Geo Science class on locations

NSF Funds Summer Program in Community Geography

Posted On March 8, 2012 by Ann Claycombe
Categories Discovery
The foreclosure crisis. Urban green space. Soil and air quality. For the next three summers, undergraduate geographers will come to Georgia State University to research these issues using Atlanta as their laboratory.

The program, which will be funded by a $350,000 grant from the National Science Foundation through the Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program, was one of only eight across the nation chosen for funding this year. It  is also the first in the nation to center on the emerging field of community geography.

Community geography seeks to build partnerships between researchers, neighbors, and nonprofits, explained Assistant Professor Timothy Hawthorne, the project’s principal investigator.

In this case, the students – 10 each summer, with up to three from GSU – will be split into three teams. Each team will be assigned to work with a local nonprofit in a particular neighborhood and on a particular issue:

  1. Mapping property dynamics in south Atlanta. In this project, students will work with Charis Community Housing, a nonprofit that seeks to build affordable housing. The students will evaluate how Charis’ strategies affect the economic and social dynamics in the neighborhoods where the nonprofit operates – and where more than 30 percent of the housing stock is abandoned.
  2. Mapping green spaces in the Lakewood neighborhood. Students will work with Trees Atlanta, a group that seeks to protect and restore urban forests in Atlanta. The students will map existing green spaces, and then overlay that map with the social and economic characteristics of the households in the area. The project seeks to understand issues of environmental justice, quality of life issues, and the state of “nature” in Atlanta.
  3. Mapping urban environmental quality in Mechanicsville, Pittsburgh, Summerhill, Adair Park, and Peoplestown. Students on this team will work with SAFE (South Atlanta for the Environment) to map air and soil quality on a finer scale than ever before. The students will explore how both current and past land use can affect the environment – and the health – of residents in these areas.

Hawthorne believes that the program was chosen for funding for a few different reasons. First, it’s got an interdisciplinary team of faculty, including specialists in geography, geology, public health, and archival research. Second, the fact that community partners have already been identified. And third, the city itself.

“I think the urban setting was huge,” Hawthorne said. “All of the issues we’re trying to examine are playing out on a daily basis in Atlanta.”

Katherine Hankins, assistant professor of Geosciences, is the co-principal investigator of the program, which is titled “Addressing Social and Environmental Disparities through Community Geography and Geographic Information Systems.” The community geography program is the second REU to be run by faculty in Geosciences.

Back when Geology was a free-standing department, it hosted an REU program called the Atlanta Consortium for Research in Earth Sciences, or ACRES. Many of the participants in that program have gone on to high-quality Ph.D. programs, said chair W. Crawford Elliott – adding that he regularly sees their names as authors in academic journals.

“I predict this current REU will spawn others aimed at understanding the urban environment from several standpoints,” Elliott said. “I have high hopes for the project.”

March 8, 2012