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BHSU students assist with remote humanitarian mapping project

Author: BHSU Communications/Wednesday, January 16, 2019/Categories: Students, Students in the News, Academic Affairs, College of Liberal Arts, Faculty, 2018

Students in the Geography 101 course at Black Hills State University recently completed a digital mapping project to assist humanitarian efforts stemming from the Ebola outbreak in the Congo and the rainy season in Zambia, Africa.

Carrie Gray-Wood, instructor of geography at BHSU, said the students used software developed by the Humanitarian Open Street Map Team at to digitally trace buildings on maps from satellite imagery.

The goal was to create open source maps that can be used for disaster recovery, research, risk assessment, and sustainable development.

“Our students voted on which worldwide projects they wanted to support,” said Gray-Wood. “NGOs, communities, and international organizations often rely on these open source maps to assist during disasters in remote locations. It enables these entities to safely and efficiently provide the manpower, provisions, training, and equipment responders need.”

Hailey Vigil, history education major from Gillette, Wyo., said it was amazing to help people in dire situations on the other side of the world, right from her classroom in South Dakota.

“This experience will help me as a teacher to provide this understanding to my future students, that there are ways to help people who are thousands of miles away from them,” said Vigil.

Coming into her Geography 101 class, Vigil had knowledge about the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). For the project, the BHSU students updated the inhabited areas of the Congo and mapped visible infrastructure in the city of Butembo in the DRC.

The needs of residents in Zambia, though, were new to Vigil. Using digital mapping, the class assessed the number of people affected by floods during the rainy season of the North-Western province of Zambia.

“The project really enlightened me about the people of Zambia. I gained knowledge that helped me grow as a person, and as a future educator,” said Vigil.

After the BHSU students traced buildings on the digital maps, the data was then validated by others to provide a better sense of population concentrations and infrastructure at the time the satellite images were taken.

“Students appreciated the agency they had in choosing an assignment that impacted the world around them,” said Gray-Wood. “They also gained valuable digital cartographic experience.”

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