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Geographic Literacy Creates Informed, Successful Communities

Ian FeathersIan Feathers (‘10) believes geography should be a core requirement in public schools and works with several schools in Sullivan County, Tennessee, to promote geography programming, including Emmett Elementary, Bluff City Elementary, Bluff City Middle, Blountville Middle, and Sullivan East High School. Each of these schools serve impoverished areas.

“Geography and supporting technologies like Geographic Information Systems (GIS) contribute to all aspects of our world, including natural resources and infrastructure,” says Feathers, a solution engineer in the Geodesign and Facilities Division at Esri. “Everything has a location that can be analyzed at many different scales. Geography is a comprehensive physical and social science that can be incorporated through STEM education, which presents a great opportunity for students to gain applicable skills throughout the public education system.”

The National Center for Children in Poverty reports approximately 26 percent of children in Tennessee live in poverty. The United States Census Bureau estimates 24 percent of children in Sullivan County live in poverty. Roughly 25 percent of adults within Sullivan County have not obtained a high school diploma. Based on these estimates, there is an obvious relationship between educational attainment and poverty.

Feathers thinks geography is the perfect academic discipline to help students in rural impoverished areas understand the types of issues that affect their communities and the nation at large. Many people from East Tennessee, Feathers included, have a deep connection to the land based on agrarian family history.

“We have an abundance of farm land and accessible public land that can support eco-tourism,” Feathers says. “We are dedicated to our families and communities. We are resourceful. We are kind. We are tough. These attributes help define us as ‘Appalachian,’ which is based on our geography.”

Feathers’ success is due to his education in geography. It is a large part of his life’s work and a very important aspect of who he is and the change he wants to see in the world.

“It’s imperative that I share my knowledge and training in geography,” Feathers says. “My education becomes meaningless if I fail to share it with those who need it most. I also plan to donate additional time and funds to Sullivan East Middle School, which is currently under construction in Sullivan County, Tennessee, and serves the same impoverished areas. I encourage all alumni to donate their time and funds to geographic literacy and outreach programs through the Tennessee Geographic Alliance. Our future depends on it.”