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Retiring Geography Prof Howard Stafford Broadens His Horizons

The UC geography department says "farewell" to part of its quiet infrastructure with the retirement of long-time faculty member Howard Stafford.

Date: 9/7/2004 8:00:00 AM
By: Wendy Beckman
Phone: (513) 556-1826
Photos By: Dottie Stover
UC ingot Industrial geographer Joseph Russell once called Howard Stafford “one of those Iowa numbers boys.” Stafford might still consider himself a “numbers boy,” perhaps, but Cincinnati is proud to claim Stafford as one of its “numbers boys.” Stafford has always been interested in geography, starting as a young man with his scrutinizing the front pages of the newspaper during World War II to look at the pictures of the Pacific islands.

“When I first got my driver’s license I would go shopping with my mother,” Stafford admits. “I mostly looked at the labels of products to see where they were manufactured.”

Howard Stafford formally started his graduate career in Iowa in 1955, studying under H.H. McCarty, a renowned economic geographer. Stafford began teaching for UC, just a few years after geography and geology had split apart. (It’s not the first time that geologists have found themselves in the middle of a rift; look at plate tectonics.) When Howard Stafford retires after the spring quarter in 2005, he will have been with UC for 40 years.

“I’ve been in school since I was six years old,” Stafford says. “I figure it’s time to get out.”

Stafford’s down-to-earth, self-deprecating sense of humor is evident even in his academic publishing, a genre that is not generally known for its user-friendly writing. “As by now obvious, this essay is seriously biased,” he wrote in the inaugural issue of The Industrial Geographer. “…[It] by no means reflects a very broad purview of industrial geography around the world. Also, there is no attempt to provide a literature review. The references cited are merely to support or illustrate my points. Many more worthy contributions are neglected than cited, so if your favorites are not here attribute it to my poor memory….”

Professor Howard Stafford's fondest memories are of working with exceptional students

Despite his alleged poor memory, Stafford’s recollections of his years with UC sparkle with memories of the students with whom he has worked.

“It’s been fun working with the students,” he says. Stafford has taught many subjects, especially courses in vocational theory, research design, and undergraduate economic geography. Economic geography is the study of distribution of resources.

“Virtually all economic geography is urban economic geography,” says Stafford. “— predominantly industrial location and regional economic development.” Stafford was one of the earliest economic geographers to look at the location of manufacturing through the eyes of manufacturers. He wrote the book on it — really: Principles of Industrial Facility Location. Stafford is currently involved in work with the Hamilton County Regional Planning Commission regarding a clusters strategy for economic development.

Stafford leads by example in community involvement

Geography department chair Roger Selya applauds Stafford’s community orientation. “He has sought out opportunities to serve the community and fostered an environment where other faculty have felt that [they] could be similarly engaged and have their work valued,” says Selya.

Stafford is part of the collaborative team for UC’s Joint Center for Geographic Information Systems and Spatial Analysis (GISSA). GISSA consists of faculty from the Department of Geography and School of Planning, in collaboration with faculty from other academic units, such as architecture, the business school, biology, computer science, environmental engineering, environmental health, the Institute of Policy Research, and the colleges of Medicine and Business, and the College of Education, Criminal Justice and Human Services. Two of the stated objectives of the GISSA Center are to provide consulting services for the application of GIS and spatial analysis in environmental studies, urban and regional planning, and locational analysis for government and business and to promote coordination of GIS activities at UC with GIS networks being established by local governments and utility companies in the Greater Cincinnati region. GIS/Remote Sensing is offered as a degree by UC’s geography department and is one of the hot topics among geographers today. In fact, Stafford was instrumental in establishing the GIS center at UC. As he said in his Industrial Geographer paper, “A high proportion of students want to link their work to the use of Geographic Information Systems.”

When asked about his achievements while at the University of Cincinnati, Stafford again looks to the students.

“It has been my pleasure to hood five PhDs in the last two years,” he says with a smile. Colleague and former student Colleen McTague appreciated Stafford's leadership enough to return after graduation to teach for the department.

"Professor Stafford has the rare ability to simultaneously sustain an active top-rate research agenda, mentor and intellectually challenge graduate students, and provide a stimulating classroom atmosphere buzzing with academic excitement," says McTague. "He goes the extra mile for all of his students. He always has been a terrific role model and I can never thank him enough."

Stafford has been a fixture in the geography department for 40 years

Selya also notes Stafford’s commitment to the faculty as well. “He has been an ideal role model, taking on new teaching challenges (such as the intro to GIS or resource conservation), never shirking responsibility (he has served on the University Senate and on more committees and review committees than I can count; he agreed to serve as acting head on numerous occasions after he stepped down as head), and acting as a concerned and sensitive mentor to untenured faculty,” says Selya. “Howard has been a voice of reason and a source of sage advice over the years. He has seen to it that we have kept our goals in focus.”

After next summer, Howard’s goals might be a little softer. His general plans including “flitting” around Maryland, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Ohio to visit his five children and step-children and nine grandchildren.

“I know I’m supposed to have a goal,” he says. “I’ve left open my horizons.”

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