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  • Bruce Duane, Clemson University

Mapping for Better Infrastructure

Updated: Jan 4, 2021

My name is Bruce Duane, and I am a civil engineering major at Clemson University. During the spring of 2017, I have had the privilege of being a YouthMappers intern with the US Agency for International Development's GeoCenter. My experience with YouthMappers has been one that I very much stumbled upon, yet one that I have greatly appreciated. I wanted to study civil engineering with the intention of using my technical skills to serve others. With that in mind, I joined a humanitarian engineering organization at my university called Clemson Engineers for Developing Countries (CEDC), which primarily serves the people in the Central Plateau of Haiti. My first semester I was involved with the International Road Assessment Program (iRAP) team. Next, I joined the GIS team, which was also CEDC’s first group as a chapter within YouthMappers. I did not know much about YouthMappers, but since starting the USAID internship, I have really enjoyed the kind of work I have been doing.

I have found myself wondering about all the different applications of mapping and digitizing in this day and age. One misconception I think the public has with regards to mapping is that everything in the world has already been mapped since we have such advanced navigation programs. If there’s anything this internship has taught me it is that some of the world’s most important problems could be solved much more easily if only we understood more about the geography of the earth as well as the infrastructure we have built ourselves.

For example, I have noticed that the work I did with iRAP is one application of the digitizing work I do for USAID. I could not have coded safety hazards on roads if someone did not already digitize those roads in a GIS software. Also, some of the work I will be doing with a civil design firm as a cooperative education student includes stormwater management and construction site analysis. All of this would be very complicated without information such as existing buildings, roads, and elevation data. Also, the majority of the work my GIS team and Youth Mappers chapter does is storytelling. Storytelling is a very important part of what organizations like CEDC do. In order to effectively raise awareness for different problems, abundant and accurate data is required.

There are still many problems in areas such as transportation, energy, water resources, and health care that could be solved with more GIS support. I have not yet been able to explore all of these issues but would love to during the rest of my education and career. However, all of these issues are marked by an infrastructure that fails to meet the needs of those who use it. In some cases, countries lack the resources to build infrastructure that will meet their needs. In other cases, countries lack the information and/or resources necessary to replace their existing infrastructure. This is why contributions are needed to the GIS community.

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