Dr. Hawthorne’s Current REU Site in Orlando and Belize (2016-2020)

COS_REU_IGREU Site: Preparing the Next Generation of Scholars through Community Geographic Information Systems and Citizen Science in Orlando and Belize: NSF Award #1560015, Budget: $374,480, Dates: March 2016-December 2020. Learn more on the REU page on our Citizen Science GIS website.

An Intellectual Pursuit to Discover Creative Models for Community-Based Scholarship Across International Borders.

As a NSF-funded program led by two internationally recognized scholars, the UCF REU Site in Belize seeks to transcend disciplinary thinking, offer new forms of knowledge production, push the boundaries of traditional scholarly research and teaching, and develop innovative and creative approaches for learning and teaching undergraduates and members of broader society. Through the transformative seven-week international research program and post-program dissemination of results, this REU Site will: 1) critically assess the opportunities for and challenges to community-based models for international undergraduate research training, especially important as U.S. higher education institutions and the Smithsonian push for more globally-minded thinkers; 2) engage 24 students in community-based international fieldwork experiences focused on GIS and related geospatial research techniques to examine social and environmental disparities; 3) develop well-prepared, ethical researchers committed to applying STEM research skills in international community-based work; and 4) disseminate a new conceptual and methodological model for international community geography and GIS research by connecting theory with praxis.


Belize and US Students mapping planning issues in Dangriga, Belize.

A First in International Community Geography and GIS: 

Being the first research team to develop an international REU Site focused on community geography and GIS can lead to replication in other international settings as results are disseminated. The new international community geography framework can be utilized in multiple countries, especially in other developing countries that have vast knowledge of social and environmental disparities, but lack the geospatial research expertise, people power, and infrastructure to implement, analyze, and visualize wide-scale, community geography and GIS projects. The framework can be applied to multiple STEM-infused disciplines (i.e. geography, sociology, education, public health, natural resource management, marine biology, marine conservation, ecology, and computer sciences).

Community Geography and GIS

Our team defines community geography in international settings as “a process, set of methods, and collaborative framework that utilizes spatial thinking and geographic approaches which enable academics and communities to engage in inclusive, mutually beneficial, shared research experiences. These experiences are designed to understand and visualize the wants, needs, and future visions of willing communities” (Hawthorne et al. 2015: 24).


US students mapping planning issues in Stann Creek District, Belize

In the spirit of community geography and GIS, the research directions of our REU Site have developed over the past five years as part of the PI and Co-PI’s study abroad community GIS program through collaboration with UB mentor Antonio Cano and other Belizean stakeholders. Research Direction I will focus on participatory mapping and analyzing disparities related to flooding and disaster management strategies on the coast (building on the work of Tran et al., 2009; Duval-Diop et al., 2010; Youseff et al., 2011; Chau et al., 2013; Gajbe, 2013; Montgomery & Chakraborty, 2013; Spanu & McCall, 2013; Chingombe, 2014; Kienberger, 2014). Students will examine mitigation strategies, including documentation of existing land use patterns and optimal siting of infrastructure and evacuation routes for medical support services and temporary relief centers. Research Direction II will focus on participatory mapping and analyzing the composition and distribution of coastal marine debris in multiple shoreline communities varying in size, accessibility, and reliance on tourism (building on the work of Jambeck et al., 2007; Sheavley & Register, 2007; Derraik, 2012; Slavin et al., 2012; Hidalgo-Ruz & Thiel, 2013; Miller-Martin, 2013; Baldwin et al., 2014).  Students will assess the volume and influence litter has on socially disparate communities, while contributing to the nation’s first open geospatial database of debris impacts along the coast.


Dr. Hawthorne’s Previous REU Site in Atlanta, Georgia (2012-2015)

I was the Principal Investigator of the National Science Foundation-funded “REU Site: Addressing Social and Environmental Disparities through Community Geography and Geographic Information Systems” at Georgia State University (Atlanta, GA).

REU Site: Addressing Social and Environmental Disparities through Community Geography and Geographic Information SystemsNSF_Logo

NSF Award #1156755, Budget: $350,000, Dates: February 2012-July 2015

Prior to his arrival at UCF in August 2015, Dr. Timothy L. Hawthorne was the Principal Investigator of the nation’s first community geography and GIS REU Site in Atlanta, Georgia while an Assistant Professor of Geography at Georgia State University.  The Atlanta Community Geography and GIS REU Site was a tremendous success and a collaborative effort with Co-PI Dr. Katherine Hankins, Associate Professor of Geography at Georgia State University (Dr. Hankins is now PI of the Atlanta work given Dr. Hawthorne’s departure from GSU).  The lessons learned from his successful REU Site in Atlanta led him to conceptualize the UCF REU Site in Belize and focus on expanding community geography models into international settings to include his previous Belize research and teaching experiences.  In part due to the success of the Atlanta REU Site, he was recognized by the Georgia State University Honors College in Spring 2015 as the GSU Faculty Undergraduate Research Mentor of the Year.

Intellectual Merit: The six-week summer REU site engages a diverse group of students, faculty and community members in community-based geographic inquiry of social and environmental disparities in Atlanta neighborhoods, including examinations of neighborhood change, property markets, air quality, urban green spaces, and neighborhood visioning. With an explicit focus on community geography, university-community partnerships and participatory methodologies, the research training program is among the first of its kind for undergraduates in the United States. The REU aims to develop well-prepared, ethical researchers who are committed to community-based research for addressing social and environmental disparities. The site also seeks to develop a new conceptual framework for community geography, an emerging subfield of geography that draws from Participatory GIS (PGIS), mixed methodologies, and critical urban theory. Community geography places explicit emphasis on identifying the spatial thinking and local knowledges that emerge from neighborhood residents’ experiences and seeks to affect positive community change, in a variety of ways, whether it is to visualize challenges and assets, improve service delivery, or more accurately identify geographic disparities. Undergraduates and faculty mentors in this project investigate the spatial thinking and local knowledges of residents who seek to address social and environmental disparities in Atlanta.

Broader Impacts: The most important impact is that the site is among the first U.S.-based undergraduate training programs explicitly focused on community-based geographic inquiry where undergraduates develop their interests in community geography. Second, there is an opportunity for knowledge discovery to identify and mitigate social and environmental disparities in urban neighborhoods. Third, each student will be confronted with real-life examples/conflicts in research ethics. Fourth, there is practical significance for local communities as shared products and data are developed in the forms of maps, datasets, an online GIS server, non-technical reports, oral histories and multimedia. Finally, knowledge and practices gained from the site can lead to disciplinary transformation as the team develops a new conceptual framework for community geography.

REU students working in the Atlanta Community Mapping and Research Center

REU students working in the Atlanta Community Mapping and Research Center at Georgia State University in Dr. Hawthorne’s first REU Site.