From the Mouth of Grads

Some new graduate students in the geography department.

New graduate students tell why they are here and what they love about geography

The Department of Geography has three returning grad students and eight new grad students enrolled in the Fall 2020 semester. Returning are Melissa Church, Rafa Gonzalez and Caitlin Sliva. New are Samuel Frimpong, Dakota Ioanis, Sarah Kammeyer, Seth Kannarr, Michael Terhune, John Thomas, Christopher Willis and Brandon Young.

Some of our new graduate students took time to answer questions about their interest in geography and why they chose Mizzou for their masters program; what they hoped to achieve this year while taking graduate classes in geography; and why geography excites them as a field of study.

Here are their answers:


Samuel Frimpong

I am a first-year geography masters student and some of my interests and hobbies include hiking, cooking, soccer, basketball, ultimate frisbee, and watching anime! I chose the geography department for my masters because I have an interest in virtual education, primarily augmented reality, and I wanted to do research pertaining to how students learn when using augmented reality applications along with other course materials.

This year I hope to gain a better understanding of what being a TA is like while also gaining some knowledge in how my skills in IT can pair with the topics I learn about within the geography department.

What excites me about geography is the potential for virtual education to allow people to take a step into a different environment and experience all that they have been reading and watching videos about.


Dakota Ioanis

I am really excited to be a part of the geography community here at Mizzou! I am originally from Independence, Missouri, and Missouri has been my home for most of my life. I earned a Bachelor of Science degree (magna cum laude) in history from Drury University in December 2016, as well as a Master of Arts in Teaching degree from the University of Central Missouri in May 2019. Before I made the decision to come to Mizzou, I was actually a social studies teacher! I taught in the Calhoun R-8 School District, which is a small, rural school district located between Sedalia and Clinton. When I say it was a small district, I mean small; the entire district, at the time, had less than 100 students in total. I taught students ranging from 6th grade to 12th grade there, so I was responsible for teaching the gamut of social science classes; everything from world geography and world history, to American history, American government, psychology, sociology, and economics.    

Some of my interests and hobbies includes sports and traveling. I am a huge football (Chiefs) and baseball (Royals) fan. I even have a vanity plate for the Royals on my car — it says “UCAFAN” (no, not a University of Central Arkansas fan!). I try to attend as many sporting events as possible, but with the Covid-19 virus, that has not been possible. Another thing that has been difficult to do during this new viral era is traveling, but my wife and I still managed to get a road trip in this summer, to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. I love road trips, nothing is more relaxing in my opinion than just hitting the open road, music blaring out of the speakers, and just seeing the landscape change little by little as the hours trickle on by. Like any proper geographer, I also have an unhealthy obsession with maps and flags. I am also a huge trivia buff; I would be perfectly content watching “Jeopardy” all day long.  

Trivia is, in a way, one of the reasons why I have always wanted to attend Mizzou in the first place. When I was a 5th grader, way back in April of 2002, I participated in the Missouri State Geographic Bee. I remember very vividly my first impression of Memorial Union and how beautiful the campus looked as the flowers were about to bloom.

I remember meeting Dr. Kit Salter and his wife, Cathy; I think that year there was a story one of them may have had published about Lewis and Clark and the Missouri River in National Geographic, and I had them autograph the magazine that I just happened to have with me the day of the competition. I distinctly recall when Dr. Salter said how perhaps one day, a student in this room could call themselves a student of Geography at Missouri’s flagship university. Although it took nearly 20 years, his prediction proved to be accurate!  

 I’m not sure what to expect or to achieve this year at Mizzou, to be frank. I am excited to be around others who are as enthusiastic about the topic as I am. As rewarding as teaching in public schools can be, I am looking forward to being around individuals who genuinely want to learn more about the world, and I didn’t get that opportunity very much as a teacher. I am also looking forward to examining the discipline more vigorously, to go more depth into topics that I find fascinating.  

Most importantly for me, however, is that I want to prove to myself I am capable of quality, graduate level work. I will turn 30 years old in October, and although some may feel that is pretty young, I get the impression that my age is on the older end of the spectrum for just staring graduate school (I’m not counting my MAT from UCM in this example). Although this may be putting the cart before the horse, I will be older if I decide to start doctoral work. There are actually a couple of former high school students from my school in Calhoun who are currently undergraduate students at Mizzou, which is somewhat humbling for me. I’m not going to deny the fact that there were doubts about returning to graduate school, because of my age. It took me nearly seven years to earn my undergraduate degree from Drury, which is a time frame many in academia complete their bachelor and master degrees. Basically, I suppose, if as an “old man,” I can produce quality work, and can show effective and fruitful results from my efforts throughout this year (and in particular this fall semester while I get my feet wet with the program and with Mizzou), I will consider that a successful school year.  

I’ve always loved geography, just ask my parents if you get the chance! I think my favorite thing about geography is how it can be incorporated into just about any other subject. I was constantly reminded of that in my undergraduate work, of how intertwined geography and history are. It is those geographic and historic influences that have molded and shaped the world and society in which we live in today, for the better and for the worst. I am more interested in the political, human, and cultural aspects of geography, as opposed to physical geography or GIS.  

I mentioned my parents in a humorous manner, but I can say they have inspired my love of this topic in many ways. For example, I was adopted when I was quite young; I was born in Carson City, Nevada, and that was home for the first few months of my life. For many years when I was younger, I remember my parents had placed the map they used when they traveled out west from Missouri on the wall over my bed in my bedroom. This 1990 Rand McNally fold out road map of the United States basically had I-80 from Omaha to Reno highlighted in bright orange, but I remember just looking at it and memorizing different locations on it before falling asleep on many nights. My mother who adopted me is a biological cousin of mine, and we look as though we are related. My adopted father, on the other hand, is Pacific Islander, and we look nothing alike physically. He immigrated to the United States from the Federated States of Micronesia (specifically, the island of Pohnpei) in 1979 to go to college. He eventually met and married my mother and settled here, only returning back to his island once since the late 70s.

I grew up with his many stories of his childhood and found it so remarkable how different his culture was compared to that of the “typical” American lifestyle. I’m not sure if those two examples answer the question about why geography excites me, but I believe it does answer why I am so interested in the subject. I was positively influenced and disposed to geography at a young age, and that has helped put me where I am today: a graduate student in this worldly topic at the University of Missouri!  


Sarah Kammeyer

I moved back to my hometown of Columbia after several years out of state getting my undergraduate degree in linguistics and serving as an AmeriCorps member. Following the call to come home helped crystalize my interest in the connections we have with place and belonging — and Mizzou’s geography masters program seemed like the perfect fit for exploring this! When I’m not winding around backroads to discover hidden gems in mid-MO I’m usually found baking treats and losing at bar trivia.

This year I’m looking forward to learning more about how our places and spaces inform culture and identity, especially in the context of the Midwest and Missouri.

I have always been a map fiend; stationing myself in the co-pilot seat to track our progress on family road trips, creating plots of the best coffee spots in town, finding the most efficient routes to the best rides at theme parks. I’m also fascinated by the relationship we have to where we are at any given time whether in a physical, historical, or emotional capacity.


Seth Kannarr

Hello! I’m from Machesney Park, Illinois. I earned my Bachelors of Science in geography at SIUE, just two hours east of Mizzou. I love to travel to America’s National Parks whenever I can, and I share a passion for good food and time with friends and family. I am also a very active volunteer with the Boy Scouts of America and serve as program director at Canyon Camp in Stockton, Illinois.

I chose Mizzou because of the tight-knit community feel I found within the Department of Geography. I’ll have the opportunity to build close connections with many faculty and students, all while surrounded by the amenities of Mizzou and the beautiful city of Columbia. It’s a great fit for me!

I really look forward to developing my thesis proposal utilizing what I learn from the courses I’ll take this year. I also look forward to collaborating with Dr. Grant Elliott to make this happen, and I’m excited for the opportunity to be a teaching assistant and work with undergraduate students!

As a whole, geography excites me because of the interdisciplinarity it offers with all the fields of study within it. Where else can one study glacial plunge pools one day, and then urban sprawl in the Sun Belt the next day? It’s a unique blend of applied science and social studies, and I hope more people are able to find their niche of study within the realm of geography!


John Thomas

I’ve lived in Missouri most of life and I truly am a farmboy at heart. I probably have too many hobbies for my own good, but aside from my academic interests, I enjoy playing music, kayaking, woodworking, tinkering with computers, baseball and playing chess.

I've have had the opportunity to meet with several faculty and other graduate students, and the department is very accessible and friendly, with a strong commitment to interdisciplinary work. The fact that there is a department band speaks volumes! (pun intended)

I’m a Mizzou alum and am looking forward to getting back to school, and getting to know more of the faculty, students and staff in the geography department. 

I truly enjoy solving problems. The interdisciplinarity and complexity of geography allow us to incorporate a wide range of approaches to solving problems that potentially impact every facet of life, all over the world.


Christopher Willis

I really enjoy playing basketball, listening to music, and reading. I chose Mizzou geography for my masters because I felt that the undergraduate program helped me further my interest in geography as a subject while also providing a curriculum for learning and intellectual growth. I feel the graduate program will build from that experience and help me toward a career in college-level instruction.

Taking graduate courses should be challenging, but will allow me to prepare to read and write at a professional level and think about geography as tool to better our lives and the way we interact with our earth.

Geography to me is a subject that teaches us about our world, and hopefully how to better interact with it. It's a discipline that bridges the social studies and sciences.


Brandon Young

I’m from Missouri and have a BA in philosophy from Mizzou.  I love geography because it is so inclusive of many disciplines and I love to explore. I want to become fluent in GIS as well. I am married have a 2-year-old daughter — and a son on the way.