Wernstedt Fund continues legacy of helping students

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Both seasoned researchers and then-budding students remember the late Penn State professor Frederick Wernstedt for his contributions to geography.

Wernstedt, who taught at Penn State from 1952 until 1986, explored the geography of Southeast Asia, an interest borne from his service there during World War II, which resulted in him writing a book that investigated the region’s migration and land use. He compiled information for World Climatic Data, a volume of data from nearly 19,000 stations. He oversaw the Department of Geography’s undergraduate program as an adviser and associate dean from 1972 until his retirement. He was a dedicated educator, receiving the Wilson Award for Excellence in Teaching from the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences in 1981.

The Department of Geography is highlighting the career of Wernstedt and his continuing contributions to learning through the Frederick L. Wernstedt Geography Enhancement Fund in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences. The fund supports endeavors such as equipment purchases, faculty fieldwork, travel and student recruitment.

“Frederick Wernstedt was a pillar of the Penn State geography program and a champion for advising students,” said Cynthia Brewer, head of the Department of Geography. “The Wernstedt Fund enhances our capacity to instruct and mentor students through their learning to the next steps in their careers, just like Professor Wernstedt did.”

Wernstedt spent decades collecting information for World Climate Data, which was considered a critical reference of its time. His work on the Global Historical Climate Network — where he personally hand delivered data from more than 6,000 stations in a suitcase filled with floppy disks — is still cited in research.

“Fred’s Climates of the World course, an old-fashioned regional climates course, was extremely popular, attracting thousands of students over the years,” said Brent Yarnal, professor emeritus of geography. “With his extensive 35 mm slide library, he had a gift for making the climates of places come alive to students. Through this course, students gained a greater appreciation for cultures and climates around the globe. As a result, he was an award-winning educator who was sorely missed upon his retirement.”

Wernstedt’s passion for education led to two major initiatives.

First was the development, in collaboration with the College of Education, of a geography teacher fellowship program. The purpose was to develop professional educators into master teachers who would be qualified to serve as supervisors of practice teachers.

Second was serving as the program’s first academic adviser, where students quickly discovered his enthusiasm for elevating their undergraduate experience.

“Dr. Wernstedt guided us 20 or so undergraduates, gave us confidence and encouraged us to make the most of the wonderful resources at our disposal in the department, the college and the broader University,” said Mark Kissel, 1977 alumni. “He instinctively knew how to guide us collectively and individually. His efforts to guide and counsel the undergraduates helped build the program and galvanized the loyalty of us undergraduates to Penn State geography.”

Wernstedt was born Feb. 8, 1921, in Portland, Oregon. He served in the U.S. Army Signal Corps in the Pacific Theatre during World War II, 1942-46, then attended UCLA where he earned a bachelor’s degree in 1948. He earned a master’s degree in geography from Syracuse University in 1950 and a doctorate from UCLA in 1953. He was married to Irene J. (Olivette) Wernstedt, who was a librarian and assisted him in his research. They had three children: Eric, Carolyn Ann and Kris. He died on June 9, 2013.

Contributions can be made online to the Frederick L. Wernstedt Geography Enhancement Fund in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences.

Gifts to the Frederick L. Wernstedt Geography Enhancement Fund will advance “A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence,” a focused campaign that seeks to elevate Penn State’s position as a leading public university in a world defined by rapid change and global connections. With the support of alumni and friends, “A Greater Penn State” seeks to fulfill the three key imperatives of a twenty-first-century public university: keeping the doors to higher education open to hardworking students regardless of financial well-being; creating transformative experiences that go beyond the classroom; and impacting the world by fueling discovery, innovation and entrepreneurship. To learn more about “A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence,” visit greaterpennstate.psu.edu.