Association of American Geographers AAG - My Community, My Earth
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United States Constellations

Linking Research, Education, and Community Outreach

The My Community, Our Earth Partnership presents award recipients of its Constellation Grants program, providing support for student participation in community-based projects using geographic methods or technologies for sustainable development. Each project presented in the illustrated poster session was conducted by a constellation of undergraduate or graduate students, faculty, and extension personnel in land grant and/or sea grant universities. The objective of creating and supporting these nodes of collaboration is to improve linkages among research, education, and extension outreach related to critical sustainability topics and USDA National Emphasis Areas. Program funding and support has been generously provided by the US Department of Agriculture and other MyCOE partners, including the AAG. The MyCOE partnership has facilitated the local teams of students, researchers, foresters, and extensionists through networking and mentoring support of the MyCOE network.

Project Summaries

Community-Based Mapping for
Sustainable Disaster Management


Tasha Phillips, Tennessee State University/University of Minnesota (Advisors: David Padgett, Javiette Samuel, Tennessee State University)

Natural disasters occur at the most unexpected times. It is at these times that we find out how prepared or unprepared we are to deal with natural disasters. Hurricane Katrina exposed its citizens', its government's, and its city's lack of preparation for a storm such as Katrina. It is important that we begin to change our actions and become more personally involved in getting ready for natural disasters. This project aims to enhance community and high school students' awareness about disasters through service learning. Students in Imagine College at Pearl-Cohn High School in Nashville, Tennessee, will be involved in working with the community members, community organizations, and their classmates in developing a plan for disaster preparedness. This plan will be implemented through using ArcGIS software to map places of shelter or safety for members to go in times of emergencies. These maps will include things such as locations of food shelters, tornado shelters, and areas of land more vulnerable to damage from a disaster. Students will create these maps themselves with help from Dr. David A. Padgett, Associate Professor of Geography, at Tennessee State University and the Neighborhoods Resource Center. The maps will be used during a series of community seminars for all community members, merchants, parents, children, and organizations to increase their knowledge of how to become prepared for a disaster. In addition, the State Farm Good Neighbor Grant will be sought to help aid in the development of a sustainable GIS lab for Pearl-Cohn High School students.


Engaging Rural Youth in a Geographic Evaluation of the Impacts of Dam Removal on Sustainability in the Upper Klamath Basin, Oregon

Jason M. Hatch and Kelley Thomas, Oregon State University (Advisors: Hannah Gosnell, Kurt Peters, Oregon State University)

The Chiloquin Dam, built in 1914 by the Bureau of Indian Affairs on the Sprague River in the Upper Klamath Basin to supply the Modoc Irrigation District with water, will be removed in 2008 to improve fish passage. The dam is located in the town of Chiloquin, with a population of 716 people, 30 percent of whom are poor, and more than 50 percent of whom are Native American. Dam removal will have both positive and negative impacts on "the triple bottom line" - ecological, social, and economic sustainability. Is the removal of the Chiloquin Dam an example of sustainable development? This project aims to strengthen the capacity of rural youth in Chiloquin, Oregon to help guide the future of their community and to excite students about the field of geography. Chiloquin High School students will be introduced to a variety of tools for geographic analysis (GPS, GIS, demographic data analysis and interviewing techniques) and will explore the concepts of sustainability and traditional environmental knowledge (TEK) in an assessment of the social and ecological impacts of dam removal on their community. To facilitate this project, a racially diverse (Native American, biracial Black and White, and White) team from Oregon State University comprised of faculty, extension agents and two graduate students will collaborate with teachers to engage students (a third of whom are Native American) in a consideration of sustainable development. Students will present findings to Chiloquin community members, tribal administrators, and other local officials.

Protecting Indigenous Land in the Peruvian Amazon

Kristina Pearson, Colorado State University (Advisors: Kathleen Pickering, Andrew Seidl, Colorado State University)

The Peruvian Amazon is being deforested at a rate of over 42 acres each day as estimated by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. The indigenous peoples inhabiting the forests have sustainably-managed these lands for many generations. However, the Peruvian government opened up the farthest reaches of the Amazon basin in 2003 for oil exploration and other extractive enterprises (such as logging and mining). Although the Peruvian government has given many indigenous communities the titles to their lands, the indigenous peoples are not aware of the location of their boundaries and, therefore, cannot report infringements on their land as told to me by the representatives from local indigenous organizations. As well as lacking the technology to monitor and demarcate their lands, the region is so remote that communication with the outside world is difficult. By facilitating the organization of these communities around land issues, they can then mobilize to protect their territories. My research uses Geographic Information System (GIS) and Geographic Positioning System (GPS) technology, in collaboration with Shipibo and Ashaninka communities in the central Peruvian Amazon, to monitor land use and demarcate indigenous territorial boundaries. Around forty indigenous communities in the district of Iparia, Ucayali, Peru are attempting to organize to better protect their land and natural resources from the illegal extraction of these resources.


Migratory Bird Predicted Habitat Maps

Milagros J. González, University of Puerto Rico (Advisor: William Gould, US Forest Service International Institute of Tropical Forestry)

The geographic distribution of a selected number of migratory birds in Puerto Rico will be mapped using the GAP Analysis Program methodology. In addition, predicted habitat maps for these species will be modeled using the landcover developed by the Puerto Rico GAP Analysis Project. A GAP analysis will be carried out to assess the conservation protection of these migratory birds. For this purpose a land stewardship of Puerto Rico will be used in order to calculate the percent of the species habitats that is under some level of protection. The results could help pinpoint the areas that are of importance for the species survival and that need to stay free of human development or urban areas. The Puerto Rico GAP Analysis Project (PRGAP) started as an effort to map vertebrate biodiversity in Puerto Rico and to quantify the amount of protection that is being given to this biodiversity through land stewardship conservation. As part of the National GAP Analysis Program the PRGAP is sponsored by the Biological Resources Division of the United States Geological Survey (USGS-BRD) whose mission is to carry out regional assessments of the conservation status of native terrestrial vertebrate species and natural land cover types. Other PRGAP sponsoring organizations and collaborators include the International Institute of Tropical Forestry (IITF), US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), and the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources (DNER).

[Note: Milagros is also a school teacher and has used this project in her own classrooms]


Furthering University/Community Partnerships for Environmental Justice: Children’s Health and Safety in Low-income Neighborhoods in East Austin, Texas

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Monica Bosquez; Boris Brodsky; Scott Alan Ford; Scott Grantham; Sunshine Mathon; Mariana Montoya; Jasmin Moore; Jean Niswonge; Suzanne Russo; Zachary Stern; Elizabeth Walsh; and Xin Zhang, University of Texas at Austin (Advisors: Bjorn Sletto, University of Texas at Austin; Susana Almanza, PODER)

The urban environment has long been an arena of contestation and the focus of activist demands: for fairer distribution of environmental services, for removal of polluting industries, for rezoning of industrial areas. Such demands for greater "environmental justice" increasingly influence planning and policy-making and have become the focus of a growing body of academic and policy-oriented research. Environmental justice research is often community-driven and participatory in nature, involving qualitative methods such as interviewing, participant observation, mental mapping, and participatory GIS. By incorporating formal, scientific knowledge with local perspectives on urban space, environmental justice has become a powerful approach to understanding and negotiating the sometimes conflicting interests of activist groups, neighborhood organizations, policy makers and corporate interests. This service learning course, offered by the program in Community and Regional Planning in the School of Architecture, introduced students to the origins, theories, and methods of environmental justice, focusing in particular on environmental issues in marginalized, low-income and ethnic neighborhoods in the United States and in Latin America. For our final class project, we collaborated with neighborhood organizations, the activist environmental justice group PODER, and city planners to investigate environmental justice concerns in East Austin, specifically health and safety concerns associated with industrial sites. We jointly developed a research methodology, conducted field research and gathered data, and produced a GIS, a DVD, a report, and posters to assist different actors engaged with environmental policy-making in East Austin.

This effort demonstrated the value and synergy of linking research, education, and extension outreach using geographic learning for sustainable development, by:

  • Fostering communication among students, faculty, and extension personnel around geographic learning for sustainable development.
  • Increasing awareness of the value and synergy of linking research, education, and extension outreach using geographic learning for sustainable development
  • Building capacity of students, faculty, and extensionists in jointly conducting community-based projects for sustainable development

“This is so great – [the students] are really excited about this project, and their getting this small grant has mobilized a core group of faculty, extension agents, and high school teachers to work with them on it. It's evolving into a really neat initiative which will have impacts beyond their 6 week program I believe. Thanks so much for the opportunity and support.”


“I just wanted to follow up with you and tell you how much I enjoyed the 2 MyCOE sessions at AAGs – and thank you again for including us. The sessions were so impressive and exciting and inspirational! I had no idea our little project was part of such a well-orchestrated global effort.”


“[My advisee] has been in the lab often, working very hard with the mapping and doing a great job preparing for the AAG meeting in April. I think the fellowship you offered has really inspired her and it could be one of those things that changes the direction of her life.”