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Member Spotlight

Courtney Wehner

When I think about Geography Education, I think of adventure, travel, exploration, and observation. We begin to realize this world is so much more than just ourselves and our tiny existence. That is what I try to teach my students. As an elementary teacher, I truly feel that is where geographic education has to begin.

As a child, I fondly remember my history and geography lessons about the world and having to memorize all of the countries in Europe, Asia, and Africa. It was exciting to make topography maps of the United States and dreaming about the places I could go.

After entering the Education program at Western Oregon University, I was sitting in my “How to Teach Social Studies” class with my professor, Judy Lowry. She was an acting member of the Oregon Alliance and was urging us to find a love of geography and share that with our students. She introduced me to the Center for Geography Education in Oregon (C-GEO). As a pre-service teacher and a new member of the Alliance, I was accepted into my first institute where we traveled to Nova Scotia, Prince Edwards Island, and Newfoundland. I remember sitting in the van as we traveled all over the area, talking with the other teachers about our shared love of geography. I was planning on starting my master’s program right after I graduated, but couldn’t decide if I should get a reading endorsement, or focus on what interested me most–geography. It was when sitting in that van that I knew it would be geography.

Over the years I have been very active in my alliance. Our coordinators, Teresa Bulman, Gwenda Rice, and now Ken Carano, gave me the opportunity to travel with them to Turkey, as well as participate in other local institutes. Presenting at the yearly GEOfest allows me to represent geography at an elementary level. I have also had the pleasure of piloting our Alliance’s new Geography Activity book, geared towards Pre K-3, and plan to use their 4th-6th grade activity book this coming school year. Having worked with C-GEO on developing our Spanish version of the Oregon Student Atlas, and coordinating my school’s Family Geography Night has given me an avenue to spread Geography Awareness. Presenting for the National Council for Geographic Education in Seattle gave me the opportunity to meet highly engaging and dedicated people in our field. It prompted me to continue my involvement with the Oregon Alliance, and soon I became an active board member. Most recently, C-GEO sent me to Denver, Colorado to participate in an institute held by National Geographic. The focus was Giant State Traveling Maps and how to use them in our elementary classrooms.

My love of geography has changed my personal and professional paths. I have been given opportunities that I would not have otherwise been given. As an elementary teacher, I get to open my students’ eyes to the world around them and instill the love of exploration all the while meeting the Common Core State Standards. When talking with pre-service teachers, I cannot stress enough how it is our duty to teach our students what is necessary to become responsible and functioning members of our society. Geography and the other social sciences are a way to do that. We must prepare them for the global world we live in.

Courtney Wehner