From cartography to cyberspace, China to Canada, Darrell Norris: seasoned traveler and mentor

Geography professor Darrell Norris has a lengthy list of adventures including traversing the Silk Road, reaching 12,000 feet on the Tibetan Plateau and backpacking through Greece and Turkey.

Norris said he attributes many of his adventures and accomplishments to the influence of his own mentors and his position as a mentor at Geneseo.

Norris grew up in Plymouth – the namesake of Plymouth Rock – in southwest England. As a boy, he devoted his time to working for his family's fish business and studying English, history and geography.

When it came time for him to go on to college, a geography teacher at his high school steered Norris toward attending Cambridge University to study geography.

"What became my philosophy of teaching was beginning to be set [at Cambridge]," Norris said. He said attending Cambridge led him to believe that "the purpose of a university is not to train scholars to the level that [the professor] has reached, but to train scholars beyond [that level]."

With the help of his tutor at Cambridge, Norris went on to McGill University in Montreal, Canada where he pursued his master's degree. He later received his Ph.D. in consumer behavior and market development from McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario.

During his time in graduate school, Norris worked on the Historical Atlas of Canada, the world's largest and most expensive historical atlas at the time. Norris said the project gave him "a breadth of enthusiasm for a range of really exotic topics" that would carry on into his future studies. One such topic was the spread of blackboard use in 19th-century Canadian classrooms, which Norris translated into a map for the atlas.

In the mid-1970s, Norris became interested in studying the material cultural landscape, or the artifacts of human culture. To supplement his studies, Norris published an architectural atlas on an individual Canadian town detailing everything from its gravestones to barns and various houses.

Norris furthered his investigation of the material cultural landscape with two transcontinental trips on Highway 20, the only coast-to-coast road that hadn't been replaced with an interstate highway.

"I was interested in looking at [Highway] 20 as a kind of living museum of the early automobile age," Norris said.

In the late 1990s, Norris became involved in the second major component of his studies – the geography of cyberspace. He said he was inspired by a student in his developing world class who contacted 500 former residents of a Dutch island for a project on tourism, "essentially from an armchair in Geneseo."

With the help of his students, Norris has researched cyber subjects such as mail-order brides, marriage classifieds and the birth of social networking. He is currently overseeing seven directed studies on similar topics.

Norris has traveled to 30 countries in his lifetime and visited China on 12 occasions. He recounted his most interesting experiences as putting out a fire on a Chinese ocean liner and being arrested in Turkmenistan for photographing "strategically sensitive subject matter" that Norris said was really just a train.

One of his proudest recent experiences, however, was a New York City conference in February 2012 where some of his students gave presentations. Norris said he was elated by the impressed reactions of conference attendees.

Stressing the importance of a mentor figure for students, Norris said, "It's the notion of the mentor, someone who cares enough about you to help you along. Without those key individuals in my life there is no way that I could've ended up doing what I do the way I do it."