TXST students claim sweeping victory at the 2023 SWAAG Conference


Kate Malazonia | December 14, 2023

Texas State University students placed first in several categories at the annual GeoBowl (a quiz bowl tournament) hosted by the 2023 Southwest Division of the American Association of Geographers (SWAAG) Conference in early November in Laredo.

The SWAAG conference combines academic enrichment, cultural immersion, and memorable networking opportunities.

The full list of winners include:

TXST GeoBowl First Place Team

  • Andrew Adams (Captain)
  • Tighearnan Juarez Murphy
  • Binay Thapa
  • Lauren Thompson
  • Bren Vander Weil
  • Delorean Wiley

GeoBowl First Place Individual

  • Tighearnan Juarez Murphy

Graduate Paper Competition First Place

  • Chad Ramos, “Neighborhood-Scale Wildfire Evacuation Vulnerability in Hays County, TX”

The trip to SWAAG was organized by the Department of Geography and Environmental Studies at TXST. Ron Hagelman, Ph.D., professor and graduate advisor of the department, said, “It builds a sense of community and camaraderie, and it benefits them by expanding their professional network among other regional university graduate students and faculty.

“All the teams had fun and enjoyed the competition, and ours was well prepared this year. They were eager to bring the trophy back to TXST. I’m super proud of all of them. A big thank you goes out to Dr. Julian [Jason] [faculty advisor] and Ph.D. student, Andrew Adams, for organizing and leading the group.”

Headshot of Andrew Adams.

Andrew Adams, Captain of the GeoBowl Team

Adams, a second year Ph.D. student in geography, captained the 2023 GeoBowl team. After receiving a bachelor’s degree in philosophy in 2020 and a master’s degree in geography in 2022 from TXST, Adams decided to pursue a doctorate.

“My interest in geography stems from my passion for understanding space and how things operate within it,” Adams said.

He is also the recipient of the Texas State Doctoral Merit Fellowship for summer 2023 and a previous student representative on the board for SWAAG (2022-23).

Adams credits the contributions of every member of his team for the first place victory.

“I am extraordinarily proud of them all,” he said. “After years of competing, this was Delorean Wiley’s final competition — as she is graduating with her Ph.D. this semester. I want to thank Binay Thapa for joining the team just hours before we competed — and schooling us in UNESCO Heritage sites. The confidence, composure, and energy that Bren Vander Weil and Lauren Thompson shared with our team held us together throughout the multi-hour marathon competition.”

Adams believes that the most valuable benefit of participating in the GeoBowl competition was the networking opportunities it provided.

“You have the opportunity to establish, maintain, and develop professional relationships and friendships with faculty members and students from colleges and universities within our region,” he said. “There are also opportunities to be selected to compete at nationals and represent our region in the World GeoBowl competition.”

Headshot of Tighearnan Juarez Murphy.

Tighearnan Juarez Murphy, GeoBowl First Place Individual

Murphy is a second year Ph.D. student in the geography program. He is an officer in the department’s Graduate Student Forum (GSF) and a GSF representative for the San Marcos River Headwater Mitigation Project in conjunction with the Meadows Center and multiple other university, city, and regional partners.

He is a graduate assistant for the Department of Geography and Environmental Studies with his research focusing on analyzing sediment samples and creating maps related to his current research. Murphy’s interest in geography began at a very young age when he was inspired to join the program by a TXST student who gave him a tour of Spring Lake.

“One of my first interests as a kid was dinosaurs, prehistoric life, and paleontology,” Murphy said. “I was also interested in the changes Earth went through over time and how they affected life. Then in eighth grade, I took a glass-bottom boat tour of Spring Lake. The beauty of Spring Lake and the unique environment piqued my interest.”

Murphy’s current research focuses on fluvial geomorphology, invasive species management, and remote sensing.

“These topics are significant because understanding how riparian environments change over time and how to quantify those changes are vital to ensuring that both environments and water sources are kept healthy to support human and natural use,” he said.

Adams described Murphy’s GeoBowl performance as a “masterclass.”

On what advice he would give to future competitors, Murphy said, “Have knowledge from as many subfields of geography as possible. Also, being part of a team where each member has a different specialization is very beneficial. It means that if you do not know an answer because it’s outside of your general realm of study, chances are that someone else on your team knows.”

Headshot of Chad Ramos.

Chad G Ramos, First Place Student Paper Competition

Ramos is currently a third year master’s in geography student. After earning a bachelor’s degree in geography, he decided to continue his education at TXST. For the Graduate Student Paper Competition, Ramos presented his master’s research titled, “Neighborhood-Scale Wildfire Evacuation Vulnerability in Hays County, TX.”

Ramos thanked his graduate advisor, Yihong Yuan, Ph.D., who played a crucial role in helping to develop and edit his research.

“Dr. Yuan helped me write and polish an extended abstract, which was the first selection criterion for the competition,” Ramos said. “She also gave me advice on conference presentations in general and what to expect, as this was my first geography conference.”

Ramos describes his interests in geography as falling “somewhere between the concentrations of spatial analysis and human-environment interaction.” His fascination for natural hazards led him to align his career with his interests.

Ramos’s current area of research is in wildfire and wildfire evacuations.

“Just as our infrastructure and the people living here were unprepared for winter storm Uri, there is both an infrastructure problem and an awareness gap related to wildfires in Texas,” he said. “With my research, I hope to first bridge the awareness gap so that we can be better prepared for this emerging hazard.”

More to Come in 2024

As a result of this competition, Murphy, Weil, and Adams will be three of the members representing the region at the World GeoBowl. The event will be held in Honolulu, Hawaii in April 2024 at the meeting of the American Association of Geographers.

The 2024 SWAAG conference will be hosted at TXST in fall 2024. For those interested in joining the GeoBowl team, email Adams.

For more information, contact University Communications:

Jayme Blaschke, 512-245-2555

Sandy Pantlik, 512-245-2922