Geography Department: When did you graduate from MU and what degree did you acquire?
Knieter: I attended Mizzou from 2012-2014 and earned a master of arts in geography.
Geography Department: What are your fondest memories of being a part of geography?
Knieter: My fondest memories are simply just hanging out with faculty and colleagues. I fondly recall walking into Dr. Palmer’s office to talk about my research, colonialism, and power for hours, or poking my head into Dr. Larsen’s office to chat about life, research, and just about anything on my mind. Faculty in the department are very approachable, and it's that open-door policy that I sorely missed when I went on to pursue my PhD elsewhere. Perhaps my fondest memories are exchanging ideas in the Alexander von Humboldt room, where I was initiated into the discipline of geography in the seminar entitled Geographic Thought (GEOG 601). Lastly, I can say I developed very strong and trusting relationships with not only faculty but also my colleagues — some of whom are my closest friends today. I recall meeting frequently at the Heidelberg for happy hour, where we’d yell, argue, and laugh about life and all things geography over pitchers of beer and half-off appetizers.
Geography Department: What were some of the most important concepts you learned while taking geography classes?
Knieter: The most important conceptual frameworks I learned about were post-colonialism and political ecology. Both of these served me well as a master’s student and as a PhD student at West Virginia University. I used these theories and concepts as a lens to think critically and analytically about the intersection of nature production, apartheid, land reform, conservation, and trophy hunting in South Africa. My first exposure to postcolonial theory was in a seminar with Dr. Palmer, who used a number of engaging texts, including a book entitled Geographies of Postcolonialism by Joanne P. Sharp, which deepened my understanding of discourse in relation to asymmetrical power relations and uneven development. This book not only opened up my mind to new ways of seeing and interpreting the world, but also became part of my geography teacher’s toolkit.
Geography Department: Would you recommend the MU Department of Geography to other students? Why or why not?
Knieter: I recommend this program to undergraduate and graduate students who seek faculty who are personable, knowledgeable, and accessible. You won’t find some of the typical stuffiness and pretention that one usually associates with the ivory tower of academia, as it’s a terminal master’s program. Yes, faculty also conducts research outside the walls of Stewart Hall, but they also really care about student development and success. If you’re interested in learning about human-environmental interactions, seek knowledge in the biophysical world, exposure to various research methods, or hands-on experience and certification in geographic information systems, then MU Geography could be a good fit for you. There are a number of other programs that offer coursework to help round out an MU geography degree. I’d definitely advise potential students to look into these other programs. For example, I found the coursework in Rural Sociology incredibly relevant to my research interests and coincidentally found my outside committee member there. The department also offers a Paul D. Coverdell fellowship for those of you interested in volunteering with the U.S. Peace Corps before graduate school. Interestingly enough, there were three Returned Peace Corps Volunteers in my cohort of seven.
For potential out-of-state students unfamiliar with central Missouri, they should know that Columbia, Missouri, is a wonderful college town with great nature trails (Katy Trail), cafes (Lakota), breweries (Logboat), film festivals (True/False), and biking and musical events (Pedaler’s Jamboree). It’s easy to get around and it’s only 90 miles from St. Louis, which has a lot of free spring and summertime events.
Geography Department: What have you done since your graduation? How did your education help with your successes?
Knieter: Since graduating in 2014, I enrolled and completed a PhD in geography at West Virginia University. Critical engagement of literature, concepts, and ideas in seminar at MU Geography, as well as professional development opportunities as a Graduate Teacher Assistant (GTA) most certainly helped prepare me for life as a PhD student in Morgantown, WV. Faculty and members of my thesis research committee encouraged me to explore my own ideas. Yes, they’d challenge me and ask me appropriate questions, but I was given space to develop my research, as well autonomy in the classroom to engage and challenge undergraduate students with geographic concepts. Overall, my experience was empowering and gave me the communication skills and confidence to pursue my professional goals.
Geography Department: What advice do you have for other students who may be considering a geography degree or who are already in our program?
Knieter: I believe that geography as a discipline is uniquely poised to answer complex questions, and explain and offer solutions to almost any social, economic, political, or environmental problem. At a time such as now, where a viral pandemic has limited human movement and caused us to reconsider and reimagine new ways of living, geographer input and expertise are significantly important to decision-makers at the local, state, and federal level. Unfortunately, not everyone knows about geography, and many a layperson will assume upon learning you’re studying geography that you make maps. Others will state that they’re terrible at geography because they can’t name all the state capitals. More importantly however, one thing you should know is that depending on the type of job you’re looking for after undergraduate or graduate coursework, is that geography does not always translate well in professional job postings. As someone with a background in critical conservation and natural resource management, I’ve had to explain how geography coursework and research qualifies me to work with NGO’s seeking, for example, anthropologists, political scientists, conservationists, or professionals with expertise in a related discipline. In many cases, geography is the related discipline. All that being said, I still believe now is the time to pursue a career as a trained geographer, especially if you’re interested in utilizing Geographic Information Systems and other geospatial technologies. The job market in this regard does not require the aforementioned translation.
As for advice for undergrads, I’d say that it’s really important to think through your goals before selecting an academic program. At the same time, it’s really important to be open to new experiences. I never imagined becoming a geographer, as I was initially drawn to anthropology. However, I took a course in geography and I was hooked.
For current graduate students, my best advice is to never say, “I should have.” Don’t beat yourself up. Take time for self-care. Go on a bike ride. Meet with friends for dinner. Don't feel guilty about not doing what you think you should be doing.
Geography Department: Anything else you’d like to add?
Knieter: If you have any questions about geography, student life, or what it’s like to be searching for a job, please feel free to contact me.
I currently live in Portland, Oregon, with my wife, Jaime, and our strange and delightfully vocal and obnoxious cat, Nanook.