Graduate School of Geography

Marie Anselm talks about her experience as a geography major.

An internship with the Regional Environmental Council in Worcester helped launch Marie's research into small-scale organic farming.

Did you know that you wanted to study geography when you came to Clark?

Marie: No, I had no idea. I was looking for a small liberal arts school because I had no idea what I wanted my major to be. I took a freshman seminar that happened to be a geography course, and it just really clicked. But it wasn't until sophomore year, when I was registering for classes, that I realized every course I wanted to take was geography. From there it's been a really easy, straight-forward decision.

Who taught the freshman seminar?

Marie: James Murphy, and he's now my advisor. We've been together the whole time. He's really great.

What do you like about the geography department?

Marie: As far as Geography goes, it's a great department, I know that I'm totally biased, but I love the staff. They're all just fabulous, not only academically, but they're all very approachable, easy to work with. I know very few schools where there is such an opportunity for undergraduates to be really involved in their departments. I can rattle off a whole list of professors who hire undergraduates to do research with them and have undergraduate programs with them. And talking to friend at other schools, I don't think you find that very often. So, it's really a great department to be involved with.

Could you tell me about your senior thesis in geography?

Marie: Sure. If you qualify you get the opportunity to do a senior thesis in the geography department, which for me has been a really great experience. I've found that all the faculty at Clark are really good about engaging students and letting them pursue their own interests. I know with my advisor, Professor Murphy, I went to him and said I'd really like to do this on organic farming, and that's always been my interest, so he let me go with it and it's been a really great experience. All year I've been able to research organic farms in Massachusetts, and go to different conferences, and it's really opened up a lot of opportunities for me.

For my thesis I looked at the viability of organic farming for Massachusetts small-scale farmers. I looked at how the globalization and industrialization of commercial trends have affected local, small-scale organic farmers that now have to compete with larger wholesalers. It's really put me in touch with a lot of people, not just people at Clark, but at the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources and local farmers and it's been really exciting. It was really nice to have people support my work.

I believe you also worked for the Regional Environmental Council (REC) in Worcester?

Marie: Yes. I got a geography department fellowship that enabled me to work at REC as farm market coordinator for a pilot program they did. And we were able to get funding to do the program again next year, which is exciting. The experience was a great base for starting my thesis.

What was the pilot program about?

Marie: The goal was to start an urban market that was accessible to the Main South community in Worcester of which Clark is a part. We contacted farms from all over Massachusetts and worked with different branches of Worcester government to see where we could have the market, and if we could get funds to support it. We got an EBT terminal that would accept food stamps, so it was accessible to more urban people than it might have been otherwise. We held it on a weekend so the average person could show up. It was a really big success. We had people from all over the community and it was really fun.

What for you are the advantages of participating in research as compared to learning in a more traditional classroom setting?

Marie: Hands down, doing your own research is so fulfilling on a personal level: taking something you're passionate about and going to the next level. Instead of farming and buying local just being a side interest of mine, being able to delve so much deeper, and being supported doing that, was just incredible. I was lucky enough to go to the American Association of Geographers conference in Las Vegas this year, and the department covered my travel expenses.

What are you planning to do this summer after you graduate?

Marie: I'll be working on a heritage farm in Ohio doing outreach and helping them run some of their programs. The programs are designed to show the public how farms run, and get people more in touch with local farms and food systems and what actually goes into producing food.