Robert N. Thomas is honored as a 2007 distinguished alumnus for his achievements in academia, his contributions as an educator, his service as a mentor, and his authoritative knowledge of population geography and tourism in Latin America.
Dr. Thomas earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Geography and Social Science Education from IUP in 1950 and was a member of Alpha Omega Gamma, the Geography Department honor society. He taught high school geography and science in Oakmont, his high school alma mater, and in the Hampton Township schools.
He also continued his education while teaching and earned a Master of Arts degree from the University of Pittsburgh in 1958. He returned to IUP as a professor of geography in 1960 and taught until 1969. Dr. Thomas earned his Ph.D. in Geography from Pennsylvania State University in 1968.
Dr. Thomas joined the geography faculty at Michigan State University in 1969. A Fulbright Scholar to Colombia in 1972, he became MSU’s assistant director of Latin American Studies Center in 1974 and was named director in 1985. Dr. Thomas directed undergraduate and graduate students in field experiences in Latin America and coordinated and directed programs in Cuba, Mexico, and many Latin America sites.
Dr. Thomas has achieved distinction in research on population geography and tourism in Latin America. He served as an urban planning advisor for the U.S. Agency for International Development in Guatemala in 1965 and 1966. He has traveled extensively throughout the Central American countries, Mexico, the Caribbean islands, and South America. Dr. Thomas has edited three books, authored dozens of articles published in academic journals, and presented more than sixty-five papers at professional meetings.
A founding member of the Conference of Latin Americanist Geographers, Dr. Thomas is also a member of the Association of American Geographers, the National Council for Geographic Education, American Geographical Society, National Geographic Society, and the Geography Commission of the Pan American Institute of Geography and History (Organization of American States).
Currently, Dr. Thomas teaches at MSU as emeritus professor of geography and serves the Office of Study Abroad by directing and accompanying students on international field experiences. He also lectures on cruises to Latin America and continually researches migration and other population geography issues in Latin America. He is also engaged in community service as a speaker for Rotary clubs and in public schools.
He was named an honorary affiliate of the Pan American Institute of Geography and History, Organization of American States, in 2005.
Dr. Thomas has maintained a strong alliance with IUP through five decades. As a mentor since the 1960s, Dr. Thomas has served many IUP geography graduates. He is also a generous contributor to the IUP Geography and Planning Faculty Scholarship Fund.
Dr. Thomas resides in Okemos, Michigan, with his wife, Dorothy Gemmell Thomas, a retired music teacher and 1950 IUP graduate. They have two sons, Scott and Robert.