Meet a Social Scientist: Dr. Ponder from Human Geography.

What is your name?
Dr. Sage Ponder.

What kind of work do you do in the College?
I am an assistant professor in the Geography Department at The Florida State University. I teach, do research and engage in service in the department, profession and community.

Why did you decide to become an academic?

There was a particular course I took as a junior at Portland State University that was the clear catalyst for me deciding to continue with graduate studies. The course was called “Institutional Economics”. Admittedly this is probably the least interesting name ever for a class. It wasn’t about studying businesses though as I had initially assumed, but rather had to do with understanding the influence of social and cultural “institutions” on the economy. It quickly became the first time in my educational experience that I was excited to attend every lecture, and it provided a perspective on the world that I use to this day in my research and teaching. It was hugely influential for my intellectual development as a scholar. Around that time that I also began imagining what it would be like to pass along that type of knowledge to students myself. (Incidentally, I happen to be doing just that in my economic geography course.)

What do you find most fulfilling about your job?
I am a first-generation grad student, and I originally decided to pursue graduate studies because I had this idea that it would be kind of cool to earn a living teaching people about this other way of studying the economy. About halfway through my PhD however, I was having a hard time. Graduate studies can be one of the more challenging things people take on in life, and a mentor told me around that time that “the reasons you enter your doctoral studies will not be the same reasons you decide to finish them”. I was having a hard time understanding how my getting a graduate degree could help improve the social and economic conditions for the people and places I cared about. The reason I had originally entered a doctoral program – looking for an interesting and stable means of making a living myself – no longer seemed good enough. When I was doing my dissertation field work in Jackson, Mississippi I confided this to another friend there who told me that it’s my job to “go as far as you can and take your communities with you”.  Being a faculty member at a research intensive university like Florida State means that you have to split your time between teaching and research, and while it’s true that I find a lot of fulfillment in teaching students different ways to think about the economy, I have found that using my research position to study the issues important to the people and places I care about is equally important. Both aspects are integral to finding fulfillment in this job.

What are you working on or teaching right now that has your excited professionally?
Well, anytime I get to teach economic geography is a favorite for me and I happen to be doing that this semester. In terms of my research projects, I’m currently working with a colleague in the department, Dr. Sandy Wong, and two UROP students to understand how Covid-19 data reporting problems impact working and caring conditions within nursing homes. We hope to be able to offer policy recommendations for improving data pipeline management and communications between federal and local governments and facilities, therefore improving health and safety protocols for both residents and care home workers. Another collaborative project I am a part of recently received a little bit of funding to bring together researchers from all over the world who are studying how cities are financing their climate change strategies and how this can be more equitable. Finding the money to become resilient is a serious issue facing many frontline communities globally, so I hope that useful policy recommendations will be an outcome of this project as well. Both of these projects are in beginning stages, but I am really excited to be working on them. 

You can learn more about Dr. Ponder’s work here.

Dr. Ponder is an assistant professor of geography at Florida State University. Dr. Ponder specifically studies municipal debt, urban social reproduction, infrastructure, geographies of racialization, among other topics. You can learn more about Dr. Ponder’s research here.

The feature image is from Pexels.

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