GIS Mapping Research Benefits Coastal Village, Teachers, Students

A research team maps debris along the beach in Hopkins Village, Belize, using mobile mapping.

A community in Belize and students and teachers from UCF and across the U.S. benefited from a seven-week research project hosted by Citizen Science GIS this summer.  

This was the sixth year Associate Professor of Geographic Information Systems Timothy Hawthorne, Ph.D. led 10 students and two teachers to Hopkins Village, Belize in Central America as part of a Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) and Teachers (RET) Site funded by a grant from the U.S. National Science Foundation. The fieldwork leadership included Co-PI Lain Graham, Ph.D. ’20 and Faculty Mentor Sociology Lecturer Angela Vergara, Ph.D.

Before the actual trip, students and teachers train with Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and learn about community geography.   

“Our team is focused on community engaged scholarship that involves mapping and drone technologies to complete our research,” explained Hawthorne. “We conduct interviews with community members to help us better understand the issues at hand, the most prominent being flooding and beach debris.” 

Before any GIS mapping occurs on site, the participants talk with the community of Hopkins Village to gain a better understanding of the population’s needs concerning flood mitigation and beach debris cleanup; their mapping is then informed by the feedback.  

The end-product of the 27-day site visit is a community report that shares research findings in accessible, non-academic language. That’s actionable material that can then be used to inform public works projects. The REU and RET Site also trains new researchers how to collect and collate data, as well as see the outcomes of community science.

“We get to support both undergraduates and teachers in providing mentored and structured research experiences for them,” said Hawthorne.

For Hawthorne, the relationship he has fostered with the community keeps him coming back each summer.  

“l feel a tremendous sense of privilege to be invited back to a village that I’m not from, especially as an American researcher,” Hawthorne said.   

To learn more about the REU and RET Site of Citizen Science GIS at UCF:

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