Kent State hires two new geography professors

Kent State’s geography department hired two new professors to accommodate the growing environmental studies program.

Tim Assal and He Yin were added to the geography faculty this summer, according to Kent State’s geography department’s website

The two new assistant professors will be teaching environmental studies courses. Specifically courses in remote sensing and environmental geographic information system (GIS) training.     

The geography department chairperson Scott Sheridan said GIS is a software system for plotting and analyzing spatial data and relationships. A simple version of GIS is google maps. 

“Environmentally it has many applications,” Sheridan said. “A lot of the cutting edge research is on developing new techniques to analyze spatial relationships.”

Assal and Yin were also ideal candidates for their remote sensing experience which the geography department hopes to incorporate into environmental studies classrooms soon. 

“Remote sensing is using satellite imaging and computer modeling to study ecosystem changes,” Assal said. “It’s a way of detecting information about an object without ever being in contact with that object. It’s used for broad space over long time scales.”

Remote sensing offers a larger perspective of an environmental range for scientists to investigate.

“It’s a powerful way to get an idea of how things have changed,” Assal said. “We can get an idea of how things have changed and what is driving that change and potentially make projections about how things will change.” 

Assal has used remote sensing to landscape environmental health in the west while working with the U.S. geological survey agency with projects in Wyoming. He has also worked on a project in Northern New Mexico looking at the effects of fire on tree health. 

He hopes to continue his work in the Northeast. 

“I hope to incorporate some local projects,” he said. “I’d like to take advantage of some of the areas we have nearby like the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Whether it be just a field trip, or some kind of long-standing project collecting data every year to put together a really big data set.”

First offered at the beginning of 2017, the environmental studies program has grown exponentially. According to Kent State’s admission reports, enrollment jumped from 49 enrolled students at the end of 2018 to 135 students at the beginning of Fall 2019.

“The program has grown quite a bit,” Sheridan said. “There is a big demand that is there. There is a much bigger interest in the environment now than it has been. There really wasn’t a program on campus that had ‘environmental’ in its name. There was this pent up interest and then we had one that drew students to it.”

GIS and remote sensing training is in high demand for environmental studies majors. The department also offers an online masters in GIS training, most of which are environmental GIS students, according to Sheridan. 

“Both (professors) did substantial amounts of field work for their dissertations and that was important for us,” Sheridan said. “We want to give the students the proper experience, not just course work, but also how to navigate doing your own research and things of that nature.”

Sheridan and Assal said they are hopeful for future remote sensing research projects. 

Sheridan noted that Assal hopes to set up a study abroad experience in Chile for students to help with data collection and analyzation on his current research. 

Assal is currently teaching a statistical course this semester and will be teaching a remote sensing course in spring 2020. Yin will also begin teaching in the spring. 

“I get a lot of energy from teaching,” Assal, who previously taught in Colorado, said. “It was always something I missed and I feel I have a much stronger ability to influence academia.”

Contact Colleen Carrol at [email protected].