А lover of maps since his boyhood in Shanghai, China, Professor Gohstand taught the geography of Russia and the Soviet Union, map interpretation, and the history of geographic thought at CSUN for
more than thirty years. He has also been an avid reader all of his life—whether for academic purposes or for pleasure and enlightenment. This interest led to his founding and support of the Robert and Maureen Gohstand Leisure Reading Room in the Oviatt Library, and the creation of the Sense of Place Scholarship in Geography, which emphasizes the use of graceful and evocative writing alone to convey the character of geographic places—an essential part of multi-faceted geographic description and explanation. Among his avocations are the support of the university library, in which he founded and directs the Old China Hands Archive, the welfare of the Map Library, the study of the history and geography of Russia, bookbinding, and the piloting of motor yachts in various parts of the world, so far including Alaska, Canada, Finland, Norway, and New Zealand (he is a retired Captain in the US Naval Reserve).
Robert B. Howard, Professor Emeritus of Geography (Geomorphology), began teaching at CSUN in 1970 when it was still San Fernando Valley State College. Retired from full-time teaching in 2001 to enter the faculty early retirement program (FERP). Full retirement from CSUN came in 2007.
Born May 1940 in New York City, I had the good fortune to attend one of NYC’s premiere math and science specialty high schools, graduating in 1958. That high school experience changed my life and set me on a path that I followed for the next 60 years. I received a B.S. in Earth Science (Geology) from the City College of New York (CCNY) in January 1963. Graduate work began at UCLA in Fall 1967 with a M.A. in Geography (Energy Balance Climatology) in June 1969 and a PhD in Geography (Fluvial Geomorphology) in November of 1974.
The break in my academic career between 1963 and 1967 was taken up with military service. While an undergraduate I was enrolled in a 4 -year ROTC program. Upon graduation I was commissioned a lieutenant in the U.S. Army in January 1963, reporting on active duty within days. I was assigned to the U.S. Army Europe (Germany) where I served in command positions for the three years I was there. I took every opportunity while in Europe to travel. With interests in European history, art and architecture there was much to see. On weekends I would explore West Germany. On longer leaves I had the opportunity to travel in France, Switzerland, Italy Austria, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Netherlands, Luxembourg, Belgium and Great Britain. At the end of my three year tour I had orders sending me to Vietnam. The Vietnam orders were cancelled at the last minute and I was ordered to another command assignment at Fort Belvoir in Virginia just south of Washington, D.C. This assignment gave me an opportunity to get to know our nation’s capital. I requested discharge from active duty in early summer 1967 and it was granted in June.
I had been accepted to UCLA’s graduate program years earlier and so after my discharge I packed up my VW and headed west, taking the better part of three months camping and exploring the physical landscape on the way. Instead of driving due west I headed up to Maine and then across southern Canada and the northern tier of states. While driving across the Big Horns in eastern Wyoming I had an epiphany – I realized that I was home. I may have been born and raised in NYC, that was not my choice, but the western U.S. is where I’m most comfortable.
Shortly after starting at UCLA, a female student colleague invited me to dinner to meet her roommate, Joan. Six months later (July 1968) Joan and I were married and in July of 2018 we celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary. We have two daughters and four granddaughters ranging in age from 24 years to 16 months. (We obviously don’t do boys!) Our oldest daughter lives in Salt Lake City along with our three oldest granddaughters. Our youngest daughter followed her dad into academia. She lives in Portland, Oregon with her wife and their baby girl and is a Dean at Clark College across the Columbia River in Vancouver, WA.
While at CSUN my sole focus was on the teaching of physical geography. For me the Earth Science aspect of Geography ties everything in the physical world together. I know at times students would be upset with my approach to physical geography because I required them to know and understand the philosophy of science and the scientific method coupled with the principals of geology, physics, chemistry and mathematics. I always emphasized how applying those principals could enable a fuller understanding of any physical phenomenon under consideration. In spite of much grumbling at times I did convinced many students of the validity of my approach. I was very fortunate in that I managed, over 37 years I taught, to maintain cohorts of dedicated geomorphology students. My favorite example of how a student’s intellectual trajectory can be altered involves a young woman in Introduction to Geomorphology (Geography 365) class early in my teaching career. She was an art major and needed an upper division science course to complete her general education requirements. She complained constantly about all the philosophy of science and other science stuff. She had to do a field study and had no idea what to do or where to do it. I suggested she visit the Baker volcanic field (out near Baker, CA just off I-15 in the Mojave Desert), look around and see what interested her. On Monday she returned to class excited and full of questions. To make a long story very short, she changed her major and after getting her PhD in geophysics, taught for years at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Of particular importance in my teaching was trying to get students out into the field. I quickly found that field trips and field exercises were absolutely essential to the integration of textbook readings with classroom lectures. M\All my lectures were copiously illustrated with slides – slides of the maps, diagrams, ground views, aerial views and satellite imagery of whatever landscape or landscape forming process was under discussion. Students in the introductory geomorphology course spent four or five days camping with me under the stars in Death Valley, Owens, Eureka or Saline Valleys while getting an opportunity to see the big picture of eastern California’s landscapes and their evolution. Students in coastal geomorphology spent several days out in the surf zone taking measurements and samples of beach materials. Students in fluvial geomorphology spent days on a meander bend on the Owens River taking current measurements while plane table mapping the underwater topography of the bend itself. In glacial geomorphology days were spent on the glacial moraines in the Owens Valley determining relative ages of the various till deposits. In addition to my three to four field trips per semester, along with colleagues in the Geology Department we put together several trips to Hawaii where we had the opportunity to observe an erupting volcano (Mauna Ulu) at very close range; an excursion down in Baja California to Bahia de Los Angeles, Guerrero Negro and Scammon’s Lagoon looking at the peninsula’s geology and geomorphology; finally, several raft trips down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon itself – what a spectacular, open geology textbook..
While I was teaching I had some other “irons in the fire”. First, I remained in the U.S. Army Reserves. After graduating from the U.S. Army’s Command and General Staff College (CGSC) with honors I spent virtually my entire reserve career in advanced military education. I was adjunct faculty at the Command and General Staff College, teaching the course to other reserve officers. In addition, I did spend considerable time at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas right on the west bank of the Missouri River. In the summers I was on active duty for up to 80 days assigned as post commander for the CGSC taught at a contracted university for reservists and guard officers in the western U.S. The two contracted universities during my time as post commander were the University of Nevada, Reno and Idaho State University (in Pocatello). I might have been on active duty during the week but on weekends I was a geomorphologist and so I went off with rock hammer, geologic maps, my camera, my pickup truck and a sleeping bag to poke around and investigate all over Nevada, Idaho, western Wyoming and western Montana. I was mandatorily retired from the U.S. Army Reserves in 1993 as a Lieutenant Colonel.
A second “iron in the fire” was the fact that I became a commuter around 1980 or 81. Waking up one morning and realizing that LA was getting too big, my wife and I felt it was becoming “unfit for human habitation”. My wife was originally from Utah and so we relocated to Draper, a small farm town, 35 miles south of Salt Lake City and 866 miles from CSUN. I drove down on Mondays, taught Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, departing Thursday afternoon arriving back in Draper on Friday in time to pick kids up from school. We had horse property and horses and stayed there until our oldest graduated from H.S. When she graduated we moved back to California (1988), settling in Pismo Beach. That cut my commute by 75%! After our youngest graduated from Arroyo Grande H.S and 12 years in Pismo we looked toward retirement.
About two years before I retired we did move from Pismo to an equestrian community in the southern Sierra Nevada. We live in Bear Valley Springs where we are 16 miles from the nearest grocery store in Tehachapi. We have had as many as four horses on our property but two or three have been standard for us until recently. We are now down to just one and seriously considering getting out of horses altogether. The equestrian lifestyle has been a phenomenal experience. We are trail riders and horse campers and have ridden all over California as well as in Wyoming and Arizona. We have also had the opportunity to work cattle on local ranches – driving herds from one grazing area to another; sorting cattle after gathers (“round-ups”) and roping calves for branding.
Life has been a real adventure. We’ve had many terrific experiences and seen some incredibly spectacular landscapes and many interesting phenomena. There have been the usual ups and downs but overall we can’t complain one bit. As a matter of fact, I still cannot believe that the State of California paid me for 37 years to have as much fun as I had teaching geomorphology and then leading field trips all over the southwestern United States.