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Dr. Steve Birdsall has officially retired, but Geographers have been delighted that he remains active, teaching and mentoring students and keeping his office door open for visitors to stop in to say hello. After learning about funding gaps that left students unable to meet their basic living needs and focus on their research, he decided to take action. He generously funded what has now been minted the “Birdsall Graduate Student Summer Fellowship”, a boost to three fantastic students in the summer of 2017.

Dr. Birdsall poses for a photo with 2017 fellowship recipients (from left) Mark Ortiz, Michelle Padley and Karly Schmidt-Simard


Says recipient Mark Ortiz, “Although I applied diligently for summer funding from numerous external and internal sources throughout the year, I found myself entering the summer with no funding and was preparing to find a job that would have distracted from my research, a situation I know many of my graduate student colleagues have also faced. The department’s summer fellowship was a lifeline that allowed me to travel to Oregon for intensive fieldwork and deepen my partnership with Our Children’s Trust, one of the organizations that is the focus of my PhD project. Since receiving the summer award, I have been named a Druscilla French Graduate Fellow and a Graduate Public Scholar by the Humanities for the Public Good Initiative at UNC. I attribute this recent success directly to Dr. Birdsall’s generosity.”


Recipient Karly Schmidt-Simard attributed the fellowship to her ability complete a pilot study on moisture source patterns in the Pacific Northwest when a teaching opportunity that she had been counting on fell through at the last minute due to low enrollment. The fellowship also helped Michelle Padley do her work in Durham, where she studies the Low Income Housing Tax Credit program. She used the support to pay rent, utilities, and even buy a couple weeks of groceries while she attended community events and meetings related to local housing issues to inform her unfolding project. As a graduate student early in studies, there was very little funding that I qualified for,” said Padley.

Faculty and students alike are thrilled to hear that the fellowship will be available again this year. For his part, Prof. Birdsall is delighted with the outcome, “My life in the department has been greatly enriched for decades through interactions with many bright and dedicated graduate students. I am very pleased to help them in this way now. I only wish I’d been able to start earlier and do even more.”


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