Professor and Chair, Department of Geography & Environmental Planning
Among the many countries in turmoil around the world today, one of the most volatile is Yemen. Located at the southern edge of the Arabian Peninsula, the country has been battered by civil war in recent years, and of more concern, has become a new base of operations for Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
Given Yemen’s uncertain status, our government and its intelligence agencies have been turning to a leading specialist for insight and advice: Charles Schmitz, a geography professor at Towson University.
“That’s been the bulk of my work in recent years,” he says, “consulting with government, agencies, and the media as a content expert to explain Yemen’s political and cultural landscape to them.”
What does foreign policy have to with geography? As Schmitz explains, “When you think about it, geography is essentially organized around the study of space and spatial distribution — how we use space socially and politically to arrange ourselves.”
Today’s discipline of geography is a broad field that is open to a number of diverse approaches. In Towson University’s Department of Geography & Environmental Planning, one of the most popular career tracks for students parallels Schmitz’s own area of specialization: human geography with a regional expertise.
“We have a number of students who end up going into the intelligence community, given our proximity to Washington, D.C.,” he notes. Other attractive paths include physical geography as it relates to environmental issues and geographic information systems (GIS).
“The real strength of geography is its flexibility in conceptual approaches,” says Schmitz. “Our students like this interdisciplinary aspect that lets them explore a subject from many different angles and disciplines. Here at TU, you can take the major in any direction that interests you.”