Announcing the 2021 MSU Geography Award Recipients

April 9, 2021

2021 GEO Awards

The Department of Geography, Environment, and Spatial Sciences at Michigan State University offers a hearty congratulations to all of our 2021 GEO Award recipients recognizing student academic achievement.

College of Social Science - Outstanding Senior in GEO | Ryan Snider

Ryan Snider hails from South Lyon, Michigan. He will be graduating this spring with a BS in Geographic Information Science and a minor in The City: Environment, Design, and Society. Ryan’s interest in geography comes from his love of both maps and traveling. He loves exploring and understanding the interaction between the natural and human world and believes his degree will allow him to continue to explore these relations and understand them. Ryan has been an integral member of the GEO Club. His favorite memory with the Geography Department was the opportunity to research historic sites on the Great Lakes and understand which may be vulnerable to rising lake levels. His favorite GEO professor is Ashton Shortridge. Ryan really enjoyed GEO 425, taught by Shortridge, because it allowed him to really see the potential and use of GIS to solve the world's problems in a very fun and interesting way. Congratulations, Ryan!

The de Blij Geography Scholars | Gracyn Freund and Lewis Pontz

Instituted in 2013 by Harm de Blij and supported by other major donors, the de Blij Scholars awards scholarships to promising first-year students who choose to major in Geography at Michigan State University.

Gracyn Freund is majoring in environmental geography with a concentration in atmospheric and climate science. At Michigan State University, she is working hard towards her goals to be employed at NASA or to become a meteorologist one day. Congratulations, Gracyn!

Lewis Pontz is focusing on fulfilling his dream of pursuing the atmospheric sciences to become a meteorologist. His goal is to work for NOAA and use the knowledge he is obtaining from MSU. Congratulations, Lewis!

Owen Gregg Endowment for Global Climate Change Research | Pietro Sciusco

The Owen Gregg Endowment was established in 2012 to support global climate change science research in the MSU Department of Geography. Undergraduate majors or graduate students in Geography pursuing studies that make significant progress toward understanding climate change, its causes, and impacts are eligible to apply. Pietro Sciusco is a PhD student in the Department and has received the Gregg award for two years in a row. Pietro is grateful for this award and believes this recognition is an example of the great support from the Department as it stimulates his professional and intellectual growth. He believes the current academic year looks promising, and he plans to use the award to keep making further contributions to the scientific world in terms of global climate change. Congratulations, Pietro!

Daniel Jacobson Memorial Scholarship in Cultural Geography | Dalton Castle

Dalton Castle is an undergraduate student in the Department. Dalton expressed that he was honored to even be considered for this award and is incredibly appreciative to have received it. He wishes to thank all of those who have supported him, including his friends, family, and Michigan State University. Congratulations, Dalton!

James Potchen Awards in Geography for Graduate and Undergraduate Students (Undergraduate and Graduate Student of the Year) | Benjamin Andrews and Raven Mitchell 

The E. James Potchen Award was established in 2008 by Harm de Blij to fund yearly cash awards for one outstanding graduate and one undergraduate student who has demonstrated exceptional leadership and service to the Department of Geography, Environment, and Spatial Sciences. The students will have shown remarkable professionalism and leadership skills in activities within both the department and the campus community.

Raven is a first-year PhD student in the Department. Raven is honored to be the recipient of the E. James Potchen Award. Since coming to MSU, she says it has been a joy to be embraced as a member of the geography community, and she looks forward to years of continued involvement and activity within the Department as she progresses through the PhD program. Congratulations, Raven!

Benjamin Andrews will be graduating this spring. They are very grateful and honored to have been nominated and selected for the Potchen award. Benjamin believes that working with the students and faculty of the Department has been a phenomenal learning experience and opportunity to build meaningful connections. They are looking forward to applying this award as they begin their next endeavor this fall--graduate school at the University of North Carolina. Congratulations, Benjamin!

Marjorie and Lawrence Sommers Geography Graduate Fellowship for International Research & Travel | Donald Akanga

The Marjorie and Lawrence Sommers Geography Graduate Fellowship is awarded annually for Masters or Ph.D. students to support international research and travel within the next 12 months. Donald Akanga is a PhD student in the Department. Donald is very excited to have been awarded the Marjorie and Lawrence Sommers Geography Graduate Fellowship for International Research & Travel. He believes the award will contribute to the success of his dissertation research by defraying some of the fieldwork expenses to the Greater Mau Forest Complex Ecosystem (GMFCE), Kenya. The primary data he is collecting will assess the efficacy of remote sensing and machine learning techniques as well as unravel subtle nuances in examining the nexus between land-use land-cover dynamics, climate change, and sustainable livelihoods. Congratulations, Donald!

Congratulations to all of our recipients and thank you to all who have contributed to the various Geography Department funds and scholarships. Your support helps to enhance our programs and benefit our students. If you are interested in donating to a fund or scholarship to help support our current and future Spartan Geographers, please visit