By Andrea Mau
Web Content Contributor
The Geographic Honors Society is an organization on campus dedicated to the growth and development of its members in the geographic field. Their organization provides many opportunities to speak with professionals, gain volunteer experience, and work towards their future goals in geography.
On Saturday, I was able to sit down with Alex Owens, the Relations Director at GHS. The following is our interview in which we discuss their organization’s goals, events, and adaption to the COVID-19 crisis.
Andrea Mau: What is the Geographic Honors Society all about?
Alex Owens: We are an organization aimed at the progression of the professional and academic development of all of our members. We are looking for all things geography whether it be about climate change, environmentalism, or conversationism.
We’ve been doing a lot of work with other organizations such as the Bobcat Stream Team and we are hopefully going to be working with Eco to start collaborating on some events that we could use to benefit the community and nature.
AO: I am Relations Director and I just send a bunch of emails to people and be very welcoming. That’s one thing that they really stressed a lot about my position this year. We want everyone to feel included.
[You know] in this time of disconnection it’s really hard to bring people together in a way that feels connecting or personal. So we’ve definitely been using Zoom [and] FaceTime meetings to bring our organization together so it’s not just an email conversation.
I am also in charge of the newsletter. I write a newsletter that has all of our plans laid out for the next month and I’m usually in charge of arranging most of those events.
AM: What are your organization’s goals and plans for this semester?
AO: I wouldn’t say we have a set goal for this semester. Our goal’s just growth at this point. We’ve got like 25 members and not a lot of them show up. We’re just trying to grow that connection so people can feel welcomed in a community.
I think the National organization is definitely a little more like “you must be in the realm of geography; do not support political views” but we were still planning on trying to get a group of people together to go and vote. So hopefully we’ll do that and promote participation.
We do have quite a few events. We’ve got Monday Mindfulness where we’re going to be talking about being in the present moment and not focusing on the stresses that wait for you because especially now I think we have a tendency to blow that stress up. We really over anticipate things to be harder than they are.
We’ve got our guest lecturer coming in; Aaron Correl from the Texas Commission of Environmental Quality. He has ten years of experience in environmental consulting. He’s worked for two years at TCEQ so he just knows a lot about the environmental field, and he has a very realistic view of what it entails [to] enforce policy and the different ways to do that.
We’re working with the Discovery Center here in town. They’re a bunch of really great people. We’re gonna have them speak next month in a panel [and] talk about their experience working for the government and conservationist kind of work rather than mediation.
The last volunteer event of next week is going to be the ligustrum girdling where we go around and start whacking away at some trees with this kukri. You basically strip down the tree to this layer of the tree we call the cambium layer that sends nutrients up and down the tree.
If you kill off that layer down at the root you kill the tree where it stands and it dies in place. Then light naturally starts coming back in so the soil can have a bunch of natural plants to keep soil grounded while the tree dies away. It’s not like this harsh abrupt cutting the tree down [where] there’s this instant shock to the landscape and a bunch of erosion.
AM: How has COVID-19 impacted those plans?
AO: It’s kind of crazy. We’re not allowed to have any group event in-person over ten people. That makes it really difficult to plan things.
We’re having the Great Texas River Clean-Up on October 3rd and I’m trying to get all of the organizations together to do it. I wanted us to collaborate but there’s not a lot of room. So it’s kind of hard to organize things like that with other organizations but we’re still trying.
One thing that’s been really amazing about COVID happening is that the professors have just been so helpful and nice about sharing our organization. I mean I probably would’ve gotten the same response before COVID but they’re definitely a lot more hands-on and interactive.
What else… It’s made it hard to recruit. It is difficult to get into a classroom because they won’t let you into their virtual setting unless you’re in it. So it’s up to you and your cabinet members to get that recruitment drive going. People just think “oh, it’ll be recorded” but you don’t get the feedback from your team, [you know]?
AM: How do you as an organization plan to support students?
AO: We’ve got a bunch of tutoring opportunities. Basically, if there’s a subject everyone has to take we’ll probably have a tutoring option available. Several of our officers are tutors and I’m tutoring too for Water Resources.
We’re trying to support people with Monday Mindfulness. We’re going to bring people together to talk about their stress and hopefully, it will unpack their weeks for them [and] make them feel connected [and] relate to other students going through the same stuff.
We’re trying to build that sense of community by volunteering with other organizations outside of campus so they can feel like they’re doing something impactful by volunteering. It really is and it makes you feel good.
We’re helping financially too. We’re not charging anybody. There’s an obligation that students have to pay like 40 bucks their first semester and then 15 later on. So we just waived all of that. We’re not charging anybody this year.
AM: How can we as a community better support you?
AO: We’re doing so many great things but I feel like the community doesn’t know about us or we don’t get a lot of attention. So definitely any sort of shout-out anywhere by anyone would be really cool.
AM: Is there any question I should have asked or any comments you would like more people to know about Geographic Honors Society?
AO: Nationwide we have five scholarships available. One for graduates and four for undergraduates. They are open every year for application in the Fall so if someone’s looking for financial aid, come on down.
I don’t know if people from our area have gotten that scholarship but I do know we’ve won an award nation-wide for doing a bunch of volunteer work [and] more than the other chapters.