GeoInspirations: Lesley-Ann Dupigny-Giroux: Pushing geography into the sky — literally

By Joseph J. Kerski

Editor’s note: Welcome back to our GeoInspirations series, in which our distinguished guest columnist, Dr. Joseph Kerski, introduces us to the men and women who are changing the face of the geospatial industry, and shining a light on the importance of geography. We hope you will be inspired by their stories to make a difference with geography in your corner of the world. Today we are proud and pleased to feature Dr. Lesley-Ann Dupigny-Girouxas Directions Magazine's GeoInspiration!

Dr. Lesley-Ann Dupigny-Giroux is an applied climatologist by training. I have long been impressed at the breadth of her work, which intersects many fields, including hydroclimatic natural hazards, climate variability and change, climate literacy, historical climatology, severe weather hazards, and the use of remote sensing and GIS in the disciplines of spatial climate and land-surface processes. Not only does she conduct research and teaches at the University of Vermont, Dr. Dupigny-Giroux is also the Vermont State Climatologist. Her work covers the entire state but also extends far beyond: She serves on the NOAA Science Advisory Board’s Climate Working Group related to climate research across the United States, and her work is frequently applied to the Caribbean. Her work also extends beyond academia to assist colleagues in state agencies, such as transportation, emergency management, agriculture, forestry and legislators, to help plan for and adapt to climate change.

Dr. Dupigny-Giroux' awards and grants include the University of Georgia Franklin Visiting Scholar Inclusion and Diversity Leadership; NSF-funded Satellites, Weather and Climate professional development program for in-service K-12 science and mathematics teachers; NSF-funded Diversity Climate Network to enhance diversity in climatology; AAUW Educational Foundation Shirley Farr Fellowship; AAAS Women's International Science Collaboration Program; Vermont EPA EPSCoR-funded drought baseline studies in Vermont; and Vermont NASA EPSCoR-funded multiangular, polarized and hyperspectral imagery studies. She is the lead editor of Historical climate variability and impacts in North America, the first monograph to deal with the use of documentary and other ancillary records for analyzing climate variability and change. She was also a contributing author to the Climate Change in the Northeast: A Sourcebook, for the Northeast region chapter of the 2014 National Climate Assessment report, U.S. Global Change Research Program.

One of the things for which I, as a geographer focused on education, respect Dr. Dupigny-Giroux most is her tireless efforts to promote climate literacy and the use of geotechnologies with K-12 teachers and students. At the university level, she teaches courses in physical geography, climatology, remote sensing, GIS applications, and satellite climatology and land-surface processes. Many of her courses are service-learning based. She holds a B.S. in physical geography and development studies from the University of Toronto, an M.S. in climatology and hydrology, and a Ph.D. in climatology and geographic information systems from McGill University. Her love for instruction is evident: “Sharing knowledge and giving back to my community (of scholars, peers, students) are my two axioms in life. Watching students mature and flourish in their four years with us is a great privilege and the best part about being a teacher-scholar here at UVM.” Her deep knowledge and ability to communicate are evident in her video retrospective of 25 years of the influence of climate on Vermont’s forests.

Dr. Dupigny-Giroux grew up in the island nation of Trinidad. “I was immersed in the British education system,” she told me. “Geography and social studies were something you were exposed to at an early age. Because of this, I was allowed to see what I liked to do, what I was good at. I began to see the connectivity across things and this became a lifelong intellectual curiosity about what things are and why they are where they are. This led me to enter university knowing that I wanted to study geography. Everything is compact when you live on an island. It afforded me many opportunities for exploration but also, given its small size, allowed me to really get to know certain spaces and places. I began to value space and place. Later, I learned to value the rich tradition of geography. For me, the connections between history and geography are not always highlighted enough.” Her love for places is evident in her autumn reflections on Vermont’s climate, wonderfully entitled “Oh, the Maple Sweetness of Vermont’s Climate.

“Dr. Warren Washington came to McGill University while I was in my first semester of graduate school,” she said. "He asked me, ‘Would you like to spend the summer in Boulder [Colorado] and work at the National Center for Atmospheric Research?’ Of course, I said! That was in 1990. Harry Van Loon was my mentor while I worked there, and he and Dr. Washington remain two of my dearest colleagues to this day. Warren is so humble and brilliant. Harry is everything a geographer should be. He connects the whys of where across languages and with everyone. Together, they influenced how I connect with students and with K-12 educators. From them, I truly learned how to be a mentor," she continued.

“In fact, I am very active in working with K-12 educators. I co-founded a project called SWAC, which stands for Satellites Weather and Climate, in 2008. It has influenced hundreds of educators and thousands of students. It has also made me a better teacher. It emphasized integrated science before integrated science was a part of the Next Generation Science Standards. It was so influential that from time to time when funding was short, teachers told me 'we will continue SWAC without funding!'" Even SWAC’s instructional team is the epitome of integration — bringing together instructors from the College of Education, museums, planetariums, atmospheric sciences, IBM, the state climate office and the university science departments. Training modules for participating teachers range from weather forecasting to satellite interpretation and cloud monitoring. These modules are based on ground observations and those from geostationary satellite visible and infrared images. Educators also measure temperature, pressure, humidity, light and motion, based on data from sensors flown under a miniature balloon that they launch themselves."

Dr. Dupigny-Giroux told me that one challenge that the geography community has is visibility. This is a problem that is multi-scalar. “We are doing good work but many people don’t know about it. They don’t connect what they see as key issues with what the geography community is addressing. Geographers need to be ‘at the table’ when major issues are discussed at the policy level -- otherwise the conversation doesn’t advance.” One of the ways she has broadened understanding is to focus on the terms climate literacy, weather, climate and climate variability, evidenced in her article in Geography Compass. Here, she surveyed the existing literature and highlights six challenges to achieving a climate-literate citizenry in both formal and informal, or lifelong, learning. She is also a founding member of the Climate Literacy Network, made up of groups and individuals interested in promoting both climate literacy and climate action efforts. Her work is applied often to make the wisest decisions possible, such as her assessment and mapping of zones impacted by roads, as evidenced in her article in the Journal of Conservation Planning.

Her advice to new geographers? “First, be as inclusive as possible.” One of the ways I discovered that Dr. Dupigny-Giroux has done this is her recommendation to include information from the cognitive sciences, such as psychology, to the conversation about climate literacy, recognizing that one’s beliefs, culture and attitudes shape learning, perceptions and behavior about climate and so much more. Second, she advocates to “think holistically as a geographer — the big picture. We are told to focus as you advance in your career, to become an expert in one or two areas of the discipline. There is nothing wrong with that, but then you’re supposed to come out as a widely trained geographer. This “hourglass approach” starts large and then becomes narrow, and this is supposed to somehow become large again. That last part is the biggest challenge.” Dr. Dupigny-Giroux says that “it is a challenge to think broadly as a geographer when you are continually focusing,” and that is why she calls on geographers to keep thinking holistically: “Ask yourself: How does my work fit into the larger whole?”

For more information, Dr. Dupigny-Giroux’s Satellites, Weather and Climate project provides resources and professional development institutes for K-12 teachers. A one page summary of the project is available online. Dr. Dupigny-Giroux also maintains the state climatologists’ office web resources


Published Wednesday, November 16th, 2016

Written by Joseph J. Kerski

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