20 Dec

Kathryn Hannum I Am Geo

I am Geography

I have always acquired great joy from noticing the small details of life. Visible or invisible, the details of the spaces we inhabit are what colors our experiences. Much my worldview has been shaped from the vantage point of inside a pool. A swimmer since before I could walk, I memorized the cracked and algid tiles on the bottom of the pool, noticed the ever-changing feel of the water, and marveled at the central valley California sunsets during each evening practice. This was my life for at least two hours each day since the age of 5. In high school, I found water polo. Much to the chagrin of swimmers everywhere, we like to say that water polo is the choice for swimmers who get bored. Basically, it is an extremely aggressive and cerebral game for those who also happen to be very talented at swimming. I was in love. I went on to play water polo at the NCAA Division IA level for then nationally ranked #6 San Jose State on a full ride scholarship. Each day I was surrounded by teammates who became my best friends and family. They pushed me to be my best self. My commitment to the sport multiplied with each passing season. I was made captain my junior year, the same year that I had to choose a major and start thinking about something other than water polo.

My first year and a half at San Jose State were a jumble of “athletics approved courses”, aka classes that had a reputation of being extremely easy. Most athletes at SJSU major in communication, kinesiology, or sports nutrition, all of which I knew I was not interested in. I had no idea what to choose myself and was afraid of being pigeonholed. In order to satisfy a core requirement, I found a Geography of the US and Canada class, and on a whim, broke away from the recommendation of my athletic advisors. I quickly recognized Geography as the discipline for people who are interested in nearly everything, and want to give up nothing. By the end of the semester I had decided that Geography would be my path.

At San Jose State I was lucky enough to have a fantastic mentor who showed me the application of geography for the betterment of humanity, specifically focusing on women’s rights. Through her classes I learned about women the world over, all of whom face specific struggles and barriers. I decided to travel to come face to face with the issues I had learned about. First I went to Galicia, Spain to teach English in a small village. Later, I worked in Somaliland, Somalia, teaching English and public speaking skills to nursing staff at a hospital. After three years of confronting real-world issues, I returned to the geography classroom with the intent of earning my Ph.D. I knew I wanted to continue doing what I was doing; pursuing knowledge, traveling the world, educating myself, and hopefully passing education on to others, particularly young women, in a meaningful way. So here I am, halfway through my doctoral program, currently in Buenos Aires, Argentina, conducting research for my dissertation. Thanks to geography, I have made incredible connections and amassed a wealth of global experiences which continue to shape and re-shape my worldview. The passion and tenacity that I had through my water polo career has found an outlet in the pursuit of a career in the field of geography.