Aug 28, 2009 - Paul Mann
Arcata – Humboldt State University President Rollin Richmond has accepted a faculty panel’s recommendation of award-winning Geography Professor Stephen Cunha to be the 2009 Scholar of the Year.
In accepting the recommendation, the President said, “Professor Cunha is a natural choice. While he is an internationally known and respected scholar with a fascinating background, he is also a teacher with a real passion for his discipline. Humboldt State students recognize his commitment, and his classes here are much in demand.”
The Advisory Board for Research and Creative Projects, appointed by the Academic Senate, called Cunha “an internationally known expert on the geography of Central Asia and a national leader of K-12 geographic education.”
“The real honor,” Cunha said, “is to be included among Humboldt State’s finest teacher-scholars. Their collective erudition in science, art, humanities and social science defines and supports our educational mission. The field work, writing and professional meeting presentations kick my work with students up a notch. Scholarship is the score, teaching and student advising are the performance.”
Cunha added, “I’ve always felt lucky to turn a youthful passion into a lifelong career, and to work with motivated HSU students who share that interest.”
As for the Outstanding Scholar Award itself, Cunha said, “My cartographer wife Mary deserves at least 51 percent of it.”
Prior to joining HSU in 1996 Cunha served 10 seasons as a park ranger in Yosemite and Alaska and four years examining the potential for a national park and biosphere reserve in the Pamir Mountains of Tajikistan in Central Asia. They are famed as Marco Polo’s “Roof of the World.”
A graduate of UC Berkeley and UC Davis, Cunha is the director of the California Geographic Alliance. Under his leadership, the organization has involved more than 75,000 of the state’s teachers in various instructional activities in a concerted drive to offer more effective geography education. He and his alliance partners have secured more than $3 million in grants in the last 10 years to advance geographic literacy and education in the state. In 2007, the alliance and its partners won a $1 million start-up endowment from the David & Lucille Packard Foundation and the National Geographic Society to allow the alliance’s efforts to continue in perpetuity.
Cunha himself has received many major grants for his scholarship, including funds from the Bechtel Foundation, the California Department of Education, the University of California and the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund.
Since the inception of the National Geography Bee in 1989, Cunha has worked closely with the National Geographic Society to expand the contest, and California now has the largest bee in the nation. More than 100,000 of the state’s fourth through eighth graders compete each year, led by Cunha as state coordinator. He assists schools, presides over the state final each spring and, with HSU’s Mary Hackett, maintains the state office in Arcata. The three-day competition involves student winners from 21 countries.
A prolific author, Cunha writes for diverse audiences—children, young adults, the general public and scholars—in textbooks, journals, encyclopedia entries, government reports and book chapters. Often they are illustrated with photographs from his frequent world travels. This year he is a contributor to the five-volume Encyclopedia of Asia.
Both of his National Geographic books, Our 50 States and The Official National Geographic Bee Study Guide, reached Amazon Children’s best seller list. He has co-authored social studies and science textbooks for grades two through high school, and consulted on more than 75 National Geographic Society books, maps and magazine articles.
Cunha was one of five 2007 recipients of the $20,000 California State University Wang Family Excellence Award, which recognizes outstanding faculty and administrators. That same year, he won the Hilda Taba Award from the California Council for Social Studies for outstanding and enduring contributions to social science education in the state. In 2001, he was selected for the Distinguished Teaching Award of the National Council for Geographic Education.