Texas Tech University

Capitol Hill Event Launches University Consortium to Engage Student Mappers

Glenys Young

November 19, 2015

Texas Tech and two partner universities receive a $1 million grant from USAID.

(l-r) Nuala Cowan from George Washington University;
Ann Mei Chang, executive director of the USAID Global Development Lab;
Carrie Stokes, geographer and director of the USAID GeoCenter;
Robert V. Duncan, Texas Tech senior vice president for research;
Brent McCusker from West Virginia University;
and project director Patricia Solis, a research associate professor of geography at Texas Tech.

Texas Tech University and two partner universities were honored during a reception to launch the new Mapping For Resilience University Consortium on Tuesday (Nov. 17) in the Rayburn House Building in Washington, D.C.

Launched as part of the national Geography Awareness Week, the program aims to leverage academic community involvement in development innovation through creation and use of new open spatial data through student-led, crowd-sourced activities and shared through online open platforms for further analysis and research. Ultimately, the program will offer leadership and fellowship opportunities, activities for female mappers and support for students and their faculty mentors to work in local communities to create and use spatial data to solve real-world development needs and then share that data as a public good.

The reception was hosted by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), specifically the U.S. Global Development Lab's GeoCenter, which awarded a grant of $1 million for Texas Tech to establish a consortium of universities to start an international academic network to create and use open spatial data for development needs.

The Texas Tech Office of the Vice President for Research, the Department of Geosciences and the Department of Natural Resources Management worked with the two other founding universities – George Washington University and West Virginia University – to bring the project to fruition. The launch event featured a live demonstration of the online mapping platform provided by students from the three universities.

“Every project is different and could vary in length and complexity based on the needs of that project,” said Julia Kleine, a senior geoscience major from Yorktown. “Instead of one person mapping an entire area, many people are able to join forces by logging in online and contributing to projects by looking at satellite images and interpreting and creating the data a piece at a time. This allows people to put in as little or as much as they can. However, there are no limits to the complexity or types of maps that can be done for situations. Today we see geographic information system technologies being used to provide knowledge and humanitarian assistance all over the world, even in natural disasters in places such as Haiti and Nepal.”


The USAID GeoCenter identifies the “demand,” the places where maps and geospatial data are needed, by working with missions and understanding their development objectives. The University Consortium will develop the student mappers by partnering with universities in the U.S. and in the developing world. This model builds upon previous global geospatial programming designed by Texas Tech faculty. It also utilizes teaching and learning methods pioneered at George Washington University and spatial analysis methods devised by West Virginia University partners.

The Mapping For Resilience University Consortium is USAID's strategic investment toward building a network of student mappers who create substantial geospatial data sets to support USAID's efforts to end extreme poverty. The Mapping For Resilience University Consortium uses the OpenStreetMap platform and tools to ensure geospatial data is freely available for the greater public good, particularly local populations planning for the welfare and vitality of their own communities.

“This is an important program because USAID and their implementing partners will actually use the data we create and the analyses our participants develop in their work around the world, ultimately helping to make a difference in people's lives,” said Patricia Solís, Texas Tech research associate professor of geography and director of the program. “While we are at it, we will enrich students' international experiences through service and learning, build long-term scientific capacity around the world and foster youth leadership.

“We are leveraging a significant geospatial data revolution that makes it possible for people everywhere to not only use maps but create them, too. This is empowering for people in places that have been either left off the map or who did not have access,” Solís said. “Being able to answer the question of where, when addressing significant needs in developing countries, is very important.”

Meanwhile, students gain new skills and can use this data in their own research. This can apply to a great variety of studies on issues that lend themselves to be visualized through mapping, from locating vulnerabilities to flooding and marking the extent of drought-stricken areas to identifying factors in land use that can improve food security or locating sites with high potential for renewable energy production.

“Mapping and geospatial awareness are essential to the economic expansion, and the improvement in our quality of life throughout the world,” said Robert V. Duncan, Texas Tech senior vice president for research. “I am so excited to see our students and faculty working closely with their counterparts at George Washington, West Virginia and others around the world in this effort that brings us all together and advances peace and prosperity for all.”

The launch event was moderated by USAID U.S. Global Development Lab Executive Director Ann Mei Chang and GeoCenter Director Carrie Stokes. In attendance were congressional staff representatives from the offices of Texas Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn and Reps. Michael McCaul, Joaquin Castro and Randy Neugebauer; high level Texas Tech representatives including Duncan and Annette Sobel, Office of the President; representatives from George Washington University and West Virginia University; representatives from USAID, NASA, the National Academies of Sciences, the American Red Cross, (Missing Maps Project), the Department of State's Humanitarian Information Unit (MapGive), World Bank's Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (Open Cities), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Peace Corps and others.