HMGSG Leadership Nomination

Voting will take place at our Group Business Meeting on 3/31/2016, from 11:50 AM – 1:10 PM in Union Square 22, Hilton Hotel, 4th Floor.


Dr. Michael J. Widener for the Vice Chair (Dr. Widener is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Geography and Planning, University of Toronto – St. George.

I am pleased to run for the vice-chair position of the Health and Medical Geography Specialty Group (HMGSG) of the AAG. I began my current position as a tenure-track Assistant Professor in Geography and Planning at the University of Toronto – St. George in 2015, after spending three years as a tenure-track Assistant Professor in Geography at the University of Cincinnati. I graduated with my PhD in 2012 from SUNY-Buffalo, my MS in 2009 from Florida State University, and my BA in 2007 from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. My current research is focused largely on how transportation and urban structure affect the health and well-being of city residents. In particular, I have published numerous papers on how spatiotemporal context and time pressure affect access to food retailers, and am currently investigating how these accessibility landscapes are related to food purchasing behaviors and nutrition. Other papers and projects involve older adults’ oral health, helicopter emergency medical services transport, and the relationship between peer-density and health outcomes. I am an active member in both the Health and Transportation Subcommittee and the Social and Economic Factors Committee in the National Academy of Science’s Transportation Research Board, and also frequent reviewer of papers for academic journals related to health, geography, and transportation. I have also been a board member of the AAG’s HMGSG since 2014 (term ending 2016). If elected vice-chair for the HMGSG I would be excited to continue serving the specialty group. Having served on the board, I have an excellent understanding of the specialty group’s mission and goals. One of these goals is to refresh the group’s web presence, establishing a space for health and medical geographers, from across the world, to learn more about each other’s work, as well as to promote the specialty group’s various activities and awards. I would work with the two newly appointed webmasters to make this happen. Additionally, I would like to work toward increasing the number of nominations we receive for our awards. Currently, the number of theses, dissertations, and other nominations is relatively low. With the chair of the HMGSG, I hope to make these awards more competitive through various methods of outreach and advertisement.


Dr. Xiang Chen for the at-large Board Membership (Dr. Chen is an Assistant Professor at the Arkansas Tech University):

My name is Xiang Chen and I am an Assistant Professor at the Arkansas Tech University. I received my B.S. (2007) and M.S (2009) in resource science from Beijing Normal University, China, and Ph.D. (2014) in geography from The Ohio State University. With a professional training centered on Geographical Information Systems (GIS), I have a keen interest in exploring how GIS could be well utilized to serve a healthy community in areas of environmental health and food security. This thread of research has generated multiple publications in respective health and geography journals (e.g., American Journal of Public Health) as well as the 2015 Jacques May Thesis Prize from the HMGSG. I have been an active HMGSG member since I joined the AAG. During the two-year experience serving as a board member for the AAG Geographies of Food and Agriculture Specialty Group, I have had the privilege to network with many leading geographers and community advocators who had a shared interest in addressing food and health issues facing the country. These issues could only be remedied by a collaborative effort between scholars and practitioners. I would like to extend my sense of determination and my professional service to AAG as a HMGSG at-large board member, if elected; and I will strive to bridge the gap between fellow geographers and health practitioners through creative activities, such as field trips and publication opportunities. Additionally, I will continue to advocate for increasing HMGSG membership through my professional networks and years of experience as a web developer.

Mr. Diego Pons for the Student Board Membership (Mr. Pons is a PhD Student/Graduate Teaching Assistant at the Department of Geography and the Environment, University of Denver):

The reason I want to be part of the Graduate Student Board is because I believe my background (BS Biology, MPH and currently PhD student in Geography studying climate change) can bring together an interdisciplinary approach to the challenges that we face now  regarding global health. If elected  as a Graduate Student Board member, I will promote this approach by trying to bring together different disciplines among other graduate students and professionals so that the synergies created by interdisciplinary research can move forward our knowledge on health and benefit those communities who need it the most. For instance, my expertise on vector-borne diseases has greatly benefited from my current skills on climate variability assessment. Moreover, the availability of fine-resolution satellites imagery, opens a whole new spectrum of potential research related to health, from vector-borne diseases to social patterns of spatial agglomeration, food production  and crime assessment all of which are relevant to health in a fast-pace changing world. Being a Guatemalan, I also stand for underrepresented minorities  in the health field. My research has always taken place in Guatemala where, as a tropical, poor country the challenges on health issues are  seen everywhere, from the new incidence of chronic diseases all the way to vector-borne ones and “traditional” food insecurity issues and infectious diseases. I want to be able to promote what has been called as “the next step” among several disciplines, that is, to bridge the gap between our knowledge and how to apply it to a particular social context. I plan to do this by organizing sessions at our annual meetings that bring together different professionals with different backgrounds,  posting available funding and internships for research (specially in Latinamerica) and by delivering any other responsibility that the Graduate Student Board member should provide.

Mr. Daniel Ervin for the Student Board Membership (Mr. Ervin is a PhD Candidate (ABD) at the Department of Geography, University of California, Santa Barbara):

I received a B.A. in psychology from George Washington University in 2002 after which I worked in non-profit and public health for a number of years before returning to school to earn my M.A. in Geography from the University of Wyoming. I am currently a PhD Candidate in Geography at the University of California, Santa Barbara. My dissertation examines the diet and diet-related health of recent Latino migrants to California, exploring the role of migrants’ current and origin locations and migration histories to determine whether experiencing different places (or types of places) has significant effects on health outcomes. The project integrates three distinct data collection methods: A survey, anthropometric measures of health, and stable isotope ratio analysis (SIRA) of hair samples, an emerging technique for dietary and geographic research. My research interests can be placed in three themes: the relationship between place, space, migration, and health, Human-Environment Dynamics, especially as they relate to agriculture and health, and improving geographic and health research methods. My geographic areas of interest are the U.S., Mexico, and Central America. Within this subgroup I am interested in advancing the importance of geography in the study of non-communicable diseases. I am running for the position of Student Board Membership in order to increase graduate student involvement in the organization, and to be a voice for student interests. The HMGSG is one of the fastest growing and most dynamic subgroups in the AAG. As we continue to progress it is important to keep graduate students involved in the organization. HMGSG has done an excellent job of this so far and I hope to build upon that work.  I have communicated with David Lamb (outgoing student board member) and I believe I have good understanding of the duties of the student board and can accomplish them. I can apply previous experience to the student awards committee, as I have served on several similar committees at my home institution. Outside of the normal duties, I would like to continue the success of the subgroup by increasing outreach, communication, and promotion to current and potential graduate student members. I believe that my non-profit work experience will play a valuable role in this as I worked in development, and specifically focused on attracting and retaining membership in an NGO for several years. Please feel free to contact me with any question about my qualifications (or anything else) at Thank you for your consideration.

Amanda Weber for the Graduate Student Board Member position (Ms. Weber is a PhD Student and Graduate Teaching Associate at Oklahoma State University):

My name is Amanda Weber and I am a second year PhD student in the Department of Geography at Oklahoma State University. I currently teach Cultural Geography and have taught physical geography in the past. My research interest focuses on spatial epidemiology and medical geography. My dissertation research will examine quarantine, isolation, and hospital preparedness in terms of an infectious disease event in the United States. I am currently the Gamma Theta Upsilon Chi Chapter Vice President. I hold a masters degree in liberal studies from the College of Staten Island (CUNY) and a bachelors in physical anthropology from the University at Buffalo (SUNY). I also hold a certificate of specialization in forensic anthropology. My background and my research are interdisciplinary, which makes me a good candidate for the HMGSG Graduate Student Board Member position. As co-organizer for the historical spatial epidemiology panel at this year’s AAG conference, I, along with my fellow co-organizers, are attempting to bridge the gap of various disciplines of both graduate students and professionals in a space that promotes the exchange of ideas and the potential for future collaborations. If elected as the HMGSG Graduate Student Board Member, I will promote further the interactions and collaborations of graduate students and professionals to advance our understanding of health and disease.  After completing my graduate work, I plan to seek a teaching and research position as I view fieldwork and the opportunity for student research experience as an integral component of the learning process. I am especially interested in teaching courses in medical/health geography, disease ecology, public health policy, and physical or medical anthropology.

Marynia A. Kolak for the Graduate Student Board Member position (Ms. Kolak is a PhD Candidate in Geography at the GeoDa Center at Arizona State University):

Her research interests are spatial analysis and health geography, with a focus on population-level program and policy evaluation. Reducing health and economic inequalities serve as core goals of many proposed place-based policies; incorporating spatial tools and geographic principles are thus essential to the evaluation process. She uses spatial econometrics and statistics to consider how selection bias and treatment heterogeneity can be accounted for in quasi-experimental causal research designs. Her dissertation work proposes a spatial data science framework for evaluation applications, with space serving as the place for integration of research design and methodology, data infrastructure, and decision-making. As an integral aspect of community engagement, she collaborates with the Chicago Department of Public Health and community organizations to develop and improve integrated civic technology systems for data exploration and more effective analysis. Previous work includes a spatiotemporal analysis of food accessibility in Chicago; engaging her students in a Humanitarian Mapathon for outbreak relief efforts, as part of their final projects; serving as the first graduate student association Wellness Director at ASU; and supporting the first HMGSG newsletter.


Mr. Michael R. Desjardins for the Student Board Membership (Mr. Desjardins is a PhD student in Geography at the Center for Applied Geographic Information Science at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte):

I look forward to the possibility of serving the Health and Medical Geography Specialty Group (HMGSG) as your graduate student board member.  I joined UNC Charlotte as a master’s student in the spring of 2015.  My research interests are in the domain of health geography, spatial analysis and modeling, spatial statistics, and landscape ecology.  My master’s thesis focuses on the development of a nature reserve design model and application of a genetic algorithm heuristic to facilitate conservation planning.  For my PhD, I plan on developing new techniques to understand the processes which are responsible for the spread of infectious diseases and models that can improve healthcare accessibility.  Other current projects include using Twitter data as a potential source for understanding the patterns (e.g. seasonality and intensity) of pollen outbreaks in the United States.  I also received a Bachelor’s degree in Geography from Keene State College in New Hampshire (2014).  During my undergraduate career at Keene State, I spent time in the Turks and Caicos Islands to understand how local policy and social perspectives affect coral reef conservation or lack thereof.  If elected, I will strive to promote the participation of both undergraduate and graduate students at the AAG, while sparking further interest in the growing field of health and medical geography.  I have great experience in community outreach stemming from my current position as president of the Geography and Earth Sciences Graduate Organization (GESGO) at UNC Charlotte.  As a PhD student, I understand that what we do as researchers and educators should ultimately have a positive impact on society to make the world a better place to live.  As health and medical geographers, we have an important role in society by developing new and improved approaches to increase healthcare accessibility, mitigate the spread of disease, and facilitate decision-making to improve healthcare policies.  Therefore, this position will allow me to actively communicate health and medical geography’s important role in solving real-world problems.  I was also recently appointed the co-webmaster of HMGSG and will utilize that position to actively reach out to the community through our website and social media pages.  I thank you for your consideration.