top of page
  • Noelle, Dina, Amy, Michael, and Adele

Reflections From the USAID GeoCenter’s Tenth Cohort of YouthMappers Virtual Interns

Since YouthMappers was launched in 2015, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) GeoCenter has partnered with YouthMappers to host multiple cohorts of students from US-based YouthMappers chapters in a virtual internship program. The global pandemic did not stop the GeoCenter from running the tenth iteration of the program this fall, with four students from The George Washington University (GW), Vassar College, and Pennsylvania State University participating. In addition to building their OpenStreetMap (OSM) skill sets and learning how GIS is used in international development, the interns completed independent capstone projects in support of YouthMappers mapping campaigns and training initiatives. Watch their final project presentations recording linked here. Below, the student interns share their reflections on the program and their final projects!


Flood Vulnerability Analysis for Panamá

By Noelle Dwyer

During this past semester, Fall 2020, I had the opportunity to intern with YouthMappers/USAID. Throughout the course of the internship, I was introduced to various open source tools I was not aware of before, such as KoboToolbox and Field Papers. In addition to being introduced to these new technologies, the various speakers who came to talk about their work with us also expanded my knowledge of potential work opportunities in the GIS field. I enjoyed getting to meet other students from YouthMappers chapters outside of my university and seeing how far reaching YouthMappers is. It was also very inspiring to hear from speakers with such a wide variety of careers in the GIS field working for companies such as Facebook, the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team, and USAID.

In the last few weeks of the internship, I got to work on a final project developing and running a flood vulnerability analysis for Panamá. To complete this project, I used open source software and data to identify areas where there were both unmapped villages and surface water present. I did this by learning to use tools I hadn’t previously worked with. To query OSM data for unmapped villages, I used Overpass Turbo and QGIS and with the help of my mentor, I was introduced to Google Earth Engine to analyze satellite imagery for surface water. The final products for the flood vulnerability analysis I developed were three maps of vulnerable municipalities in Panamá and a detailed, step-by-step guide for YouthMappers chapters to be able to recreate the analysis on their own.

Three maps of flood-vulnerable municipalities.

Before this internship, I was certain I wanted to go into the GIS field, but was not sure which specific path I wanted to take within the discipline. The final project was tailored to my interests, and to complete it I was connected with a mentor who shared similar interests. Both the project itself and the help of my mentor gave me a window into GIS work which helped me to discover my passion for remote sensing as a specific discipline within GIS.

Photo of Noelle, female, with a mountain scape behind her in hiking attire.

Noelle Dwyer is a third-year student at the George Washington University, pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Engineering Applied Science with a minor in GIS. At GWU, she is a member of the YouthMappers Validation Hub, serves as Co-Training Coordinator for Humanitarian Mapping Society (GW’s YouthMappers chapter), and is a varsity athlete on the GW Women’s Volleyball team.


Using RapiD to Map Roads in Madagascar

By Dina Onish

This fall semester was atypical in many ways. My daily commute to class consisted of the single step between my dorm-room bed and desk. I can count on one hand the number of times the lower half of my face saw sunlight. Due to COVID-19, much of my life was spent in front of a screen. However, the virtual internship with YouthMappers and the USAID GeoCenter was something for which I could look forward to opening my laptop. Throughout the internship, I learned so much about humanitarian mapping across a variety of initiatives. Through a series of guest speakers, I learned about the work of people at the USAID GeoCenter and the role of GIS in various USAID projects. I also learned about some of the geospatial data endeavors at organizations outside of USAID, including Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team, Facebook, GeoSurge, and Cambridge Systematics. Additionally, I became much more familiar with using programs like the HOT Tasking Manager, MapRoulette, JOSM, Field Papers, and Kobo Toolbox. I am excited to use those skills for projects with my college’s YouthMappers chapter, Hudson Valley Mappers. Beyond all that I learned over the course of the program, I am most appreciative of the opportunity I had to get to know the wonderful internship leaders and fellow interns.

For my final project, I created TeachOSM tasks to map the districts of Morombe, the 6e Arrondissement, Ihosy, Manakara Atsimo, Maevatanana, Antsohihy, and Morondava in Madagascar with the support of my GeoCenter mentor Christine Urbanowicz. I set up the projects with the option for mappers to use RapiD as an editor, which is the tool created by Facebook that uses artificial intelligence to make predictions about the presence of features like roads and buildings on satellite imagery. These predictions help mappers map more efficiently and accurately, making it feasible to map large areas and respond to disasters quickly. Over the course of the final project, I learned a lot about RapiD and its development at Facebook. I had studied a little about machine learning in some of my coursework in college, and I found reading about the process of training RapiD so interesting. Moreover, it was exciting to see the application of machine learning in geography, a cross-over that had I not thought about before. I enjoyed working on this final project, and I am looking forward to working with Hudson Valley Mappers to map these districts.

This is a one-minute RapiD tutorial that I made for the YouthMappers community:

Headshot of Dina, female, outside.

Dina attends Vassar College (class of '23) in Poughkeepsie, New York and studies Geography and Urban Studies. When she is not at Vassar and exploring the Hudson Valley, she lives in Philadelphia.


Validating with Java OpenStreetMap

By Amy Mackinnon

Participating in the YouthMappers USAID Geocenter internship helped me learn about how big the OSM community is and how I can use OSM in my future career. One of the most valuable parts of the internship was meeting people from within USAID and from other GIS or OSM related organizations. This was a great opportunity to learn about different types of career paths you can take with the different skills that we learned. The virtual OSM US Connect conference also gave a preview of the diverse applications of OSM data as we heard from many different companies and researchers who utilize open data. Hearing from so many different perspectives gave me a better understanding of the diversity of projects going on within the OSM community and at USAID. Another valuable part was learning how to use new OSM tools like Kobo Toolbox, MapRoulette, and Field Papers. These would be great tools to use in the future and bring back to my YouthMappers chapter at GW.

For my final project, I organized training materials for a JOSM validation training and recorded a virtual training going through the workflow of validation (see video below). To make the training slides, I separated the YouthMappers Validation Training Document into shorter steps and inserted more visualizations so that the slides were in a user-friendly format. It was great experience to practice leading a training, especially in a virtual format. The second part of my project was collaborating with María Fernanda Peña Valencia, who is a YouthMappers Regional Ambassador in Colombia. She translated the training slides and ran the training for a chapter in Panama while I sat in and answered questions. It was really cool to see the training documentation I created being used in a live training, and all the participants seemed to get a lot out of it. Hopefully, my project will help train more validators so we can keep verifying the quality of OSM data.

Headshot of Amy, female, with a tan wall in the background.

Amy is a senior at The George Washington University studying geography and international affairs. She is involved with GW's chapter of YouthMappers and is a member of the Validation Hub. In future projects, Amy would like to continue using geospatial technologies to research issues related to international development.


Waste Management Features on OpenStreetMap

By Michael Cole

As a kid, when my family and I would go on road trips (way before Google Maps), I would plead with my parents to let me be the navigator by trying to figure out the roads on my dad’s precious, leather cover Road Atlas. It always fascinated me how we were able to get anywhere by following this intricate web of roads. As I got older, I realized that a map can offer a lot more than just connected paths. Now, I am a major in Geography pursuing GIS and Big Data Analytics certificates.

When the GIS Coalition program invited me to apply to work with USAID GeoCenter + YouthMappers on their Virtual Internship, I accepted it immediately. As part of our assignments, we contributed mapping data to different projects located in the HOT tasking manager, as well as adding missing data from our community using Field Papers.

My final project focused on the addition of data and information to the YouthMappers work in the waste management domain. The objective of my project was to collect waste management information and to create the appropriate tags for OpenStreetMap. Through the guidance of my mentor and domain expert, Chad Blevins and Evelyn Michael, I searched for unmarked waste collection points around campus. Additionally, I reached out to other OSM mappers to help organize the proper tags for multi-material waste bins located around my school. This data was intended to help categorize the amenities needed for waste management. The tags were designed to demonstrate what can and cannot be recycled in certain buildings at Penn State, University Park.

Penn State, University Park multi-material waste bins.

Through this project and with the help of Chad and Evelyn, I have learned about the processes of waste management and the importance of tagging. I also realized the lack of amenities tagged for waste disposal sites at the majority of buildings at Penn State’s University Park campus.

Headshot of Michael, male, with a blue background.

Michael Cole is a senior at the Pennsylvania State University majoring in Geography and pursuing certificates in GIS and Big Data Analytics.

This blog was written by YouthMappers Virtual Interns Noelle Dwyer, Dina Onish, Amy Mackinnon, Michael Cole, and USAID GeoCenter Associate Geospatial Analyst Adele Birkenes. Adele and Rory Nealon, Senior GIS Analyst and YouthMappers Activity Manager at the GeoCenter, led the 2020 fall internship program.


bottom of page