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Kendra McSweeney

Professor, Department of Geography

Kendra McSweeney has received the Alumni Award for Distinguished Teaching, which is given to faculty for their superior teaching; the Distinguished Undergraduate Research Mentor Award; and most recently the Joan N. Huber Faculty Fellow Award recognizing her scholarship. Her current research projects include tracing the socioecological impacts of drug trafficking through Central America and studying the nature and implications of demographic change among Latin America's indigenous populations.


B.A., Geography and Environmental Science, McGill University (Canada)
M.Sc., Geography, University of Tennessee, Knoxville
Ph.D., Geography, McGill University (Canada)

Describe your current research and areas of interest.

I am a “human-environment” geographer, which means I study the relationship between people and the natural environment. That focus can take many forms. I have studied, for example, how the forests of Southeastern Ohio have changed — often dramatically and in unexpected ways — since first European settlement. I mainly work in Latin America, though, and I’ve been really interested in the ways in which indigenous peoples’ population dynamism shapes the possibilities for the protection of their forested homelands. Most recently, I have been trying to better understand how anti-drug policies promoted in the United States undermine rainforest conservation in Central America.

What undergraduate classes do you teach?

I teach an introductory course called Our Global Environment that offers students ways to make sense of the many forces shaping our world, from climate change to shifts in the global food system. In the upper-level undergraduate Research and Professionalization Seminar, students explore ways to pivot from their college experience into the careers that excite them.

What aspects of your teaching give you the most satisfaction?

One of the things I appreciate is the diversity of students who come together in the classroom. Our Global Environment draws an exceptional variety of students, from finance to agriculture to dance majors, and they come to the course at different times in their undergraduate careers. Students also bring very diverse backgrounds, experiences and perspectives. I am constantly inspired by the novel ideas and insights students share during class discussion.

What book or move would you recommend?

I recommend the movie Spotlight. Not only is it based on a true story and focuses on an important social issue, but it is a great way to compare and contrast the mechanics of investigative journalism with the process of social science research.

What is the most interesting place you’ve lived or visited?

In my 20s, I lived for two years in what seemed to be an isolated village in the rainforest of the Mosquito Coast, in eastern Honduras. But I learned then, and continue to appreciate, how this seemingly remote, forgotten place has always been tied in important ways to things that are happening here, and vice versa. To a geographer, thinking about those connections can make any place fascinating.

What is the best advice you’ve received?

“Don’t take something tragically when it’s enough to take it seriously.”

What advice would you give to undergraduate students?

“If you want advice, ask for a job. If you want a job, ask for advice.”

My office hours are Tuesday mornings, and I welcome students interested in exploring geography, conservation, Latin American issues, are thinking about research or fieldwork or who want to talk about how to prepare for life after college.

Read more about Dr. McSweeney here and her work with the indigenous community in the Honduras here.