An Interview with Joseph Kerski, Co-author of “The Essentials of the Environment”

Joseph Kerski serves as Education Industry Curriculum Development Manager on the Education Team in Denver, Colorado. Coming to Esri in 2006 and joining colleagues that he has worked with and respected for more than 10 years was a “dream come true.” Prior to joining Esri, he served for 17 years as Geographer in the Education Program at the US Geological Survey, and for 4 years as Geographer at the US Census Bureau. He has taught as adjunct instructor of Geographic Information Systems at Sinte Gleska University on the Rosebud Sioux Reservation, at the University of Denver, in K-12 schools, and in on-line courses. Joseph holds three degrees in Geography, so you might say he is rather enthusiastic about studying maps, biomes, population, landforms, neighborhood change, and such. Passionate about all aspects of spatial learning, Joseph seeks and fosters educational partnerships, and conducts training in geotechnologies (Geographic Information Systems (GIS), Global Positioning Systems (GPS), and Remote Sensing for government, industry, nonprofit organizations, higher education, K-12 teachers and students, news media, and the general public. He creates curriculum focused on spatial thinking and geotechnologies in education, and conducts research in the effectiveness and implementation of these technologies in formal and informal educational settings. When not doing these things, he can usually be found at a latitude-longitude confluence, in a cave, or playing the guitar.  In this brief interview, I ask Joseph about the book he co-authored, The Essentials of the Environment.

Q: How did you get involved in this book project?

Joseph Kerski: Because so many of what I would call the “pillars” of geography and environmental studies are in the UK, I had been trying to build bridges between like-minded educational organizations between the UK and the USA. I attended the Geographical Association conferences for 4 years in a row in the UK and began collaborating with authors and professors in the promotion of GIS in education and on environmental and geographic literacy. One of the fruits of this effort was the opportunity to collaborate on the Essentials of the Environment book.

Q: Was the goal to create a kind of “encyclopedia of the environment,” or was it more focused on finding solutions to the big environmental problems we’re facing today?

Kerski: One of my central career goals is to reach beyond “preaching to the choir” to those outside our circle of colleagues and perhaps even outside of our comfort zone. In the case of the Essentials of the Environment, I had the opportunity to do just that—to explain and illustrate some of the key concepts about the environment to those who would be unlikely to attend a geography or environmental education conference or read a journal in the subject. I wanted each concept to be readily understood but I also wanted to dig deeper than a typical newspaper article, so that when people did hear about climate change or sustainable agriculture in the news, they would be able to investigate those topics in the book.

Q: How has the book been received?

Kerski: One of the themes running through the book is to think critically about issues and investigate all sides of each issue. We have made choices as a society about the environment and need a wide variety of skills and people to steer us into the future. These people will need to use GIS, GPS, and remote sensing, and other tools, they will need to be able to work with data, they will need to deal with uncertainty, and they will need to think creatively and spatially. The book has been received well because one thing we tried hard to do is to be positive. Yes, we have wreaked much havoc in our world, but people and organizations have also done much good for the environment, and I have hope that we can continue to work toward a sustainable future.

Q: What’s next for you?

Kerski: I am working on research in the effectiveness and implementation of GIS in education, developing GIS-based curricula, partnering with organizations to promote spatial analysis and GIS throughout the educational system, and conducting professional development in GIS for educators at all levels. I am involved in several book projects, including a book about solving problems with public domain data and GIS, a book on progress in GIS in secondary education internationally, and a book on applications of GIS in tribal colleges and tribal governments.