Dr. Ann Marie Legreid, dean of the School of Business and Social Sciences, did not discover her love of geography until she was in college. Legreid grew up on a Wisconsin dairy farm and had a wide range of interests, including music, art, and health care. She trained as a medical technologist but discovered she didn’t like doing the lab work.
While Legreid was attending the University of Wisconsin-River Falls she spent a semester backpacking around Europe for an independent study project.
“I happened to have some really marvelous professors at the university who were globetrotters and encouraged me to start traveling,” she said.
Legreid said spending time in Europe brought out her inner geographer, and when she returned to the university she signed up for more geography courses.
“I realized geography was my calling,” Legreid said. “I should have realized that I was a little geographer all along because when I was growing up I loved maps and atlases. I had a globe, I would draw maps of the world, and I was very interested in National Geographic magazines. I was always interested in what was beyond my hometown. I knew I wouldn’t stay in rural America. I knew I was going to see the world.”
Legreid believes she was a “late blooming geographer” in part because teaching geography in the lower grades mostly fell out of the curriculum in the 1950s, so she didn’t have a class that focused purely on geography until she was in college. Legreid would like to see younger students today exposed to geography more because she believes it’s an important field of study.
“I think the study of geography opens peoples’ eyes and minds to things that they wouldn’t even think of otherwise,” she said. “It certainly did for me. When I took that general studies course in geography at the University of Wisconsin I suddenly became much more aware of my local environment. I started reading landscapes, so to speak, because one of my teachers was really an expert at reading the cultural and physical landscapes. I think that makes for a much richer, rewarding existence when you can appreciate the local, the regional, and the global in that way.”
Finding her roots
Legreid, who grew up in a community that was overwhelmingly of Norwegian heritage, said traveling in Europe during college also helped her learn more about her own family’s history.
“I spent about three months in Norway, discovered my roots there, and the whole world just opened to me as a result of that experience,” she said.
The trip also sparked an interest in the migration of Scandinavians to the United States. For her master’s and doctorate Legreid researched this migration. In one study she followed 4,000 people out of western Norway to communities in the Midwest, looking at the role the church played in building and maintaining a sense of community.
“I certainly learned a lot about the migrant experience which I then translated into the study of contemporary immigration into the United States,” she said. “I find it very moving to hear about immigrant experiences. This whole America is a land of milk and honey. We are a country of immigrants and will remain a country of immigrants.”
Legreid’s grandparents all came from Norway, and one side of her family was included in the group of 4,000 she studied. After learning more about her family tree, and the fact that her ancestors were mainly farmers and fishermen who led lives of extreme poverty, Legreid became an avid genealogist.
“It opened an entirely new world for me,” she said. “So I’ve helped lots of people trace their ancestors back, mostly to Sweden and Norway.”
Legreid remains active in academic circles there and about every two or three years attends a Norway-America Seminar on Nordic American studies sponsored by the Norwegian government.
Applying geography to administrative work
Legreid, who attended the Summer Institute for Women in Higher Education Administration at Bryn Mawr College and the Harvard Management Development program, believes her training as a geographer has prepared her well for the work she does as a dean at Shepherd. She pointed out that geography overlaps many other areas, like biology, economics, political science, and medicine.
“Geography by nature is highly interdisciplinary,” she said. “It’s an integrative science. We bridge the gap between the human and the physical sciences, the human and the mathematical sciences. So it’s natural for someone who’s trained in geography to have an interest in many disciplines, and I think it’s natural to be an administrator over a number of disciplines.”
Legreid enjoys the administrative work that goes along with being a dean and said Shepherd is a small enough institution that she can wear many hats throughout the academic year.
“It also made me realize that women still have a long ways to go in equality in the workplace and that having women in administrative positions can make a difference to the next generation.”
“I enjoy challenges. I enjoy solving problems and being able to make things better. I’m very detail oriented,” she said.
Legreid said the experience at Bryn Mawr, which covered everything from budgets, to personnel issues, to conflict management, helped her appreciate women’s roles in higher education.
“It also made me realize that women still have a long ways to go in equality in the workplace and that having women in administrative positions can make a difference to the next generation,” she said.
A career of community service
Legreid is an urban economic geographer. While teaching at the University of Central Missouri she worked with students on downtown revitalization projects in Clinton, Missouri.
“I think the crowning achievement for me is when we got almost 70 buildings in a historic district on the National Register of Historic Places,” she said. “The project took close to two years and it involved about 20 to 25 students total, mostly in my urban class and some in my special topics classes. We really made a difference for that town (Clinton).”
Legreid and her students also worked for two other Missouri towns by writing grants, helping establish a Main Street program, working with a revolving loan program, and conducting tourist surveys.
Legreid believes community outreach is a critical component for any college and that it opens doors for students. She continues to be involved in both civic engagement and international efforts here at Shepherd.
“I think Shepherd does a phenomenal job with service projects through Holly Frye’s office,” she said. “In my time here at Shepherd I have worked with her. I had a civic engagement grant through the Association of American Colleges and Universities, and we did some workshops to try to involve more faculty in incorporating service learning into their classes.”
Legreid also chairs the Internationalization Advisory Council, a group that works with Dr. Charles Nieman, director of international initiatives, and she serves on the subcommittee that’s putting together a global studies major, which she hopes will be available for students in the fall of 2016.
“We’re such a small world these days,” she said. “You can’t exist without interfacing with people from all over the world and the more we know the better off we are.”
Listen to the interview with Ann Marie Legreid HERE.