Bob Kates: The Man, The Myth, The Legend


To most people, the name Robert K. Kates doesn't ring a bell. To geographers however----quite frankly he's "the man". While it's important to understand where Kates is in his life right now, it's also crucial to understand how the man has gotten to this point in his life. Robert Kates, or Bob for short, was born in Brooklyn, New York on January 31, 1929. Kates remained a New Yorker until he met the love of his life and moved to Indiana. While most tend to not go this route, Bob actually never earned a bachelor's degree. While he did attend New York University from 1946-48, he never finished his undergraduate Economics degree. After dropping out of college, he made the trek to Indiana and started work in a steel mill. While visiting a state park in Indiana, he happened to bump into a naturalist and this meeting sparked his interest in educating young people. Because he had a full-time job at the steel mill, he enrolled in night classes at the University of Indiana to pursue his aspirations as a school teacher. While talking to an advisor, Bob really hadn't decided where he would focus his attention. After taking quite a few general electives, he managed to find himself in a geography class. With a spark of interest, he decided to pursue this subject. After spending more time in the world of geography, he happened to meet a man by the name of Gilbert White at the University of Chicago. After making this vital connection, Kates was able to get through his MA and earn his PhD in Geography----and the rest is history. 



So how does a college student like me become so interested in a man I had never heard of prior to a few weeks ago? After spending a weekend at the New England St. Lawrence Valley Geographical Society (NESTVAL) Conference at the University of Maine at Farmington, I found myself intertwined in a weekend full of education, competition, displays of expertise, and a newfound understanding of geography. The highlight of the weekend was was a plenary session with Bob Kates. A plenary session I thought to myself----interesting. So before the event even started I had already whipped out the smartphone to google what a plenary session was. After vast research and an introduction by the mediator Matthew McCourt, I soon realized that rather than Bob giving a speech, this meeting was set up in a way that it would be more of a discussion among the audience, Bob, and Matthew. Dr. Katherine Foster, the new President of the University of Maine Farmington, had the privilege to introduce one of the most important men in geography (and the crowd was also pretty excited to find out that Kate had a degree in geography).  As the session soon began, it became very apparent that everyone there was alert and ready to embrace some real knowledge about geography (I soon felt out of place as I was just about the only one there without a notebook taking notes).


With the plenary session in full swing, it soon became apparent that I was listening to a man who had not only revolutionized geography, but a man who truly understood what it takes to get things done and who emphasizes how important it for us as a society to come together for the greater good of the planet and who developed the concept of sustainability science. Whether or not I planned on becoming a geographer, the information I received shall help me out in life regardless. As an author of over 30 books and numerous scholarly articles, the man fully grasps geography. But after all of the hours spent creating these pages, the biggest thing that Kates reflected on was not himself, but on his many collaborations. Not only is vital to collaborate with others, it's important to make these collaborations meaningful. If you don't like the people you are working with, your work will never reach its full potential. As a man who has been a geographer and a scholar for over 50 years, he not only understands how to maintain the planet, he understands the best ways to attain these broad topics that ultimately boil down to sciences most hated word----why? While I could rabble on about how he has essentially cracked the mysteries of this code, check out his Self-Reflection. As the plenary session wound down, and by wound down I mean it went over 20 minutes longer than anticipated because of the intriguing discussions being raised, it was obvious that everyone was about to leave inspired by the possibilities of geography and life in general. While I had no idea prior to entering the room, I left feeling as though I had met a man who not only has lived a great life, but who has truly impacted those around him. So while I had never heard of Bob Kates prior to meeting him on that fateful Saturday, I now know that he is truly The Man, The Myth, The Legend.   




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The mission of the Maine Geographic Alliance is to expand and improve geographic education from Pre-Kindergarten through University by assisting educators with high-quality geographic materials, lessons, and workshops for implementing Maine's learning results. 



Maine Geographic Alliance
Roberts Learning Center
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Farmington, Me. 04938 

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