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Geography student Dylan King stands in front of a mapSenior geography major Dylan King, of Manitowoc, loves maps.

King’s passion for maps led him to declare a major in physical geography and a minor in geology at the  University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, opening opportunities for research, presentations and an internship in the geography and urban planning department.

Through a faculty/student collaborative research grant funded by the Oshkosh Student Scholarly and Creative Activities Program (OSSCAP), King had the opportunity to travel to Kansas with Mark Bowen, UWO assistant professor of geography.

Bowen and King spent two weeks in Kansas this summer studying playas. A playa is a geographic feature recognized as a depression in arid or semiarid areas that fills with rainwater and slowly drains into the groundwater or evaporates.

While in Kansas, King and Bowen surveyed playas to create a comprehensive map and database of all playas and lunettes, which are dunes associated with a playa, in western Kansas.

“My research has shown that Kansas has many more playas than previously thought. I inventoried  approximately 22,000 playas and previous estimates were close to 10,000,” Bowen said. “My research has direct implications for Kansas farmers and indirect implications for everyone that eats. Kansas is one of the top five produces for many crops including wheat, corn, sorghum, milo and beef. If you ate today, you probably ate something from Kansas.”

Bowen said his research is showing that playas provide important groundwater recharge for a region that is highly dependent upon groundwater for irrigation. Without playas, the aquifers would have long dried out and Kansas would not be able to produce nearly as much food, which would drive food prices up for everyone.
“Dylan has been assisting me on a project examining the impacts of environmental change on playas’ ability to provide groundwater recharge and looking at conservation strategies to protect and improve playa functions for the future,” Bowen said.
Professor Mark Bowen and student Dylan King conduct research in Kansas using land surveying equipmentThrough research, students get to apply their classroom knowledge to real-world problems, Bowen said.”Research is also the best way to acquire essential skills that you wouldn’t necessarily get in a classroom setting,” Bowen said. “It also provides the student with an opportunity to work one-on-one with a professor, which helps them learn to discuss and develop ideas with an ‘expert’ in a low-pressure, informal atmosphere.”

King said he gained experience using surveying equipment while in Kansas, and is using geographical information systems (GIS) to map the playas using the data he and Bowen collected in Kansas for the database.

“Working with GIS outside of the classroom while I am taking GIS classes really helps me be more familiar with and practice with the software, even before we cover it in class,” King said. “I recommend all students look into doing research with faculty—it’s really a great experience.”

“Research empowers students, increases their confidence and certainly makes them more employable,” Bowen said.

In addition to participating in a research project, King said Bowen also is a mentor and motivator.

“Having professor Mark Bowen as a mentor and adviser has really helped me stay motivated and has helped guide me to my emphasis in physical geography,” King said. “It’s encouraging to have an adviser who shares similar passions, as well as a mentor to work on projects and research with, and now as my STEP internship supervisor.”

In his Student Titan Employment Program (STEP) internship, which provides funding for internships aimed at giving UW Oshkosh students high-impact, campus-based opportunities in their area of study, King works as a tutor for Geography 221 and assists with various GIS projects.

Student Dylan King sits in front of a computer with two screens compiling data for a geography database of playas“STEP is great because, in this case, Dylan gets to take on a responsibility typically reserved for instructors,” Bowen said. “Dylan is helping me to prepare weekly classroom laboratory exercises. He also works directly with students in my course, acting as a tutor and mentor. Dylan is not sure if he wants to become a professor or not, so he is getting a taste of what it’s like.”

King is a great ambassador for the department through his research and working as a STEP intern, Bowen said.

“The opportunities the geography department has provided me with, like presenting my research at the Association of American Geographers (AAG) conference, doing research with a faculty member, tutoring and now an internship really prepare me for applying for graduate school,” King said. “It’s really showing me what areas of research I like and helping shape my future research.”

Bowen, who earned a doctorate in geography from the University of Kansas in 2011, studies the role of changing environments on geomorphic forms and processes. He directs the Soils Research Laboratory, located in Sage Hall, Room 4456.

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