Professor finds passion, purpose in geography

Geography professor Scott Dobler stands for a portrait in the Environmental Science and Technology building on Wednesday. Dobler has been teaching at WKU since 2000. Luke Franke/HERALD

Kierstin Kirk

World maps line every would-be exposed space in geography professor Scott Dobler’s small office.

The various maps showcase the passion for geography that Dobler pours into his lectures and daily conversations. 

“He’s very passionate about his teaching and he’s very into trying to do what he can to enhance his students’ learning experience,” geography professor Pat Kambesis said.

Dobler’s desire to expand his students’ minds shows in his lectures. His past jobs and life experiences ignited the passion to help students understand geography.

Before becoming a professor, Dobler served in the Kentucky National Guard as a musician for 26 years. He described this time as a wonderful experience, where he was able to express himself as a musician and use music to help boost morale and raise spirits of fellow soldiers. 

Over the years, he learned to play the banjo, the trombone and the mouth harp. 

“As a musician, I would play in a bluegrass band. We would play country music. We would play your traditional ‘Stars and Stripes Forever’…we had a wide range of styles to make people just stop from whatever they were feeling at the time and just feel better,” Dobler said. 

While in the military, Dobler decided he wanted to become a meteorologist. He went on to study at Morehead State University and majored in geography, with a minor in biology. Dobler took his degrees to Lexington, where he tried his hand at TV meteorology at local news stations. 

“At Morehead State, I got a huge amount of cultural geography and meteorology is the physical, the science side,” Dobler said. “Most geographers are either specialized in the physical or cultural side and I do both.” 

It wasn’t until Dobler left the meteorology world behind for the world of map sales that he discovered he loved teaching. As a map sales representative, he went to schools in central and eastern Kentucky and West Virginia that had poor geography test scores. He sold them maps, globes and geographic activities teachers could utilize for their students. 

At many of his stops, he found that not only did the students not understand geography, but the teachers didn’t either. He transformed his sales pitch to include a small geography lesson for the students and teachers. It was the small lessons that helped him realize where his passion was and gain experience in doing what he loves. 

“I would go into the classroom and teach a lesson and the students would respond, and the teacher would respond, and I would make a sale,” Dobler said. “But that’s not what I wanted. I found out that I loved that interaction with the students and the teacher more than I liked the sale at the end.”

After this epiphany, he put in applications to Berea College and WKU. WKU was only offering a short, one-year position, but the ultimate deciding factor  was the large geography department at WKU.

“I came to where there was more geographers,” Dobler said. “Rather than be a bigger fish in a smaller pond, I could be a smaller fish in a big pond.”

Dobler has been teaching at WKU for 14 years and is encouraging his students, whether they are geography majors or not, to make geographic connections and look at subjects with geographical understanding.

Louisville junior Mallory Schnell has had Dobler for class three times. 

“I absolutely love him. He’s super approachable and cracks bad jokes all of the time in class,” Schnell said. “His classes aren’t the easiest. He does assign a decently heavy workload, but it definitely contributes to your understanding of the class in the end.” 

Dobler believes that he is in a wonderful place with his job. 

“This is what I do,” Dobler said. “This is what I’m supposed to do.”