Kenneth C. Martis’ passion for teaching is just one of the many reasons that he was chosen as the 2014 recipient of the Regional Research Institute’s Miernyk Award for Career Scholarly Achievement.
The Miernyk Award was established at the institute’s 25th anniversary celebration in honor of Professor Emeritus William H. Miernyk, who founded and directed the institute from its establishment in 1965 until his retirement in 1983.
The award recognizes individuals whose careers have been marked by sustained scholarly productivity, dedication to doctoral students, service to scholarly organizations and enduring commitment to the institute and to WVU.
“Without question, Dr. Martis — who is internationally renowned for his work — embodies all of these criteria,” said Randall Jackson, director of the Regional Research Institute. “He has worked tirelessly to remedy the geographic illiteracy that is pervasive throughout the U.S. and the world.”
In fact, the most recent National Geographic-Roper Survey of Geographic Literacy poll shows that nearly 30 percent of young adults couldn’t identify Louisiana on a map and 50 percent couldn’t identify New York despite worldwide coverage of Hurricane Katrina and 9/11. Many couldn’t even point out the Pacific Ocean.
“With his interdisciplinary and collaborative research, outstanding record of publications throughout his entire career, and his long commitment to the Regional Research Institute, Professor Martis is the ideal recipient of the Miernyk Award for Career Scholarly Achievement.”
Learning facts and figures isn’t what will overcome geographic illiteracy Dr. Martis explains. Instead, he said “help the students see that geography is not only a body of knowledge, but theories, lawful-deductive explanations, fieldwork, interviews, data gathering, data analysis, and predictions.”
One of Martis’ many teaching tenets is the idea of “positive geography.” Martis often teaches about global warming, acid rain, natural disasters, biomagnification, and cancer and the environment, global hunger, genocide and war.
But the lessons aren’t all doom and gloom.
“Positive teaching not only reports the good things happening in the environment and world affairs, and what works in environmental and social science, but also provides prescriptions to change the not-so-good things,” Martis said. “All my courses end with hope. With hope a student can change themselves and the world.”
Martis earned a bachelor’s in secondary education from the University of Toledo, a master’s in geography from San Diego State University and a doctorate in geography from the University of Michigan.
He has been on the faculty of WVU s Department of Geology and Geography since 1975 and won the first WVU Benedum Distinguished Scholar Award in 1986.
He has published seven award-winning historical atlases, all of which blend history, political science and geography to give a unique analysis and picture of America’s political history.
His book, The Historical Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections: 1788- 2004,is the first book in American history to map the election results from every county in every presidential election in the United States.
In 2006, the atlas was named Best Single Volume Reference in Humanities or Social Sciences by the Professional and Scholarly Publishing Division of the Association of American Publishers. It was also selected for inclusion in the Library Journals 2006 Best Reference List.
“Ken Martis is a very worthy recipient of the distinguished Miernyk Award. His many publications, presentations, and national awards have established his international reputation as a leading scholar in the mapping and geographical analysis of the electoral history of the United States. His reputation as a scholar is only equaled by his outstanding qualities as a teacher as witnessed by his award as West Virginia Professor of the Year in 2007. His commitment to the state of West Virginia, to WVU, to his discipline and to his students represent the essential qualities of a Miernyk awardee. This award is very well deserved and a wonderful accolade and recognition of his distinguished career.”
“I am deeply honored, humbled and grateful to be given the Miernyk Award. When I arrived at WVU in 1975, two geography professors out of five were, in part, supported by the Regional Research Institute and Dr. Miernyk. It was evident from my beginning here that Dr. Miernyk recognized that the emerging field of regional science was a melding of traditional economics and economic geography. Although my research area was neither quantitative nor economic, he recognized my work was valuable in inserting spatial aspects into not only to political geography, but also to political science and history. Even after retirement in the 1980s Bill Miernyk was a valuable reference in grant support and academic awards.”
“Over the years,” Martis continues, “the RRI seminar series has been a scholarly beacon for me, bringing renowned scholars to WVU. Dr. Jackson has carried and even intensified the inclusiveness and intellectual activities of RRI, and, in addition, his being a geographer has had many added benefits to myself and my department. All-in-all, over my career, numerous grants, scholarly meetings, international seminars, publications, and graduate and undergraduate research support came from the RRI. The RRI being at WVU has given me opportunities and advanced my career in countless ways.”