Each research direction will have 4 U.S. students and 1 K-12 teacher, but the teams will interact as a cohort and work together on shared learning activities about research design and community-based scholarship and education in the study site. Drs. Hawthorne and Torres will work directly with both teams.

Research Direction 1: Leveraging community geography and GIS to map disparities in flooding. Primary Mentor: Dr. Timothy Hawthorne, University of Central Florida.

Working in Hopkins, Belize, students will answer Research Question 1: Where are new flooding hotpots occurring related to impervious surface runoff and increased development? In our most recent fieldwork, residents pointed to additional flooding patterns from new impervious surfaces, mainly from the village’s first paved roads added in late 2017 to accommodate tourism and construction trucks. Students will refine our previous mapping application and create a 15 minute series of interview questions with input from the community and PI. Such methods will engage 100 residents each year to map locations where flooding commonly occurs, with a focus on newer flood locations. 

Students will also address Research Question 2: How can different stakeholder groups come together to educate others about flood risk and advocate for improvements to its uneven consequences? This question seeks to create community-defined education and advocacy strategies with diverse stakeholders (e.g. local businesses, developers, families, tourism workers, leaders). Generally, students each year will emphasize exploratory methods to identify partners interested in education and advocacy efforts and to determine shared location-based strategies. Strategies will explore the challenges that need to be overcome in order to identify shared, sustainable development strategies that lessen uneven flooding impacts for the most vulnerable populations. During all three years, students (led by the track RET participant) will develop education materials geared toward preparing for flood events. 

2016 REU scholars sketch mapping flooding issues with Hopkins community members.


Research Direction II: Leveraging community geography and GIS to reduce waste and prevent marine debris. Primary Mentor: Dr. Hannah Torres, Old Dominion University.

In April 2019, Belize banned single-use plastics to protect its natural resources and reduce waste management costs. While our most recent trip in June 2019 revealed that enforcement of this policy is not monitored or incentivized uniformly throughout the country, the new policy leverages and adds renewed relevance to our marine debris work. We seek to better understand the geography of litter and marine debris issues in Hopkins, and to work with local stakeholders (especially businesses and youth) to incentivize waste reduction and prevent marine debris. 

To collect baseline data, identify litter hotspots, and monitor change over time, students on this track will answer Research Question 3: Where are litter and beach debris most abundant throughout Hopkins Village? This question will be answered with a combination of a litter survey application in Collector for ArcGIS and analysis/digitization of drone imagery collected by Hopkins citizens trained previously by our team. After customizing the application, students will conduct participatory data collection about litter conditions of particular locations, as well as other social and environmental factors that could influence littering behavior.

Students will work with local stakeholders to answer Research Question 4: How can different stakeholder groups in Hopkins influence waste reduction? and Research Question 5: What kinds of policies and strategies can be leveraged to facilitate waste reduction and prevent litter/marine debris? These questions seek to understand where litter is being generated and why, and what challenges need to be overcome in order to implement pro-environmental alternatives to reduce waste (especially plastic and Styrofoam).

REU students and Hopkins residents mapping beach debris in Summer 2017.