Brian King, professor of geography, associate head for the department’s resident graduate programs and Population Research Institute associate, has been appointed head of the Department of Geography. He began on July 1.
King succeeds Cynthia Brewer, who will remain an active member of the faculty after serving as department head since 2014.
“Brian brings a wealth of experience and a vision for the department that builds on all the great work of his predecessors, especially that of Cindy Brewer, and takes the department to the next level,” said Lee Kump, John Leone Dean in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences.
King’s research focuses on livelihoods, conservation and development, environmental change and human health. His work is centered in Southern Africa, where he has examined how environmental variability shapes demographic patterns in the Okavango Delta of Botswana and how social and ecological systems are being transformed by HIV/AIDS.
“I accepted this position because I am passionate about the discipline of geography and what our faculty and students are able to contribute to the critical challenges of the 21st century,” King said. “Geography is uniquely positioned to make distinct contributions in part because of its breadth across the social sciences, natural sciences, and humanities.”
King earned a master’s degree and doctorate in geography from the University of Colorado at Boulder and a bachelor’s degree in environmental studies from Bucknell. He joined Penn State as an assistant professor in 2008.
“We are in an excellent position thanks to the hard work of outgoing department head Dr. Cindy Brewer and all members of our departmental community,” King said. “We have grown our faculty and identified strategic areas of interest that intersect across the four subfields of the discipline. We have also worked to integrate our residential and online teaching programs, which allows us to reach broader constituencies. Our graduate program is one of the best in the country, and I am excited to see where our department can go over the next five years.”
The department recently conducted strategic planning to identify a central objective of building a resilient and just world by responding to the climate crisis, making data science spatial and sustaining landscapes and livelihoods.
Building on that framework, King said he has identified three strategic areas for the department to concentrate on over the next five years.
“First, we should implement our strategic plan because it provides a clear framework to support current activities while engaging in some new and exciting initiatives,” King said. “Second, I am committed to supporting and advancing research and teaching, especially as we transition out of the immediate COVID-19 environment. Third, I look forward to advancing diversity, equity and inclusion within our community and the geographic discipline.”
King has served in a variety of leadership and service roles at the department, college and University levels in preparation for his new position.
For the past four years he served as the associate head for resident graduate programs.
“That role gave me insight into both the undergraduate and graduate programs, and also budgetary opportunities and challenges,” King said.
Within the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, King chaired the Faculty Advisory Committee, and was one of three tri-chairs of an ad-hoc committee in support of under-represented minorities and gender diversity.
King also served on the Penn State Faculty Senate for the past four years and chaired the Global Programs standing committee, taking on a number of service assignments in support of Penn State’s global mission, including serving on the search committee for both the vice provost and associate vice provost for Global Programs. King was a faculty representative on the Provost’s Task Force in support of international students and he continues to serve as the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences representative on the recently established Faculty Affairs Advisory Council.
Thinking about his goals moving forward, King said he is cognizant of the challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“While our department is in a strong position both within the University and the academy, it will be important for us to advocate for geography and higher education,” King said. “The social and economic impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic are exacerbating existing inequities within the academy. It is important to articulate the many contributions that our department can bring to current and future research and teaching directions.”
King said he is looking forward to a return to more in-person interactions.
“We have increased the size of our faculty in recent years, and I am committed to supporting all of us to achieve our individual and collective goals," he said. “I want to ensure that we remain a dynamic, inclusive, and collegial department in which people want to be part.”