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  • Noah Rogers, Pennsylvania State University

Revitalizing Our YouthMappers Chapter Virtually and for the Future

When given the task by Adele and Rory [USAID GeoCenter's YouthMappers Internship Coordinators] to connect with my university’s YouthMappers chapter and see how I could assist them, I was somewhat confused when there didn’t appear to even really be a chapter. Because of the pandemic, the GIS Coalition at Penn State had more or less lost all of its members. The senior class had all graduated, which was a large majority of the club. To get the club back on its feet and revitalized, I contacted the previous president, Harman, who was a great help in showing me how the club operated. We established an executive board consisting of mostly underclassmen whom we hope will be able to carry on the club into the future. I undertook the role of vice president.

When establishing a professional or academic organization such as a GIS club, people’s first thoughts are what is in it for me, how can this boost my resume, and what skills can I learn. But what is most important to me is that people are able to have fun and make friends, and that is where YouthMappers comes in. When Thomas, a fellow intern from Penn State, and I were conducting outreach for new club members, people were hesitant because they didn’t know how to use GIS, or how it pertains to their interests. For example, with students focusing in human-centered geography, GIS was something technical and intimidating, but this is not the case.

YouthMappers has created a community centered around open-source and extremely accessible GIS software and data and employs it to make a real difference in the world. This is exemplified perfectly by the Sierra Leone chapter led by Tommy Charles. To share his unique view of OSM (OpenStreetMap), the work YouthMappers does, and how greatly it can affect a community, Tommy was generous enough to share his time speaking to the Penn State GIS Coalition and friends.

Mr. Charles spoke to Penn State’s YouthMappers chapter about his background, what he does as the Sierra Leone Ambassador, and the importance of open-source software and geospatial data. More in-depth summaries of this can be found on the YouthMappers blog. He spoke to us about the importance of OSM data and being a geographer, how as a child his favorite book was an atlas and how he loved looking at maps, something we all as geographers can relate to. How YouthMappers can create a global community of mappers helping others and literally changing lives is extremely powerful.

Tommy’s chat really solidified for me what it means to be a part of YouthMappers and part of the OpenStreetMap community. For most in developed parts of the world, we use maps so often they become an afterthought. But for a huge percentage of the world, they are not even represented on the map. When tracing images on my laptop, sometimes it is hard to make the connection between what you are doing and how it is used, but the importance cannot be understated. For members of Penn State’s Chapter, present and future, and anyone looking to start new chapters- Mr. Charles’ experience with YouthMappers and outlook on being a geographer is an essential contrast to what we in the U.S. experience and view as the standard.

When revitalizing the Penn State YouthMappers chapter, during a time when our social interactions were kept to a minimum, it proved difficult to foster any sort of community. But what YouthMappers is good at is creating a community feeling despite being separated. Yet the pandemic did prove challenging for our new chapter. To counter this, we conducted outreach through our classes online and limited in-person. By sending out mass emails, reaching out in class, and taking chances whenever I could to advertise our new club, we were able to foster interest and establish a group chat and email list with about 40 members. From there, we hosted meetings, mostly over Zoom, but when able members could meet up with the rest of the executive board on campus. It especially helped as the weather was getting nicer and we were able to meet outside.

Our semester concluded with a mapathon in conjunction with Texas Tech YouthMappers, another chapter led by fellow interns Willem Lee-Stockton and Jesse Garcia, who were extremely supportive throughout the entire process. Following the success of our first mapathon organized by Thomas Updike, we collaborated on an Earth Day event mapping Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team tasks in Bangladesh. The mapathon was successful and a great send-off for a difficult semester, leaving Penn State GISC members with a great experience and hopefully an excitement to return in the fall. The virtual mapathons turned out to be a blessing in disguise, despite being the only option due to COVID restrictions. Texas Tech chapters' use of the Twitch streaming platform to reach a wider audience was extremely successful. We were able to map more than we could have on our own, we broke up responsibilities such as explaining how iD Editor works or managing other questions, and we were also able to pull from a larger pool of guest speakers. This event would not have been possible outside of and Zoom, and we plan to continue collaborating in the future, on a grander scale.

Over the course of the semester, I discussed with Willem the difficulties of maintaining interest and membership of a university YouthMappers chapter. Being a leader for the Texas Tech chapter, he has also worked hard to increase interest and outreach for OSM mapping through livestreams, hosting speakers, and mapathons. We agreed that YouthMappers has the ability to bring people together worldwide through the power of mapping, and in a time where new interactions were so limited, it proved to still be possible. University chapters are essential to the YouthMappers community but growing them is not always easy. To have the best shot at doing so, joining forces with other chapters and utilizing the power of the worldwide network is undoubtedly beneficial. And by doing so, not only are you strengthening a community

of like-minded geographers at your own university, but you also have the potential to uplift other communities across the country and the world.

Noah Rogers is a rising senior at Penn State studying Geography with focuses in Landscape Ecology and Global Environmental Systems as well as an Information Sciences minor. From Manahawkin, NJ, Noah enjoys spending time on the beach and in the water, surfing, swimming, and enjoying the weather. In the future, he plans to graduate in the spring of 2022 and hopes to pursue research in marine conservation, where he can utilize GIS to protect and preserve the beautiful coastlines of our world.


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