New Graduate Director Role Begins Today!

Today I begin a new leadership phase. I begin a 3 year term as Graduate Program Director in UCF Sociology. I am excited to work with our faculty, staff, colleagues and community partners to elevate our work together and to support the next generation in the social sciences as we explore what makes us Uniquely UCF Sociology. There is so much creativity and intellectual thought in our department, and I am excited to work with our colleagues to share this more broadly with all of you. In moving forward, I want to be open and transparent about leadership, what it means to me, and how I will approach decision-making. I thought I’d share the values-based vision and core values that will drive my leadership style as our graduate director. I pledge to bring this vision and these core values to all decisions. And I hope to learn from others and see other leader’s visions/values statements as well so we can discuss these ideas in the academic world. Here’s to a unique, virtual academic year, but one where we will all thrive, excel, and support one another.

Graduate Director’s Values-Based Vision to Become Uniquely UCF Sociology:

We elevate the lived experiences and knowledge bases of our graduate students, faculty/staff, alumni, and community partners through diverse and shared learning experiences.

Graduate Director’s Core Values to Become Uniquely UCF Sociology:

  1. We Are Intentionally Positive. As we explore the grand challenges of sociology, society, and related areas, we are intentionally positive and solutions-oriented in our thinking.
  2. We Are Centered on Students. We place the development and aspirations of our graduate students at the core of our decision making.
  3. We Are Diverse and Inclusive. We value all forms of knowledge, and are actively engaged in making our work and our program more diverse and inclusive.
  4. We Are Always Aspirational. We see our work as ambitious and forward-thinking, while aiming to push the boundaries of conventional disciplinary thinking.


Amplify Knight Voices & Broaden Community Connections

We are pleased to introduce our newest funding initiative:
Amplify Knight Voices & Broaden Community Connections: A New UCF Graduate Student Research Funding Program to Support Underrepresented Individuals and Groups.

Program Contact: Dr. Timothy L. Hawthorne, Associate Professor of GIS in the UCF Department of Sociology and College of Sciences GIS Cluster. Email:

Overview: This new graduate student funding program from Citizen Science GIS in the UCF Department of Sociology and College of Sciences directly supports UCF graduate students to amplify their voices and broaden community connections in research or educational activities focused on social, educational or environmental inequalities; oppression; anti-racist practices and systems; and/or brutality. The program places special emphasis on funding graduate students from underrepresented groups or/and those who work with underrepresented groups. UCF graduate students and/or graduate student teams are eligible to receive up to $1,000 in direct support for successful applications. Total program funding commitment in the 2020-2021 academic year is initially $5,000 from Citizen Science GIS at UCF. We challenge the broader community to join us to expand this program with donations to support more graduate students from more departments with a goal of $25,000 in new funding by Fall 2020.

Funding Goal 1: Amplify Knight Voices: In response to ongoing calls for fostering a more inclusive, just, anti-racist society and academy, our goal is to amplify the voices of graduate student scholars from underrepresented populations at UCF. We wish to directly support their research or educational activities aimed at addressing any and all forms of social, educational or environmental inequality; oppression; anti-racist practices and systems; and/or brutality. Our goal is to support the next generation of scholars aiming toward creating a more equitable, inclusive, anti-racist and just society and/or academy.

Funding Goal 2: Broaden Community Connections: In recognition that public participation from diverse groups enhances science, our goal is to broaden community connections in graduate student research and education activities. We aim to directly support graduate student work that includes meaningful partnerships with communities with high percentages of underrepresented groups. In this way, such communities can play a more active role in UCF-affiliated scholarship that impacts their communities. Our goal is to support scholarship with communities, rather than in communities.

Topics of Interest: We wish to directly support graduate student-led research and education activities aimed at addressing any and all forms of social, educational or environmental inequality; oppression; anti-racist practices and systems; and/or brutality. Applicants may address either or both of the two funding goals outlined above. To read our recent statement on the above topics and our solidarity with the Black Lives Matters movement, see:

Funding Eligibility and Priority: All UCF graduate students are eligible to apply as either an individual applicant or as part of a student team. Preference will be given to applications in any of the 3 categories below:

  1. UCF Sociology graduate student applicants from underrepresented groups;
  2. UCF Sociology graduate students proposing work with communities with a high proportion of underrepresented groups;
  3. Graduate student teams in other UCF departments led by students from underrepresented groups that include interdisciplinary connections with UCF sociology graduate students.

Funding Availability: UCF graduate students and/or graduate student teams are eligible to receive up to $1,000 in direct support of their successful application. Total program funding commitment in the 2020-2021 academic year is initially $5,000 from Citizen Science GIS at UCF.

Community Challenge to Increase Funding: We challenge other academic units and industry, alumni and community partners to donate to this program and partner with us so that it can be expanded to offer more research funding opportunities directly to UCF graduate students who are exploring the program’s stated goals. With additional financial partners, we are very much open to expanding in new ways to support student areas of study beyond those connected to or working with Sociology and/or GIS.

Our Motivations: We have put forth the initial $5,000 to create this funding program because:

  1. We stand in solidarity with all in society who are calling out systematic racism, oppression, inequality and brutality across the U.S.;
  2. We acknowledge our privileged position as a community-based, scientific research organization that can take action and provide financial support to support action;
  3. We recognize we can improve our own organization’s understanding, practices and mentoring efforts related to research and education about systematic racism, oppression, inequality and brutality;
  4. We continue to support efforts to broaden participation of underrepresented groups in the academy as this is part of our organization’s mission.

Additional Mentoring Option: Dr. Timothy Hawthorne, Founding Director of Citizen Science GIS and Associate Professor of GIS at UCF, is willing to serve as a mentor or co-mentor, either formally or informally, to assist students in executing the stated goals of selected proposals (though not required). Additional Citizen Science GIS student staff are also available to support. Adding a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) component to a proposal through such mentorship could be another way (though not required) to communicate project results as mapping and related analyses may offer opportunities to broaden impact.

Program Dates: July 1, 2020 to June 30, 2021 (pending continued availability of funds)

Key Program Dates/Milestones:

  • July-August 2020: Student Recruitment
  • Summer/Fall 2020: Community Challenge/Donations Open to Expand Funding Pool to $25,000
  • September 1: Round 1 Proposals Due
  • September 15: Round 1 Funding Decisions
  • November 17: Round 2 Proposals Due
  • December 1: Round 2 Funding Decisions

Application Components: Applications are limited to no more than 3 single-spaced pages with 11” or 12” inch font and 1” margins. Complete applications can be emailed as a Word document or PDF document to Dr. Timothy Hawthorne at Applications should include all sections noted below, incomplete applications will not be considered.

  • Key research question(s) and objectives identified and explained.
  • Short section on how the proposal supports one or both key themes:
    • Funding Goal 1: Amplify Knight Voices
    • Funding Goal 2: Broaden Community Connections
  • Short section citing 7-10 key articles (academic and/or non-academic) that support the research or education topic of interest.
  • A brief explanation of how the findings may be communicated to broad audiences.
  • Short biography of individual applicant (or all team members for a team proposal) explaining how they are part of an underrepresented group /or and how they are doing work with communities with high proportions of underrepresented groups.
  • For projects proposing to address Funding Goal 2, a short description of the community partner and their work with underrepresented groups.
  • Budget and justification. Identify and explain how the budget requested will support the application goals. Any budget items must be consistent with UCF spending guidelines. The proposed budget may not support UCF tuition/student fees, nor may it support food/beverages.

About Citizen Science GIS at UCF: Citizen Science GIS is an international award winning organization committed to increasing connections between science, technology and society. Since its inception in 2015, Citizen Science GIS has supported community-based research and broadening participation efforts in STEAM, most notably through our grant funded projects; our Maps, Apps and Drones Tour with K-12 students and teachers, and the ongoing development of the nation’s 1st GeoBus. To learn more, please visit:

Belize Summer A 2020 Study Abroad Course Now Accepting Applications

Join us for a research experience of a lifetime in Belize Summer A 2020.

About the Courses: In either SYA 4959 (undergraduate students) or SYA 5941 (graduate students), students work with communities in Belize (an English speaking country) on real-world research projects. Students will learn an in-demand research method in a high-growth technology career field. We will explore the Belize Barrier Reef and several different landscapes across Belize. We will learn how to use GIS mapping, apps, and drones. Students spend 5 days on land and 4 on islands along the world’s second largest reef system. No previous experience with GIS is needed.

Apply through UCF Abroad at

Audience: This exciting study abroad course in Belize is open to all graduate and undergraduate students at UCF (and beyond). All majors are welcome. This 3 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.

Apps due February 15, 2020. But apply soon, this course will fill before the application date.

Program Fee: $2400-2500 (all expenses including airfare, lodging, tours, transportation, and meals). One of the most economical abroad experiences at UCF. Plus normal tuition and university fees for a 3 credit course.

Watch the hype video here:

Any questions, please contact the program director, Dr. Timothy Hawthorne at


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!