GIS REU Site Wraps Up Successful Start

REU scholars Jasmine Perez and Sarah Kuo completing a sketch mapping with Hopkins residents.

REU scholars Jasmine Perez and Sarah Kuo completing sketch mapping with Hopkins residents.

The first ever UCF Geographic Information Systems Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) was a huge success this summer. The international REU site, held in Orlando and Belize, was funded by the National Science Foundation. The program hosted eight competitive undergraduate students from across the country.

The eight scholars, including one UCF sociology student Amanda Ashby, made a lasting impact on the Belizean community as well as themselves.

The students that participated in the program focused their research on the flooding or the level of marine debris in Hopkins, Belize where the second portion of the summer experience was located. The students spent five days at UCF as they prepared for departure, then four weeks in Belize, followed by one week at UCF to finalize their results.

Timothy Hawthorne, Ph.D., was the principal investigator for the program and is an assistant professor at UCF in the Department of Sociology. Hawthorne oversaw the students’ research while at UCF and while in Belize.

Hawthorne said “I continue to be amazed by the creativity of our students and community members when they come together to examine complex social and environmental problems.”

The students worked side by side with Belizean residents, local leaders, and community groups to map local knowledge about marine debris, flooding, and tourism. The international REU site’s mission is to prepare students to be responsible, ethical, and community-minded scholars as they engage in international research and fieldwork.

While in Belize the REU scholars were invited to present their research to the U.S. Embassy in Belmopan, Belize. They individually presented their research projects and explained their mapping applications to some of the Embassy’s highest ranking representatives including the Deputy Chief of Mission, the Economic and Political Advisor, the Political and Security Advisor for Gang Suppression and Narcotics, and an International Affairs representative.

The group also had the opportunity to share their research at a three and a half hour symposium at the University of Central Florida in the GIS space at Research Park. Along with the in-person audience, the scholars presented their results through Facebook LIVE. You can find the archived presentations on the Citizen Science GIS Facebook page.

The REU scholars on the marine debris and flooding teams recognize that this summer was just the start. This was the first of a three year project.

Of the 2016 REU student scholars, Amanda Ashby (UCF) and Caleb Ball (The Ohio State University) will be returning to Belize with the staff in the fall and several other REU students will return in the spring.

“We are excited to see how Hopkins utilizes and expands upon these data,” explained Lain Graham, a UCF sociology doctoral student who served as the senior research coordinator for the REU. “We look forward to returning to Hopkins this fall to resume data collection and to see the results of Village Council initiated community improvement projects.”

Hawthorne, Lain Graham, and Amanda Ashby from UCF, along with Caleb Ball from The Ohio State University, will travel to Hopkins from October 23 through November 3, 2016 to hold training sessions with youth and local collaborators, to resume data collection and to see the results of Village Council initiated community improvement projects.

“With future work and with our data and maps showing concentrations of debris and areas of poor drainage, time and energy can be focused on areas that will have the greatest impact for the community,” Graham said.

Hawthorne is excited to continue working with the Belizean community members toward improvement.

“We’re just getting started, but a solid foundation has been built for continued collaborative success in the near future,” said Hawthorne. “This work truly shows the power of local residents in Belize using technology to share their stories, while mapping for change.”

Read more from the REU GIS scholars.

Summer 2017 REU applications open on November 1 at:

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