Faculty Biography

Dr. Pontius

Robert Gilmore Pontius Jr, Ph.D.

Professor
Graduate School of Geography
Clark University
Worcester, MA 01610-1477

Email: rpontius@clarku.edu
Phone: (508) 793-7761
Office: Room 102, Jefferson Academic Center

Curriculum Vitae
Professional Website

Human-Environment Regional Observatory
Member, George Perkins Marsh Institute


I am an environmental statistician who creates new quantitative methods for Land Change Science and Geographic Information Science (GIS), thus I incorporate my methods into Clark’s GIS software Idrisi. These methods help investigators to analyze Coupled Human and Natural Systems. For example, in the Plum Island Ecosystems of Massachusetts, I examine why humans fertilize & water their lawns, and how this influences watering bans and river pollution. In Puerto Rico, I examine why humans transform the surface of the land, and how this influences flooding and biodiversity in San Juan. Many investigators use my methods for carbon offset projects to manage greenhouse gas emissions from tropical forests. The National Science Foundation (NSF) funds most of my research, through the Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) program, the Urban Long Term Research Areas (ULTRA) program, and the Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program. I incorporate my Doctoral, Masters, and Bachelors students into my research, especially through Clark’s Human-Environment Research Observatory (HERO). Graduate students are the engines of these activities, and the Graduate School of Geography is constantly seeking applications from potential doctoral students, especially in the area of Geographic Information Science.

My specific scholarly products are widely applicable mathematical methods to compare maps. Practitioners have adopted these methods for a variety of applications, many of which concern accuracy assessment. For example, in remote sensing, scientists use my methods to compare a map of ground information versus a map derived from an airborne sensor. In simulation modeling, scientists use my methods to compare a "truth" map versus simulation maps. In land change science, scientists use my methods to compare maps of land cover categories over time in order to characterize processes of land transformation. These methods of map comparison are crucial because such maps form the foundation of multimillion-dollar decisions. As one example, maps of simulated deforestation are the basis for Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) projects, which aim to manage the global carbon cycle while protecting ecosystems.

My experience as chair of Clark’s Task Force on Undergraduate Education has served to inspire several aspects of my teaching pedagogy. I design all of my classes: 1) to engage in meaningful real-world activities that produce tangible products, 2) to link the concepts in class to experiences outside of class, 3) to encourage students to learn from each other, 4) to inspire ambition by beginning projects that students can continue beyond the duration of the course, and 5) to develop practical professional skills such as public speaking and expressing quantitative information graphically.

Professor Pontius on student-faculty research at Clark

"Student-faculty research is the hallmark of Clark University. I engage in student-faculty research because it is fun and interesting. It is wonderful to work with students simultaneously as a mentor and as a peer. Students learn how to function as a professional by doing professional level work. Frequently, they teach me by showing me the surprising things they have uncovered. I guide them in numerous aspects of research, from establishing a research agenda to coaching them in how to make effective oral presentations, which students make at competitive conferences. Nearly all of my publications are co-authored with Clark students who are my advisees. Students who work with me engage in the entire scientific process from data gathering to formal publication in professional peer-reviewed scientific journals. My student-faculty research is a win-win situation, since we all get the satisfaction of doing meaningful, high-level work that has relevance beyond the Clark campus. Much of the work I have done with students has served as the intellectual basis of international scientific efforts, and has resulted in modules in the GIS software Idrisi, which gives us an audience of more than 100,000 GIS users worldwide. Now that is truly rewarding!"