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  • Dara Carney-Nedelman, Communications Specialist

Calling All Students: Now is the Time to Learn a New Skill- Mapping!

Updated: Oct 28, 2020

Hello, YouthMappers! Due to the pandemic, I imagine summer plans for you and many other students didn't turn out how they were planned. I wrote this blog originally for OSM US to share my experiences as a youth in the mapping community with prospective mappers. I'm so very thankful for all of the opportunities and the mapping community that supported my development, my hope is this blog will encourage more students to start mapping. I truly think that mapping brings us together, and know our world could benefit from that right now, so here it goes!


I’ve been developing my mapping skills since 8th grade but am new to the OpenStreetMap (OSM) community. So why is a beginner level mapper writing on the OSM US blog? Well, it all boils down to my membership on the Unicoi County 4-H GPS Team. From a young age, I’ve experienced the personal and professional benefits of GIS, and quickly learned it would quite literally take me places! I’m passionate about sharing this skill set that impacts the globe, and as a beginner mapper, I want to share joining the OSM community from my perspective for prospective mappers.

Unicoi County 4-H GPS Team Members at a pre-conference event for the 2014 Eastern Regional Tennessee Geographic Information Council (TNGIC) GIS Forum (Left to Right- Liz Moughon, Dylan Roberts, and Dara Carney-Nedelman)

In case you are a prospective mapper and are not familiar with OSM, here’s a link to a short video from the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT) that simply explains humanitarian mapping, and is at the heart of the reason why I am a volunteer mapper. My hardest hurdle to overcome when explaining OSM is that individuals think they need to be a geography major or to be a tech wizard to do it. While I know there are more advanced versions of open source mapping software out there, what I have used has been simple and easy to learn, and if it is not there’s a simple tutorial a click away.

Now to share my story of how and why I joined the OSM community. We’ll have to retrace my steps of mapping from middle school to high school to college and now in the “real world” of adulting.

In 2010 I became a charter member of the Unicoi Country 4-H GPS Team. Our goal then was to map the 50 miles of the Appalachian Trail to promote outdoor recreation in our community through free and public information. At the time I had no idea of the supportive mapping community I’d be joining, or the skillset I would gain. We continued to make maps centered around benefiting our community which took us to mapping conferences regionally, statewide, and even internationally to Bolivia. The community at these conferences took us under their wing. The GIS Professionals were genuinely interested in our conference presentations, even though looking back now I realize how inexperienced we were. They valued our perspective, no matter our age or training!

Unicoi County 4-H GPS Team members

collecting data for their Top Ten Trails map

(Left to Right: Dara Carney-Nedelman,

Lydia Huggins, Liz Moughon, and Dylan Roberts)

That is what I have grown to appreciate in the mapping community, members value other’s perspectives no matter their background. In my undergrad, while I majored in communication studies, I still tried to stay active in the mapping community by joining The University of Tennessee’s Club Geography and taking geography courses. What I wish I would have known then is that there is an organization called YouthMappers, which would have allowed me to take advantage of my passions in mapping, volunteer work, and global awareness all in one! P.S. If you are reading this blog, you successfully found YouthMappers's website, be sure to look around!

My first YouthMappers event with Humanitarian Mapping Society

at The George Washington University

Thankfully a few months after college I ran across another open source mapping community, Missing Maps. I stumbled into my local American Red Cross office and mentioned I had mapping experience. Little did I know that would lead me to one training and then co-leading a mapathon of over 20 people a couple of months later. That’s how simple it is to learn the basics of OSM! All I needed was one training and a bit of experimenting myself, and I was off giving a general overview to new mappers.

My college friends are deciding what to do this summer with canceled internships and the youth in my community are trying to find ways to still take advantage of their summer. I have one recommendation for them all, checkout OSM! It’s free, will leave you with tangible skills, and you can learn about the world around you.

The community you will join as a mapper has continually amazed me. Not only are there individual networks and initiatives for any interest you have - the people are also incredibly supportive! Throughout my youth, I was always encouraged from the conference-goers when I gave presentations, and the GIS professionals were extremely helpful to the teams I was a part of. I’ve found this true in my short time as part of the OSM community too!

My first OSM US Mappy Hour in March, 2020

An example of a particular mapping group working towards a common cause is the OSM US contributions to the Black Lives Matter movement. You can learn about it by connecting to this linked OSM Wiki page. I learned about this initiative by attending the OSM US Mappy Hour at the end of June. A follow-up meeting on diversity is planned for July 22. You can sign up to join here. For the students that want to support other students, you can map historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) in the U.S., the specific project is linked here but you can also learn more about it on the wiki page. The initiative towards mapping HBCUs is because they are undermapped, and mapping another college/university can also lead to collaboration and a broadened understanding of another community if you reach out to the university you are mapping.

Today’s world requires us to come together, and I strongly think you can do that through mapping. Whether it be your community or a community 5,000 miles away, mapping brings us all closer and shows us that we are more alike than we are different. Learn a new marketable skill, build a network, benefit your community, and gain global awareness all from the safety and comfort of your home through...MAPPING!

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