Anna Versluis

Faculty

Assistant Professor in Geography, Environmental Studies, and LALACS

Like many geographers, I study society’s interactions with the environment. The study of nature-society addresses age-old questions like how we procure food and how we prepare for and cope with natural disasters to how we understand our relationship with the natural world. It addresses recent and pressing questions like climate change, globalization, loss of biodiversity, sustainability, and social justice.

The big research questions that interest me revolve around the interactions of humans with the environment, especially those involving land transformation: the how and why of land use and land cover change, and the implications of these changes for ecosystems and human societies. Additionally, I am interested in how society encounters the natural world through disaster. Much of my research is based in Haiti, where I lived and worked prior to graduate school, and where I continue to visit as frequently as possible.

Land transformation is exceedingly important in Haiti, which has been an agrarian nation since its inception yet also is increasingly urbanized. Deforestation, a global concern, is seen as especially critical in Haiti. In one current study I seek to understanding why land transformation has occurred in a mountainous region of Haiti that has been devastated by numerous fatal flash flood disasters. The explanations given by residents of the region differ markedly from the “received wisdom” as exemplified in the media and other outlets. How do the explanations differ, and why? Are both correct? What are the implications of accepting one set of explanations or the other?

Haiti has seen more than its fair share of disasters in recent years. This is of little surprise since one of the key “ingredients” for a disaster is a vulnerable human community that encounters a hazard. Haiti’s poverty makes its communities exceptionally vulnerable to earthquakes, flash floods, mud flows, and other hazards of the environment. Currently, I am interested in how Haiti’s “informal” assistance sector—generally people’s family and friends—provides material aid following disaster. What lessons might the formal aid sector—governments and relief groups and the like—adapt from the informal sector? My research following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti suggests that 1) the informal aid sector plays nearly as large a role as the formal sector, and 2) that the informal sector’s preference for cash transfers over aid-in-kind (like food aid) is welcomed by aid recipients (and, in addition, helps support the local economy).

I am also very interested in how we teach geography and environmental studies, especially in a liberal arts fashion that encourages critical thinking, problem-solving, writing, and developing values. Some of my most recent research focuses on pedagogy in geography, especially related to two of my courses, ENV/GEG-250 Nature and Society and GEG342 Research Methods in Geography.

Beyond academic geography, I love to travel, garden, read, backpack, and be with family. Currently, seeing the world as it is discovered by my toddler twins is my greatest joy.

Education

B.A. Eastern Mennonite University; M.S. Oregon State University; Ph.D. Clark University


Courses Taught

Current

GEG-105 (Physical Geography), GEG-105 (Physical Geography Lab), GEG-242 (Research Methods), and GEG-397 (Honors Thesis Project)

Past
Synonym Title Times Taught Terms Taught
GEG-105Physical Geography Lab112013/FA, 2013/SP, 2012/FA, 2012/SP, 2011/FA, 2011/SP, 2010/SP, 2009/FA, 2009/SP, and 2008/FA
GEG-105Physical Geography102013/FA, 2013/SP, 2012/FA, 2012/SP, 2011/FA, 2011/SP, 2010/SP, 2009/FA, 2009/SP, and 2008/FA
ENV-250Nature & Society42013/FA, 2013/SP, 2012/FA, and 2011/FA
GEG-250Nature & Society42013/FA, 2013/SP, 2012/FA, and 2011/FA
GEG-344ST:Nature & Society32011/SP, 2010/SP, and 2009/SP
GEG-397Honors Thesis Project22013/FA and 2012/SP
GEG-345Remote Sensing Envrmnt22012/SP and 2010/SP
GEG-340Geographic Information Systems22009/FA and 2008/FA
GEG-242Research Methods12013/SP
GEG-342Research Methods12012/SP
ENV-109Future Sustainability12009/JN