Six alumni who graduated from UCR’s Geography Department in the 1970s have established a scholarship for students in the College of Natural and Agricultural Sciences. Awarded for the first time this year, the Geographers Scholarship for Global Change Science and Sustainability aims to support students focused on studying and resolving global climate change, either in science or policy. 

Although the alumni had varying careers, the scholarship represents their shared interest in human sustainability in a changing world. Professors Charles Hutchinson and Mike Pasqualetti work on this issue through teaching and research at the University of Arizona and Arizona State University, respectively, while James Huning retired from a managerial position at the National Science Foundation. Richard VanCuren retired as a research professor at UC Davis and Don Chambers retired as director of consulting services for Esri, a leading Geographic Information Systems (GIS) software company. Last of the six alumni is David Nichols, who retired in 2015 as assistant director of Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Engineering and Science Directorate. 

In regards to the scholarship, Nichols expressed, “We wanted to do something to recognize the excellent education we received at UCR. We are also very proud of UCR both in terms of its academic status and as an institution that plays a role in supporting students from diverse backgrounds.” Nichols and his fellow alumni went their separate ways after graduate school but their professional lives remained connected, and when they were reunited in Anza Borrego State Park, they discussed how they could assist their alma mater in a substantial manner.

The six geographers pledged $40,000 initially, which soon grew to $100,000. A matching grant was also provided through UCR’s Beyond Brilliant student fundraising initiative, leading the scholarship fund to now be more than $220,000. Currently, the Geographers Scholarship for Global Change Science and Sustainability provides annual awards of $5,000 to 10,000 to senior undergraduates and graduate students from a variety of disciplines, administered through UCR’s Environmental Dynamics and GeoEcology (EDGE) Institute. 

Nichols continued to explain how in the 1970s, UCR’s Geography Department was at the forefront of automated cartography, the production of maps using computers rather than manual methods. For Nichols and many other students, this created opportunities to work with Esri which was then a fledgling company. Nichols worked part-time for Esri while still a UCR student and then became a research associate. “Automated cartography led to the birth of GIS. I did a lot of work developing very early software related to GIS and producing the products that Esri used.”

This year, the first four recipients were named: Rebecca Crust, a doctoral student in the Department of Plant Pathology; James Gomez, a doctoral student in Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences; and Alyssa Valdez and Aral Greene, both doctoral students in the Department of Environmental Sciences.

To support the Geographers Scholarship, click here. To learn more about setting up a scholarship or about UCR’s Beyond Brilliant campaign, please contact DuBron Rabb at