An Intellectual Pursuit to Discover Creative Models for Community-Based Scholarship Across International Borders:

As a NSF-funded program led by two internationally recognized scholars, the UCF REU Site in Belize seeks to transcend disciplinary thinking, offer new forms of knowledge production, push the boundaries of traditional scholarly research and teaching, and develop innovative and creative approaches for learning and teaching undergraduates and members of broader society. Through the transformative seven-week international research program and post-program dissemination of results, this REU Site will: 1) critically assess the opportunities for and challenges to community-based models for international undergraduate research training, especially important as U.S. higher education institutions and the Smithsonian push for more globally-minded thinkers; 2) engage 24 students in community-based international fieldwork experiences focused on GIS and related geospatial research techniques to examine social and environmental disparities; 3) develop well-prepared, ethical researchers committed to applying STEM research skills in international community-based work; and 4) disseminate a new conceptual and methodological model for international community geography and GIS research by connecting theory with praxis.

A First in International Community Geography and GIS: 


International collaborators working in Hopkins, Belize

Being the first research team to develop an international REU Site focused on community geography and GIS can lead to replication in other international settings as results are disseminated. The new international community geography framework can be utilized in multiple countries, especially in other developing countries that have vast knowledge of social and environmental disparities, but lack the geospatial research expertise, people power, and infrastructure to implement, analyze, and visualize wide-scale, community geography and GIS projects. The framework can be applied to multiple STEM-infused disciplines (i.e. geography, sociology, education, public health, natural resource management, marine biology, marine conservation, ecology, and computer sciences).

Community Geography and GIS

Our team defines community geography in international settings as “a process, set of methods, and collaborative framework that utilizes spatial thinking and geographic approaches which enable academics and communities to engage in inclusive, mutually beneficial, shared research experiences. These experiences are designed to understand and visualize the wants, needs, and future visions of willing communities” (Hawthorne et al. 2015: 24).

In the spirit of community geography and GIS, the research directions of our REU Site have developed over the past five years as part of the PI and Co-PI’s study abroad community GIS program through collaboration with UB mentor Antonio Cano and other Belizean stakeholders. Research Direction I will focus on participatory mapping and analyzing disparities related to flooding and disaster management strategies on the coast (building on the work of Tran et al., 2009; Duval-Diop et al., 2010; Youseff et al., 2011; Chau et al., 2013; Gajbe, 2013; Montgomery & Chakraborty, 2013; Spanu & McCall, 2013; Chingombe, 2014; Kienberger, 2014). Students will examine mitigation strategies, including documentation of existing land use patterns and optimal siting of infrastructure and evacuation routes for medical support services and temporary relief centers. Research Direction II will focus on participatory mapping and analyzing the composition and distribution of coastal marine debris in multiple shoreline communities varying in size, accessibility, and reliance on tourism (building on the work of Jambeck et al., 2007; Sheavley & Register, 2007; Derraik, 2012; Slavin et al., 2012; Hidalgo-Ruz & Thiel, 2013; Miller-Martin, 2013; Baldwin et al., 2014).  Students will assess the volume and influence litter has on socially disparate communities, while contributing to the nation’s first open geospatial database of debris impacts along the coast.