Sunlake High teacher lands geography fellowship

In her AP Human Geography classes, Sunlake High School teacher Anne Cullison strives to “lift the veil” on what the world is really like.

She often tells her students: “Everything is geography, and geography is everything.”

The local educator soon will get a chance to broaden her knowledge and add to her kit of tools for teaching.

She is one of just 50 teachers nationwide selected as a 2019 American Geographical Society (AGS) Teacher Fellow. This is the second time she has been selected for the honor. The first time was in 2016.

Sunlake High School social studies teacher Anne Cullison was recently named a 2019 American Geographical Society (AGS) Teacher Fellow. She is one of just 50 teachers nationwide selected to the year-long fellowship program. (File)

The AGS fellowship is a year-long professional development opportunity that enables geography teachers to incorporate open source mapping into their classrooms. It also provides supplementary resources and materials.

As part of this year’s fellowship, Cullison will attend the AGS Fall Symposium in Nov. 21 and Nov. 22, at Columbia University in New York City.

The symposium, titled “Geography 2050: Borders and a Borderless World,” gives the fellows an opportunity to interact with geography and geospatial leaders from across the country. They also receive professional training in open source mapping.

Samantha Power, U.S Ambassador to the United Nations under President Barack Obama (2013-17), will be the keynote speaker.

Other scheduled speakers include National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency director Robert Sharp and Nada Bakos, a former CIA analyst and targeting officer who was instrumental in tracking down Osama bin Laden and other terrorist figures.

Cullison, in her seventh year at Sunlake, is eager to learn and network with fellow educators and professionals “who actually work in the field that I’m teaching about.

“I really enjoy getting to listen to people who are so incredibly knowledgeable of that real-world application side of what we actually do — what I spend my days talking about,” Cullison said.

She also appreciates being selected for the honor.

“It feels great. It’s a great way to feel recognized for working hard with kids to get them to see the world in a different way,” Cullison said.

She now teaches about 170 students across five AP Human Geography classes.

Coursework in her class goes far beyond simply labeling areas on a map and learning the basics of other cultures, she explained. It attempts to answer the what, where and why of human patterns, and the social and environmental consequences of that.

She put it like this: “It’s more about, ‘Why are some countries successful and others aren’t? Why are there people starving in some places and some places aren’t? Why do some people practice one religion and then others something else, and how does that affect the politics, the culture and languages they speak and everything?’”

In essence, she said, it enables her students “to see the world in a different way.”

Before arriving at Sunlake, Cullison taught social studies at Rushe and Pine View middle schools, in Land O’ Lakes.

Cullison studied political science at the University of Central Florida and University of South Florida.

Her first teaching experience came during an internship with the U.S. Department of Defense’s Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies in Washington D.C.

There, she was tasked with educating Middle Eastern government and military officials on American foreign policy in that region.

The experience, she said, “gave me the first touch of, ‘I really like teaching. I want to be able to help people understand where (other) people are coming from.’”

She said it also helped her to gain insight on why other peoples’ perspectives are sometimes different.

Cullison is eager to use the fellowship to introduce more open source mapping tools in her classroom.

Open source mapping is a collaborative volunteer project to create better, digital maps available of an area, specifically in less developed nations.

Cullison said the program is particularly useful for search and recovery efforts after natural disasters.

It allows first responders “to see what something is or was” in destroyed areas — whether it be schools, homes, buildings, roads and so on, she said.

“It’s really all about being able to identify and locate, and mark what computers can’t do,” the educator said.

Two years ago, her classes utilized the mapping program to aid humanitarians and first responders in Puerto Rico, in the wake of Hurricane Maria.

It helped in the search and recovery efforts to find people who had been injured by the natural disaster, or those who had not survived, she said.

Published Oct. 2, 2019

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