husband Michael, and son Joseph enjoy time outdoors in the Mississippi Embayment as well as adventures across Tennessee, the Mid-South, and New England.

Faculty Spotlight – April Hiscox

Headshot of April Hiscox

April Hiscox researches and teaches in the areas of weather, climate, air pollution, and boundary layer meteorology. April’s recent teaching efforts have been focused on the Honors College in her role as a Pearce Faculty Fellow. This has allowed her to use a little bit of her engineering background to offer a course in Environmental Measurements and Instrumentation where students have visited field sites in Wisconsin and on the coast of South Carolina. A very hands-on instructor, Dr. Hiscox has also experimented with using quilting as a means to display geographic relationships in a course called Making Geography, where students explore the science behind geographic concepts such as spatial resolution by sewing different size fabric blocks. It’s no wonder that she’s a 2023 Mungo Undergraduate Teaching Award winner.

April’s research continues to focus on the stable boundary layer and its impacts in agricultural environments. As the primary investigator of the NSF/NCAR funded SAVANT field campaign, she led a team to collect a number of in-situ and remote atmospheric datasets now available to the research community at large. Her follow-up funded project will explore the interactions between mesoscale and microscale flows in the stable boundary layer in this shallow terrain environment. April also recently finished editing a book entitled Conceptual Boundary Layer Meteorology, published by Elsevier in 2022. This volume introduces the field to those without a calculus background. She is also working with a team from the department to establish better metrics for heat health in urban areas.

Stay Connected 

The university has a Mentorship Hub to connect fellow Gamecock faculty, staff, students, alumni, and community partners. Whether seeking career guidance or providing professional support to current Carolina students, you are encouraged to sign up for an account at and join the Geography group.

Support Our Mission 

USC’s Department of Geography is successful in part due to the generous support of our alumni and friends. Your donations fund scholarships, student research travel, and the incoming graduate student field experience among others. If you’d like to help support our geography students and programs, you can visit our Giving page.

College of Arts and Sciences 

As an alum of the Department of Geography, you are also part of the university’s College of Arts and Sciences. To connect with the College and other departments, visit the college’s home page or read the college’s latest news. 

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