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Featured fellow: Jean Andrey

As a child, Jean Andrey was fascinated by how the farmers near her hometown in Ontario’s Bruce County made endless decisions based on and around the weather. From waiting out rainstorms before planting crops to rushing to get a wagon of hay under cover as a thunderstorm rolled in, weather ruled the lives of the people with whom she grew up. And now, in a way, it rules hers.

“I think it was that love of the land and that love of watching society try to interact with nature through the business of farming for a living that made me think geography was holistic,” says Andrey, who, as a professor in the department of geography and environmental management at the University of Waterloo, in Waterloo, Ont., now spends her days researching the interaction between weather and society, whether it’s studying road maintenance in winter in Canada or the implications of climate change on road safety.

Andrey, who has been a Fellow of The Royal Canadian Geographical Society since 2011 and is president of the Canadian Association of Geographers, decided to study geography after finishing high school because she was interested in exploring the relationship between nature and society. But there were other influences as well.

“I had a great teacher who had travelled the world and who explained to us that you can use all kinds of techniques to study the Earth — everything from models and measurement all the way through to observations,” says Andrey. “That’s when I realized that with geography, I could do all the science and math I wanted while discovering the world.”

In turn, Andrey has spent her 23 years at the university trying to inspire others. She’s even collaborated on the creation of a new course, first offered in 2005, to help first-year students get excited about geography, letting them work outdoors and discover different geographic techniques and shaping them into the type of thinkers Andrey says she needs at the end of first-year studies.

When she’s teaching, Andrey says she tries to look at material from the students’ perspective then presents it in a way that makes sense for everyone. That approach has won her numerous honours, the most recent of which was the Women of Waterloo Region award in the education category. Her teaching has also earned high praise from her students and even a marriage proposal, complete with a large sign propped up in the middle of a lecture.

Proposals aside, Andrey believes the best part of teaching geography is listening to students ask questions. “I watch as they discover things about the planet, their city or their regions and think that it helps them become engaged citizens,” she says. “It opens up the world to them.”

— Michelle LePage

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