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  • Kendall Merkel, Texas Tech University

Eyes Opened to Humanitarian Mapping

Updated: Jan 4, 2021

It’s funny how sometimes-unexpected opportunities arise. You never plan on becoming involved in something, and then all of the sudden you’re thrust into the center of it. This was sort of the case for how I became involved with YouthMappers. Before January (2016), I didn’t even know what OpenStreetMap was. I especially was unaware of the existence of such a strong community of people who all had one common passion, humanitarian mapping.

My name is Kendall Merkel, and I was born and raised in San Antonio, Texas. This fall will mark the beginning of my fourth and final (if everything goes as planned) year at Texas Tech University. Anyone familiar with West Texas knows there is not really a diverse geographical context in the area, in other words it’s really, really flat.

Kendall at the Top of a Wind Turbine in Lubbock, Texas


However the lack of geographical obstacles helps to make Tech a perfect place for my major, wind energy. The uniqueness of the major to Texas Tech is something I was immediately drawn to when choosing what I wanted to study, but I have had a strong desire to study geography at the university level since my freshman year of high school. This initially led me declare only geography as my minor. As time progressed I began to understand the relevance of GIS and how important a well-versed education in GIS could potentially be to my future in the wind industry. Now I have also declared a minor in GIS.

In the spring semester of 2016, I enrolled in Patricia Solis’ class on humanitarian mapping and OSM. In the class we were split into groups to work on four different HOT tasks. The particular task I worked on was in Quelimane, Mozambique. I loved working on this task because it involved geography of health, and I am highly interested in human interactions with their environments. Towards the end of the class I approached Patricia about working in an independent study class involving OSM and YouthMappers, and she introduced me to the internship with the USAID GeoCenter. This experience has greatly given me a new perspective on how beneficial humanitarian mapping can be to the entire world.

One reason I really enjoy working with YouthMappers is how people my age, who are in college, who have their own struggles and midterms and papers to write and shifts to work etc. can make a difference around the world. Mapping in OSM is an easy way for students to get involved, and it benefits, both directly and indirectly, populations around the world. Humanitarian mapping also promotes sustainability, a topic I am very interested in. Through OSM, sustainability efforts have already been greatly impacted by the Youth Mappers program, which has already saved over 2 million edits since February.

So far I have learned a lot from the USAID GeoCenter internship. Working with other mappers across the country who share similar interests is very encouraging to me. During the class I took over the spring semester at Tech, the project I was placed in mapped malaria prevention in Quelimane, Mozambique. I was thrilled to work in Mozambique again through the internship because I had previously invested time in this area. It also made mapping easier since I was familiar with the aerial imagery we work with in OSM. I was able to become more familiar with the JOSM editor (something I wish I would have utilized during my schoolwork), and this helped me increase my efficiency and also help with the validation process.

I had never validated data before the internship, and I found out I really enjoy that process because I like to be thorough and make sure everything is completed. During the internship I also spent some time becoming familiar with the OSM Analytics tool. I had used the tool when it was first put online for a project in my spring class on Humanitarian Mapping, but I was able to take more time to see exactly how beneficial the Analytics tool is to analyzing the amount of buildings and roads added within a certain area.

Pikes Peak Colorado


All in all, I am very grateful for having been presented this opportunity and introduced to the world of OSM, Humanitarian Mapping, and YouthMappers. This process has opened my eyes to be more aware of the need for detailed maps in times of disaster, and I will definitely continue mapping for years to come.

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