Lone geography professor inspires students

Melissa Kern

Jia Feng is Washburn’s only geography lecturer because Washburn does not offer a program to major or minor in the subject. The history department has officially become the history and geography department. 

Feng completed his Bachelor of Arts in urban and regional planning at the University of Nanjing. His focus switched to geography after coming to the United States. While urban and regional planning are a focus in China, the United States does not have the same focus.  

Once in the United States, Feng attended the University of Michigan where he received his Master of Arts in statistics and probability. After this, he completed his doctorate in geography and began to teach there intermittently. Later he taught at Jackson College before taking over at Washburn University after Tom Schmiedeler retired in 2017. 

Feng’s love of geography started while studying urban planning in China and continued after coming to the United States. He enjoys exploring the world and loves traveling. He also encourages each of his students to travel and expand their own views of the world before settling in one place. 

Feng believes everyone needs to explore places away from home before deciding to settle in one place. If they do so they will widen their understanding of the world around them. 

This semester in World Regional Geography, Feng introduced a new assignment in which his students would have to develop their own seven-day vacation plan. While students are still currently working on this assignment, so far it seems to be a hit. 

Feng has one rule that is much different than other professors.

“Students are not required to raise their hand. If they have a question, I want them to just ask by not having to raise their hands. Students are more relaxed,” said Feng.

Feng knows his rule is working when his students are talking. It’s getting loud and messy. Students are comfortable and do not raise their hands to ask questions. He wants everyone to be involved during the class because, while his students are learning from him, he is learning from them at the same time. 

While his courses are mainly lecture based, he tries to also make them interactive and incorporate what he has learned in past classes and C-Tel trainings.  

Kerry Wynn, an associate professor in the history department, is currently taking a GIS course with Feng.

“While I came into the course having no software background, Feng is very encouraging of his students, which helps them overcome such difficulties. One of the most valuable abilities a student needs is the ability and knowledge to use, interpret, realize the limitations of, and make a map,” said Wynn.

These skills can be very valuable in many career fields. 

Since Washburn has no geography major or minor, Feng’s expectations of his students are slightly shifted. While he would love for his students to absorb all the information he teaches, he also knows that many won’t be taking more geography courses. He wants his students to have fun and learn material that they can incorporate into their everyday lives. That way they won’t forget what they learned after the class is over. 

Andrew Gallegos, a senior history major, really enjoyed Feng’s world geography class.

“My favorite part of the class was that it covered multiple geographic locations, and that Feng really emphasized the cultures and the living standards in each region we learned about,” said Gallegos. 

Feng feels lucky to work at Washburn University, surrounded by other professors in the history department who are interesting and knowledgeable in a variety of subjects. Overall, Washburn is very supportive, and he really enjoys the C-Tel training opportunities provided to faculty and staff. 

Outside of Washburn and teaching Feng loves to read Chinese novels about social issues and cultural revolutions. This is relaxation for him along with watching YouTube videos and keeping in touch with friends and family in China. He also has a 3-year-old daughter who keeps him busy. 

While Feng and his wife are both citizens of China with visas to live and work in the United States, their 3-year-old daughter was born here. She currently holds a dual citizenship status that can make traveling a little more difficult. For her to visit China they have to apply for a visa while they can go and vice versa. 

Feng is unsure if his family will receive another visa after their current one expires. Although moving would be a hassle and a big life shift for his young daughter, he and his wife would not mind going back to China to be closer to both of their families and friends. 

Edited by Adam White, Jada Johnson, Jessica Galvin