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Get to Know Your New ASU Staff: Professor Thomas Puleo

By Lauren Herber, Staff Writer

Professor Thomas Puleo is a geographer by training who specializes in place theory, or how places are made and used on multiple scales. He is drawn to geography because it is very inclusive: it discusses how history, sociology, biology, technology, and many other fields come together to shape how places are made and lived in. “At one point in history, every place that you know was made by somebody or by some set of natural processes,” explains Puleo. “Geographers ask the question, ‘How does everything come together to make a place what it is?’”

Photo courtesy of studentmedia-dev.jmc.asu.edu
Photo courtesy of studentmedia-dev.jmc.asu.edu

Professor Puleo’s passion for geography eventually led him to teach global studies at ASU, where he has been teaching since 2008. “I love teaching,” he says. “I love global studies students. They are invariably among the brightest students… their curiosity about the world, about big ideas… their ambitions” he finds inspiring. While most of his teaching experience has been with undergraduate students at ASU, professor Puleo is thrilled to have the opportunity to teach graduate students at Thunderbird. He’s teaching only at Thunderbird this semester, and has so far loved getting to know the school and its students. “I’ve noticed that Thunderbird students are more focused than undergrads,” he comments. “They have a practical mindset that is useful when it comes to teaching subjects like global theory. They want something of it; they demand something of it. I find that very refreshing.”

Despite having never been to Thunderbird’s campus before this semester, professor Puleo was eager to take advantage of the opportunity to teach at Thunderbird months ago when the merger was finalized. “It was a natural fit,” he explains. “I’ve been involved in the planning of SGS501 (Global Theory) from the beginning.” When asked his opinion on the Thunderbird-ASU merger, Puleo stated that he hasn’t been involved in the administration or management of the merger, but that he thinks there are a lot of positive aspects to the merger and hopes that Thunderbird students will take advantage of the new resources available to them.

Before beginning his career as a professor of global studies at ASU, professor Puleo obtained his Bachelor’s in Literature and Chinese Studies from UC Santa Cruz, his Master’s in Geography from San Francisco State University, and his PhD in Geography from UCLA. Between his educational pursuits, he worked for property management firms in San Francisco. His passion for geography and place theory was unplanned; it came about through his experience working for people and companies of many different nationalities. “Life is a series of errors,” he says. “I’ve just kind of been feeling my way through life.”

Professor Puleo’s flexibility, adventurous spirit, and passion for geography have led him to many interesting places. His favorite place that he’s ever been to, he states, is Italy. He’s been there on research trips as well as for pleasure, never tiring of studying the country’s rich, complex history and contemporary society. “There’s so much to learn about this place you could easily spend your entire life studying it,” says Puleo. His suggestion to T-birds if they ever find themselves in Italy? “Go to a little town in the middle of nowhere and stay there for at least several days. Go to the same café every day, get to know the owner. Really get to know, on a small and intimate scale, a really particular place. It doesn’t matter what that place is. What is special about it will only be discoverable if you dedicate yourself to it.”

Concerning how to make the most of graduate school, professor Puleo advises students to “make a plan. But, don’t be afraid to change that plan. Making plans is a very good exercise, as is following them. But being able to change plans is also important, if conditions warrant it.” As for post-graduation? “Following your gut, following your heart, when it comes to choosing a place to live and work is really important… It’s a good idea to pick one place and stay there. There are enormous rewards to be gleaned from really, really learning about a particular place and becoming an expert in that particular place in the world.” Professor Puleo recommends that students take a look at the works of Michel Serres, a philosopher who has been very important in his intellectual development.

Outside of teaching, Professor Puleo enjoys renovating old houses, bicycling, and kayaking. He enjoys spending time in San Francisco, one of his favorite cities. For any questions, professor Puleo can be reached at tpuleo@asu.edu.

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