Geographical Sciences PhD Graduate Addressed Graduates During BSOS Commencement May 22
This geographer has a special passion: introducing students to the field of geography.
Hoffman-Hall graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a bachelor’s degree in geography before beginning her doctoral program with the Department of Geographical Sciences (GEOG) in 2012.
Since beginning at the University of Maryland, Hoffman-Hall has worked as an Adjunct Professor with Towson University teaching introductory-level geography classes, and taught four courses at the University of Maryland.
“I really try to introduce students to geography, what it means to be a geographer, and what it means to be a global, big picture thinker, she said. “That’s what my field is all about.”
But Hoffman-Hall pointed out that her field was not just hers alone — there are synergies within the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences that allow each academic experience to overlay with so many others. In 2013, she planned a BRIDGES conference where graduate students in the College had an opportunity to share and compare their research.
“I’d be looking at a posterboard of someone who was doing criminology research and see this really dynamic map,” she said. “I’d ask and they’d tell me they used the ArcGIS program, which we teach in the Department. Noticing those similarities is what brings us all together.”
Since 2016, Hoffman-Hall has also served as an Undergraduate Advising Coordinator, helping between 150 and 300 GEOG students navigate their education at the University.
In addition to all her work supporting BSOS students, Hoffman-Hall has been finishing up her thesis entitled, “Interdisciplinary Geospatial Assessment of Malaria Exposure in Ann Township, Myanmar.”
“I’m thrilled to be graduating,” she said. “I owe so much of my success to the women in STEM that are on my dissertation committee. I’m so proud of the work I, with their assistance, have put together.”
The journey hasn’t always been an easy one for Hoffman-Hall.
Hoffman-Hall originally began a thesis on the topic of a pathogen called Phytophthora cinnamomi in northeastern US forests, which she worked on for five years before her data became unviable. As she juggled work, research, and homelife, Hoffman-Hall wanted to quit. She says it was her academic advisor who talked her out of it.
“She told me if I quit that would be a shame, because I can do this. Having someone in your corner that believes in you in that way… I really hope every student at UMD has had a staff member say that, that they believe in them,” she said. “If they haven’t, they can come see me.”
Hoffman-Hall says it was this struggle that led her to her current thesis topic, focused on the relationship between land cover, land use, human behavior, and malaria in Myanmar. The country of Myanmar has reduced malaria by 82% since 2012, but the final patches are proving difficult for the country to locate.
“What makes someone vulnerable to malaria? What are the similarities between those who still have it? What does that mean for elimination strategies within the country?”
Using data collected through remote sensing and satellite imagery analysis, and from a team of medical researchers at Duke University and in the ground in Myanmar, Hoffman-Hall has set out to answer these questions.
“The new research direction I went in is just so fulfilling. I’m so excited to share my results with everyone during my defense,” she said. “I didn’t let this pretty epic failure define the rest of my life. I was brave enough to keep going, and it got me here. “
On May 22, Hoffman-Hall will share her knowledge with students and peers once again as her eight-year doctoral journey comes to a close, and she addresses the graduating class of 2020.
While sad that she will not be able to read off the names of the graduating GEOG students as she usually does, Hoffman-Hall says she hopes graduates know just how proud she is of what they have accomplished.
“Virtually, we’ll all be together on that day.”
While Hoffman-Hall’s journey as a doctoral student will come to a close, her work with the University will not. Hoffman-Hall will be starting as the Director of Undergraduate Studies for the Department of Geographical Sciences on June 1. And this fall, she will be teaching another freshman-level geography course where she will be able to continue doing what she loves — introducing students to the field of geographical sciences.