The Golden Rule to Engage the Masses: Listen to My GeoInspirations Podcast

In the continued spirit of communicating why we do what we do to connect science and society through our Citizen Science GIS at UCF work, I am pleased to be featured in this month’s GeoInspirations podcast series in Directions Magazine with my geo-friend: Dr. Joseph Kerski or Esri.

In the podcast I share some advice on how to let the Golden Rule drive everything you do. I hope the message resonates and inspires. Thanks for sharing and listening! #citizensciencegis #scicomm #goldenrule #geospatial #gis #maps #drones

Take a listen…and let me know what you think…

Dr. Hawthorne Wins UCF Reach for the Stars Award

I am honored and humbled to have been selected as a 2019 UCF Reach for the Stars Award Winner.  The award honors high research productivity for junior faculty. To me though, this award is a reflection of the collaborative work of our students, our post-docs, and our community partners in Citizen Science GIS. To me, this award is a reflection of the good that can happen when science and society work together in partnership. I am filled with gratitude. -Tim

Check out the story on UCF Today here:

Story re-posted from UCF Today below:

Reach for the Stars Award Recipients Use Technology to Change Lives


Reach for Stars professors Megan Nickels, Pamela Wisniewski and Tim Hawthorne

Megan Nickels, Pamela Wisniewski and Tim Hawthorne were recognized for their highly successful research and creative activity that has led to a national impact.

Three faculty members who use the power of technology to make the human experience better were recognized today with Reach for the Stars awards during this year’s UCF Founders’ Day Honors Convocation.

The award recognizes early career professionals with highly successful research and creative activity with a national impact.

This year’s recipients have more than $8 million in sponsored research funding combined from a variety of organizations including NASA, the National Science Foundation and private foundations. But the striking part of their success cannot be measured in terms of dollars alone. The reason they were selected is because of the impact of their work.

  • Megan Nickels uses robotics and immersive virtual reality to develop children’s complex mathematical thinking and to deliver education to critically ill children so they don’t fall behind in school during extended hospital stays.
  • Pamela Wisniewski researches how people use technology to make meaningful connections with one another, as well as ways to mitigate the dangers encountered online, such as sexual predators. She is working to determine the best methods to protect online users, especially teenagers, against such threats.
  • Tim Hawthorne involves everyday citizens in data collection and geographic information systems to deliver insightful information that planners and leaders can use to enhance and protect their communities and their natural resources.
Blonde woman wearing black dress and white pearl necklace leans on stair railing

Megan Nickels (Photo by Nick Leyva ’15)

Megan Nickels

College of Community Innovation and Education

College of Medicine

Assistant professor of STEM education

Ph.D. in mathematics education

Nickels developed a passion for helping chronically ill children when she volunteered to work with them at a local hospital while she was earning her doctorate in her home state of Illinois. She realized that despite her years of teaching in elementary schools and her studies in college, there was a big need to help this often-forgotten population.

Her experience fueled her passion and eventually led to the launch of UCF PedsAcademy in Orlando. In partnership with Nemours Children’s Hospital, the academy is the world’s first pediatric-school program designed to provide children in hospitals with extraordinary, research-backed educational opportunities specific to their respective disease or condition. The program reflects the culmination of Nickels’ body of research and serves as a vehicle to further examine the nexus of education and medicine.

“I set out to research ways that I could better children’s immediate situations and their future prospects.” — Megan Nickels

“I set out to research ways that I could better children’s immediate situations and their future prospects,” Nickels says. “Results from my research so far show significant gains in mathematical content knowledge and motivation to persevere in rigorous mathematical tasks.”

Other funded research has her working with UCF’s planetary science group and the Orlando Science Center to create mobile mathematics and science exhibits and associated curriculum for each of the three Orlando area children’s hospitals.

“Put very simply,” Nickels says, “I hope that my legacy is that I made someone’s life better.”

Woman wearing dark business jacket and maroon shirt leans against wall

Pamela Wisniewski (Photo by Nick Leyva ’15)

Pamela Wisniewski

College of Engineering and Computer Science

Assistant professor of computer science

Ph.D. in computing and information systems

Master’s degree in decision and information sciences

As a human-computer interaction researcher, Wisniewski studies the interplay between technology and society. Internet-enabled technologies and social media have so much power, she says.

“I want to find ways to leverage technology to truly make a positive impact on the world.” — Pamela Wisniewski

“I want to find ways to leverage technology to truly make a positive impact on the world — not by removing humans from the equation, but by bolstering our personal strengths, helping us connect with one another, and being more empathetic towards our loved ones and strangers,” Wisniewski says. “Technology has the power to divide, but it also has the power to connect us in ways never before possible.”

The Gainesville native has received $2.5 million in external-grant funding to support her research in privacy and online safety, including two prestigious early career awards. Wisniewski is the first computer scientist to become a William T. Grant Scholar and join in the foundation’s mission of reducing inequality in youth outcomes. She is examining the risk and protective factors that contribute to online sexual-risk experiences of at-risk youth, particularly girls ages 12-15 who are of color, socio-economically disadvantaged, and foster youth. The goal is to design socio-technical interventions that can help youth be more resilient to sexual predator risks.

She also recently received an NSF CAREER grant to work closely with teens to co-design online safety interventions that can help them effectively manage online risks.

“The ultimate goal of both of these projects is to leverage resilience-based approaches that protect, teach and empower our youth to use the internet in beneficial ways,” she says.

Man wearing glasses and gray suit with yellow tie stands in front of brick flower bed

Tim Hawthorne (Photo by Austin Warren)

Tim Hawthorne

College of Sciences

Assistant professor of geographic information systems

Ph.D. in geography

Hawthorne combines his academic expertise about geography and geographic information systems (the technology on cell phones that helps you find things when you get lost) to bring information together in a new way. By using GIS and other technologies to collect and assess information, patterns not easily seen become apparent and can be used to make decisions that impact communities.

Including the community is what sets Hawthorne’s work apart. In 2015, Hawthorne established a now internationally recognized and award-winning research organization called Citizen Science GIS.

The group of UCF and international collaborators brings together undergraduate and graduate students, everyday folks and scientists with tech including GIS and drones to collect data for a variety of projects. For example, the group spent 20 days in Belize mapping nearly 150 of its islands, which are home to one of the largest reef systems in the world. The goal was to provide information to Belize that the country could use to protect and conserve one of the world’s most vulnerable island environments. The organization’s success led to NSF funding and this summer Hawthorne’s team is again offering a NSF-funded Research Experiences for Undergraduatesprogram based at UCF and with fieldwork in Belize.

“As scientists, we have a responsibility to make our work more accessible and understandable to society.” — Tim Hawthorne

Hawthorne understands that getting people passionate about science starts early, so he’s also embarked on another project —in support of his role as Florida State Geography Steward with National Geographic. As steward he works with National Geographic staff, government staff, teachers, parents, business leaders and other stakeholders to enhance K-12 geography education and research in Florida and the United States.

Hawthorne will soon be rolling out the nation’s first GeoBus. The 40-foot bus will include a mobile citizen science laboratory focused on maps, apps and drones that will visit K-12 schools in Florida.

“In today’s challenging times, science is more important than ever,” Hawthorne says. “Yet, members of the general public are rightfully skeptical that science is too often disconnected from society. As scientists, we have a responsibility to make our work more accessible and understandable to society. Our work demonstrates the possibilities of what can happen when a large, diverse team of people work together focused on public scholarship that is inclusive of and responsive to community members.”

Esri Oceans Plenary Address “The Power of People in Geospatial Technologies”

I am pleased to share the 40 minute video of my recent Esri Oceans Plenary Address “The Power of People in Geospatial Technologies.” Take a journey to Belize and back as I comment on the role of everyday, extraordinary people in geospatial technology research. The talk examines how maps, apps and drones can be used for the public good. The conversation centers on our community-based research in Belize and Florida funded by several National Science Foundation grants, including our NSF Research Experiences for Undergraduates Site. Please share with your pals. I am so grateful to Dr. Dawn Wright (Chief Scientist at Esri) and Drew Stephens of Esri for the kind invitation to share our work.

The future of science is strong if we put science in the hands of everyday, extraordinary citizens!

#citizensciencegis #openreef #nsf #esri #esrioceans

Video credit: Esri Events, 2019.

Belize Summer A 2019 Study Abroad Course Now Accepting Applications

About the Course: Work with communities in Belize (an English speaking country) on real-world research projects. Learn an in-demand research method in a high-growth technology career field. Explore the Belize Barrier Reef and several different landscapes across Belize. Learn how to use GIS mapping, apps, and drones. Spend 5 days on land and 4 on islands along the world’s second largest reef system. No previous experience with GIS is needed. Learn more at

Audience: This exciting study abroad course in Belize is open to all graduate and undergraduate students at UCF (and beyond). This 4 credit course counts as an elective course in both of the UCF GIS certificate programs. It is a research-based course. No previous GIS and mapping experience is required.

Apply through UCF Abroad at

Apps due February 15, 2019.

Program Fee: $2400-2500 (all expenses including airfare, lodging, tours, transportation, and meals). One of the most economical abroad experiences at UCF.

Ecology and Society paper now out from our NSF CNH grant

New paper now out from our NSF CNH work…

Integrating sense of place into ecosystem restoration: a novel approach to achieve synergistic social-ecological impact

Kelly M. Kibler 1Geoffrey S. Cook 2Lisa G. Chambers 2Melinda Donnelly 3Timothy L. Hawthorne 4Fernando I. Rivera 4 and Linda Walters 2

1Department of Civil, Environmental & Construction Engineering and National Center for Integrated Coastal Research, University of Central Florida, 2Department of Biology and National Center for Integrated Coastal Research, University of Central Florida, 3Department of Biology, University of Central Florida, 4Department of Sociology, University of Central Florida

Link to full article: 

Abstract: It is often a challenge to predict the impact of ecosystem restoration because many critical relationships and feedbacks between natural and human systems are poorly understood. To address this knowledge gap, we introduce a novel framework to characterize restoration dynamics within coupled human-natural systems. Because dynamics surrounding restoration are complex, we investigate the potential for sense of place, i.e., emotional attachment to place, to elucidate relationships between human and natural systems during times of change, such as restoration. Integrating sense of place with ecological metrics, a typology of restoration scenarios that exemplify complex relationships between social and ecological drivers emerges. We propose an identify-visualize-create framework for parsing restoration objectives and curating sense of place around the functional ecosystem state. Achieving coupled human-natural objectives thus requires evaluation of baseline sense of place early in the restoration process and active pursuit of opportunities that build stakeholder attachment over the long term.

Everyday, Extraordinary People are Science’s Greatest Hope

On September 29, I had the honor of a lifetime. I was able to share our message of hope on the big stage at National Geographic as one of a handful of invited talks at the first National Geographic Education Summit. I focused on the innovative work of Citizen Science GIS and our community partners in Belize and Florida. I also shared my hope for science, the hope that we can re-commit to the Golden Rule in our work to remind folks that science can be informed by everyday, extraordinary citizens.

Below, is the transcript of my talk. Enjoy, and please let me know what you think.

And a special shout-out to our Belizean youth collaborators from Miss Bertie’s Community Library in Hopkins Village and the kids that have been part of our GeoBus build in Florida. You all are the future of science, and that future begins now with your ideas, passions, and creativity. Keep on believing in yourselves and those around you. You are science’s greatest hope.

“The Golden Rule: The Future of Science Rests on the Shoulders of Everyday, Extraordinary Citizens”

Remarks from Dr. Timothy Hawthorne at National Geographic from 10/29/2018.

I believe in the Golden Rule.

Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.

Kindness, empathy, hope, compassion. These principles already guide you, the amazing K-12 teachers in this room, as you inspire science’s next generation.

But you know what? Sometimes when we grow up and actually become scientists we forget your lessons and forget the Golden Rule.

Good morning, I’m Tim, but the kids I work with in Belize call me Dr. Drone. Because of these kids, I am  hopeful. They make me believe we can put the Golden Rule back into research.

I am the founder of Citizen Science GIS. We use maps, apps and drones in our work. But I’m most proud of the work we do to get everyday, extraordinary citizens and academics to work together.

When Citizen Science GIS begins work in a new environment we go in believing that the folks living in these communities will know more than we do.

That’s right, we believe scientists don’t have all the answers.

Because of this, our science in Belize is guided by the knowledge of 12 year old Karim. Karim wakes up at 5 am during his summer break to map beach debris and sargassum on the coast. His pure dedication makes me hopeful that we will find a way to address plastic pollution within my lifetime.

12 year old Karim mapping marine debris with Elli and Amber from our team

We work with Belizean partners like 16 year old Isani to drone map vulnerable Mesoamerican reef islands and coast lines. He gives me hope that communities can inform the science needed to address climate change.

16 year old Isani flying a drone in Hopkins Village, Belize. photo credit: Hopkins Uncut

You see some of these places in Belize barely register in satellite imagery in online mapping platforms. Over the last two years we used affordable drones to completely change the way we see over 200 islands and coasts.

And we’re just getting started.

Back home in Florida, we’re building the nation’s first GeoBus. It’s a big bus…40 feet to be exact…decked out with all kinds of gear to make it a mobile geospatial technology lab. Starting in early 2019, it will visit schools around Florida to cultivate an explorer mindset in over 20,000 children each year.

The nation’s first GeoBus at UCF.

We’re empowering Florida kids for the same reason that we include communities in our fieldwork from the beginning: the Golden Rule. We have a unique opportunity to show children just how valuable they are as scientists right now.

My friends: I am a scientist, and I’m here to tell you that everyday, extraordinary people are the greatest hope for science.

Let’s all take that hope out into the world to explore, to take action, and to start making a difference today.

And let’s remember the Golden Rule in all that we do.

GIS Day at UCF on November 29 for K-12 Classes! Pre-Register Now

Get excited for GIS Day 2018 at UCF co-organized by Citizen Science GIS and GeoBus to be held on Thursday, November 29 from 10 am to 1 pm! Please pre-register your class or group as soon as possible. We will be opening up a larger public invitation on Tuesday of next week.

Pre-register now at:

Pre-register your class, organization, family or just yourself for our 2018 Maps, Apps, and Drones On-Campus Event, hosted by UCF’s Citizen Science GIS, GeoBus, Department of Sociology, and iSTEM on the UCF main campus. Come learn about maps, apps and drones with our Citizen Science GIS team and use these cool science and technology tools on site with Dr. Timothy L. Hawthorne from UCF Sociology, and the Citizen Science GIS team! And get a sneak peak of our new 42 foot long city bus, the nation’s first GeoBus, that will begin in early 2019! During the November 29 event, students will engage in an interactive assembly and then participate in hands-on learning activities that may include: using mapping apps, creating crowd-sourced data, flying mini-drones, and more!

Target Audience: 3rd grade and up.

This event will fill quickly. It is free and open to all educators and their students (including home schoolers), but pre-registration is required. We are limited to no more than 350 attendees in the student union for this free STEM education event.

If you have questions about the event, please contact If you would like to learn more about our research and educational programs please visit our website at Citizen Science GIS is an international award-winning organization at University of Central Florida committed to changing the ways communities and scientists work together in research and education.

Deadline to pre-register is November 2, 2018. And even more exciting, our GeoBus is getting closer. The seats are out, and we are now designing the interior! It’s coming, and it’s going to be big for geospatial technology education across Florida. Please encourage your teacher and education friends to like our Facebook and Twitter pages to keep up to date on GeoBus! They can do so at or Twitter at And I’ve attached a mock-up of our GeoBus design. Please share with your schools to build the excitement, especially with PTA’s, principals, directors, etc.

Best wishes, and we hope to see you soon!



Welcome Dr. Bo Yang! New Post-Doctoral Scholar for Drones and Citizen Science GIS Work

I’d like to introduce our newest Citizen Science GIS team member: Dr. Bo Yang. Bo is joining us from the University of Cincinnati and will serve as a post-doctoral scholar to support Citizen Science GIS and our new $1.3 million collaborative NSF grant for drones and GIS with the Smithsonian. We are excited to have his expertise join our team.

More about Dr. Yang: Bo Yang has an educational and research background in the fields of GIS, remote sensing, drone mapping, geospatial computation, and spatio-temporal modelling. His research involves topics on data fusion and assimilation, machine learning algorithm, high-performance computing, sociological and environmental analysis and modeling.

He earned a B.S. degree in applied mathematics and Master’s degree in computer science in China. He received his Master’s degree in Geographic Information Systems at University of Cincinnati (2013) and obtained his Ph.D. degree in Geography at University of Cincinnati (2018). His dissertation examines the multi-scale spatio-temporal data assimilation method and its application in urban heat island and heat wave studies.

Bo Yang joined University of Central Florida for drone mapping of coastal sea grass with Citizen Science GIS. His responsibilities include co-mentoring undergraduate students; engaging in intensive fieldwork and community building throughout MarineGeo sites along the west coast of North America; creating and implementing an online geospatial platform using ArcGIS Online to share drone imagery and related digital GIS data; analyzing quantitative and qualitative datasets.

1st national community geography workshop funded by NSF

The first ever national workshop in community geography is scheduled for January 25-26, 2019 in Atlanta, GA, bringing together academic researchers and community leaders interested in using geographic research for community development, social justice, and environmental sustainability. We anticipate accepting forty community geography fellows to this workshop. It will focus on sharing work related to community engaged scholarship and action research for social justice, equity, and inclusion, as well as generating ideas for future collaboration.

This NSF funded event is free of charge, and we plan to offer some form of financial support for travel costs to all fellows. We encourage participation by scholars of all backgrounds: university faculty and students as well as community scholars and community leaders. We particularly encourage applications from scholars with a non-traditional educational background and members of groups under-represented in geographic research.

More information on the conference is available at this website: This page has a link to apply for this workshop, or you can access the application directly at Applications are due by October 28 and we anticipate notifying fellows of acceptance by mid to late November.

Dr. Hawthorne is a Co-PI on this NSF award and on the workshop organizing committee. We hope to see you there!

New $1.25 Million NSF Award to Smithsonian Institution and Dr. Hawthorne’s Open Reef Team

Open Reef heads west partnering with Smithsonian Institution on new $1.25 million National Science Foundation grant

August 21, 2018

A new collaborative $1.25 million dollar grant from the National Science Foundation will support the Open Reef initiative of Citizen Science GIS at University of Central Florida. The Open Reef team led by Timothy L. Hawthorne, assistant professor of GIS in the Department of Sociology and College of Sciences GIS Cluster at UCF, will collaborate with MarineGeo researchers at the Smithsonian Institution to drone map eelgrass meadow sites along the west coast of North America from Baja Mexico to Canada. The collaborative grant entitled “Collaborative Research: The role of a keystone pathogen in the geographic and local-scale ecology of eelgrass decline in the eastern Pacific” was awarded in July by the NSF Biological Oceanography Program to a team of researchers led by Principal Investigator Dr. Emmett Duffy of the Smithsonian Institution. Hawthorne serves as PI of the UCF portion of the grant work.

Hawthorne and the Open Reef team will provide drone mapping expertise and training for community partners to use consumer-level drones for citizen science in west coast study sites. Hawthorne’s team will also help to create an open and freely accessible mapping portal through Esri’s ArcGIS Online of all drone imagery collected from the project to support greater scientific discovery in the field sites. The drone imagery will be processed with Esri’s Drone2Map software.

“Through this major NSF award, we are genuinely excited to launch a new portion of our Open Reef work along the west coast of North America with the MarineGeo team at the Smithsonian Institution. A collaboration of this magnitude is exciting for us as UCF researchers, but it should be equally exciting for the general public and citizen scientists as the results we aim to generate through the collection of drone imagery and related mapping data could revolutionize the way in which we understand these complex and important marine ecosystems,” said Hawthorne.

The collaborative grant includes faculty and students from a variety of universities and organizations, including MarineGeo at the Smithsonian Institution, Cornell University, University of California-Davis, and University of Central Florida.

Hawthorne and his Open Reef team already had an existing relationship with the Smithsonian Institution as part of their UCF Citizen Science GIS NSF Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) Site. In the REU Site, Hawthorne’s team works in Belize to drone map Smithsonian MarineGeo sites along the Mesoamerican Reef (pictured below). That first partnership with MarineGeo through the REU Site led to the inclusion of the Citizen Science GIS at UCF team in this new grant.

Carrie Bow Caye Belize, home of the Smithsonian MarineGeo Site.

Hawthorne’s funding from the UCF portion of the new NSF award will allow the Open Reef team to expand research opportunities to the next generation of community-engaged scientists.  Funds will help support a new interdisciplinary post-doctoral scholar along with several undergraduate students. The UCF Office of Research is providing additional matching support for the new post-doc position.

“This major NSF grant is a testament to the fact that dynamic teams of scientists and social scientists can work together to explore some of the most pressing environmental challenges of our time. We are excited to work with the world’s foremost marine scientists and the next generation of scientists in the use of drone technologies for understanding these ecosystems, while I also exposing science’s next generation to the opportunities of working across disciplines in a project of this magnitude,” said Hawthorne.

To view the NSF public abstract of the collaborative project, please visit:

For more information about Open Reef and Citizen Science GIS: please visit Citizen Science GIS is a 2017 Esri Special Achievement in GIS Award winner. The mission of Citizen Science GIS is to change the way communities and scientists work together across the globe to visualize local knowledge through geographic information systems, maps, apps, and drones.