Respected SIA professor retires

Professor John Kelmelis
Professor John Kelmelis

After eight years at the Penn State School of International Affairs, Professor John A. Kelmelis will retire at the end of the semester.

After commuting to Penn State from his home in Virginia for 8 years, he decided to retire and spend his time writing rather than commuting. He and his wife, Kathleen, also plan to travel, continue outdoor activities, do some volunteer work and, most of all, spend quality time with their three children and their grandchildren.

In 2008, Kelmelis came back to Penn State, his alma mater, from government to help start the School of International Affairs. He said he would devote three to five years to help get the school off the ground. However, he extended his time.

“The students are so smart and energizing,” he said, that he stayed longer to enjoy teaching.

Over the years, he has taught classes on water, science, hazards, strategy, and the environment, teaching, advising, and mentoring hundreds of students who have gone on to successful careers around the world.

SIA graduate Shingi Mavima ’11, credits Kelmelis with inspiring his future in international affairs with advice about achieving one’s goals.

“Professor Kelmelis shared his professional experiences with his students, and gave me some of the best advice,” Mavima said. “When I was graduating from SIA, a time when you leave school and feel as if the very next opportunity is make or break, I remembered him telling us to keep moving forward, and as long as we keep moving, we’ll reach our goals. This made me feel that graduation was just the next move in a series of steps of life and it helped put me at ease.”

Kelmelis joined the SIA faculty in September 2008 as a scholar of national and international geography. The classes he taught included, Water and Sustainable Development; Science, Technology, and International Policy; Hazards, Disasters, and International Affairs; Estimative Analysis in the International Strategy; and International Environmental Negotiations.

He brought with him more than 30 years of distinguished government service and leadership, during which time he has provided scientific advice on U.S. foreign policy, regional resource management, disaster response, and information infrastructure.

“John Kelmelis’ impact will live on,” said SIA Director Scott Gartner. “John has fundamentally shaped the DNA of SIA, fostering: the belief that students come first - a belief reflected in the achievements and statements of PSU Distinguished Alumni Award winter Rachel Sayre about Professor Kelmelis, her SIA Advisor, the view that teaching and research can be mutually beneficial, the idea that good research informs policy and that important policy informs research, the notion that SIA must be driven not by disciplinary boundaries but by an informed curiosity about the world and sense of what is truly important, whether it be disaster response, water systems, environmental negotiation, or intelligence and planning.”

Before coming to SIA, he served as senior counselor for earth science in the Office of the Science and Technology Adviser to the Secretary of State (STAS), where he provided policy advice to the White House, Department of State, and other high-level government entities on geology, hydrology, biology, geography, and related sciences and technologies in establishing and executing U.S. foreign policy. He concurrently served as senior science adviser for international policy in the Office of the Director, U.S. Geological Survey, where he served as principal staff adviser on incorporating science into international policy. He is currently a scientist emeritus at the U.S. Geological Survey and consults with the Department of State and other organizations.

Kelmelis has coordinated the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Global Change Research Program, directed the White House Scientific Assessment and Strategy Team, managed the U.S. Antarctic Mapping Program, and conducted research on many geographic scientific topics.