Elon University

Ryan W. Kirk

Assistant Professor
Department of History & Geography
Department of Environmental Studies

Office: 112-A Lindner Hall
Phone: 336-278-6477

Fax: 336-278-2855
Email: rkirk2  @   elon.edu
Campus Box 2335
Elon, NC 27244


Curriculum Vitae (pdf)

Teaching Philosophy
Information for Advisees
Student Evaluations


PhD, Natural Resources Science & Management, 2009

University of Minnesota
Dissertation: Land Use and Terrestrial Carbon Storage in Western North Carolina from 1850-2030 (pdf, defense slides)


MS, Forestry, 2005
University of Minnesota
Thesis: Regional-Scale Forest Production Modeling Using Process-Based Models and GIS (pdf)


BS,  Management Information Systems, 1996
William Jewell College, Liberty, MO

Primary course offerings:



GEO131: World Regional Geography (pdf)

GEO170: Our Spatial World (pdf)


Strategies for Environmental Inquiry (pdf)

ENS250/GEO250: Introduction to GIS (pdf)

GEO2XX: GIS and Gov't Applications (pdf)

GEO270: Topics in GIS (pdf)



ENS340/GEO340: Water Resources Management (pdf)

GEO360: Geography of North America (pdf)

ENS377/GEO377: Environmental History (pdf)



Note on Spring 2014 courses: Here are the course descriptions since they were not included in the booklet:

GEO 170: Our Spatial World (2 sh)

With the continual advancement of location-tracking smart phones, on-line mapping tools, and navigation systems, it is clear that we are living in an increasingly spatial world. This course will combine the exploration of a variety of spatial technologies -- ranging from GPS to Google Earth to Geographic Information Systems -- with an on-going discussion of how these spatial technologies are changing the way we interact with each other and with the broader world.  The course will involve hands-on exercises and readings in order to give you an introductory level understanding of spatial technologies and a deeper understanding of our increasingly connected world. Offered 2nd half of Spring Semesters.

 GEO 270: Topics in GIS (2 sh)

Geographic Information Systems are computer-based tools that open up new avenues of inquiry in a wide swath of disciplines spanning from the sciences to the humanities. This course will rotate through a series of specific applications of GIS including: government applications, business applications, environmental applications, and other topics on an ad hoc basis. Each section will include several hands-on exercises in order to give you a basic understanding of the most widely used GIS software and an appreciation for how GIS can be used in various disciplines. Contact the instructor or GIS Program Coordinator to learn the topics of upcoming offerings. No prerequisites. Offered 1st half of Spring Semesters. The Spring 2014 section will focus on GIS and Government Applications.

Research Interests:

My research interests fall under the following overlapping categories:

1) Environmental geography of the Southern Appalachian Mountains. The Appalachian Mountains are a fascinating area for studying the interrelationships between humans and the natural environment. My Appalachian research is focused on historic and current land use change and evaluating the ecological legacy of land use decisions. Current projects are focused on spatially reconstructing land use since 1850 in 21 counties of Western North Carolina and quantifying the effect of this land use change on the terrestrial Carbon storage. Newer research I am beginning will evaluate the extent of historic agriculture in the Southern Appalachians and studying the effects of land use change on water quality.

2) Water resources management in the Piedmont. Water is a vital natural resource, and the stresses on the historically-abundant water resources of the Piedmont region has increased in recent decades due to population growth and drought cycles. I am working with colleagues in local and regional government agencies to better understand stressors on water quality and identifying ways to mitigate those stresses. My current project focuses on spatially estimating changes in impervious surfaces in the Haw River watershed.


3) Forest ecology in the Elon University Forest. The Elon University Forest is a 56-acre reserve on campus that was established in 2010. A group of 9 faculty members, along with several students, are beginning long term monitoring of this mixed-disturbance, mixed-forest type area that is so characteristic of the patchwork of Piedmont landscapes. Current projects include writing the environmental history of the site, establishing baseline forest vegetation surveys, and developing a water budget in the Elon Forest's watershed.


4) Applications of GIS. GIS is my primary research tool, and I greatly enjoy collaborating on any variety of projects that use GIS or GIS-based cartography. In my time at Elon I have collaborated with a political scientist, multiple historians, a wildlife biologist, an artist, a communications professor, and several environmental studies faculty. Please contact me if you have ideas for collaborations.

Student Collaborations:

I am very interested in student-faculty collaborative research. If you have interests in environmental management, water resources, forest ecology, urban and regional planning, or GIS and spatial analysis, please let me know. I have ongoing projects in the Appalachian Mountains, new projects in the Piedmont, and am very open to discussing other possibilities. There are lots of wonderful opportunities waiting for motivated students. If you are interested, please send me an e-mail or stop by my office any day of the week.

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