Pre-Arrival Program Activities: Students work on self-paced activities to prepare for the challenges of international fieldwork and to develop a baseline of GIS skills. Students will read ten articles introducing them to community geography, GIS and key themes in their respective research tracks. Students sign a memo of collaboration outlining expectations and explaining our commitment to a safe, diverse and inclusive experience. A Slack message board will be used for any questions prior to arrival. Students will also complete UCF IRB training and two training modules in ArcGIS Online. Students also complete the UCF “Let’s Be Clear Undergraduate” online module focused on assault, relationship violence, stalking and sexual harassment policies. Students will participate in two conference calls on Zoom prior to arriving at UCF: one with the entire team (including faculty) and one with just students from their research team. Students will be expected to Skype individually for about 20 minutes with each of the students in their research team prior to arrival. Pre-program readings (15 hours), GIS, human subject and “Let’s Be Clear” modules (15 hours), and online communications (4 hours) are feasible when spread over three months based on student evaluation feedback from the current REU.
Week 1 Pre-Departure Training at UCF: The REU/RET team meets at UCF for five days of training for 8 hours per day. Students live in shared dorm rooms funded by the grant. The evening of arrival, the team will meet for a welcome dinner. Day 1 includes the pre-program evaluation with Dr. Jarrett; a tour of UCF; a discussion of UCF “Let’s Be Clear” policies; an interactive team activity focused on the “Golden Circle” or the why, what and how of successful organizations based on the work of Sinek (2009). Here, students focus on the purpose of what they hope to achieve in their community-based research (and why). Students then have a discussion with their research track on how to develop research questions.
Overview of Belize Field Activities: Belize field activities in this renewal are an extension of the highly open-ended structure of our current REU and are based on positive evaluation feedback from REU students. As mentors we provide a community-based framework in which students can co-design the research experience based on interactions with us and community members in Belize; we do not offer a prescribed plan for each research team. Instead, we provide spaces for student teams to collaboratively co-design research strategies with us to address the overarching goals of each research direction. As we learned in the current REU, community-based fieldwork and weather in the study site necessitate a flexible schedule. Below, we outline the field activities and include Table 1 summarizing the schedule.
Belize Activity 1: Community-Based Research: In one of the two outlined research directions, each student collaboratively formulates a research question and performs a shared literature review. Students engage in discussions with community partners about research implications while determining appropriate quantitative and qualitative methods for collecting data. Over 75% of the program is dedicated to intense on-site fieldwork in communities with faculty mentors, UB students and community members. Under the supervision of faculty mentors, REU students also informally train community members in mapping their own perceptions of social and environmental issues in the study area. This is largely done with community members and REU students working together to collect data using GPS-enabled tablets/phones with Collector for ArcGIS. Community members also complete participatory sketch mapping and asset mapping with REU students. These community-based data collection strategies have been successful in the current REU; over 400 Belize participants have used these tools.
Belize Activity 2: Research Methods in Practice Sessions: Time will be dedicated to interactive discussions and activities introducing students to research methods while in Belize. Topics include engaging ethically with communities abroad; quantitative/qualitative methods; geospatial tools for map design and geographic analysis; field data collection in developing countries; disseminating results via writing and presenting to academic/non-academic audiences; and sustaining international research. These sessions co-led by faculty mentors and community partners will include UB students.
Belize Activity 3: Mentoring and Professional Development Discussions: Students and faculty mentors will have at least one 30-minute weekly individual meeting to discuss project issues and progress. Students will have lunch discussions with Smithsonian scientists and UB faculty/students to learn more about disparities in Belize, and how community-based research can address such issues. Mentoring from our community partners in Belize also occurs through formal and informal interactions with Hopkins elders, business owners, tour guides, families, hourly workers, educators and village leaders.
Belize Activity 4: Field Reflection Journals:While in Belize, each student will keep a record of her/his experiences and questions in a journal. Weekly entries are roughly 1-2 pages double-spaced, due every Sunday to mentors. The journal allows for critical reflection on ethical issues that arise in international research and for our mentors to gain insights into student fieldwork experiences.
Final UCF Activities: As in the current REU, students gain experience with scientific communication to diverse audiences through writing, presenting and social media. Written communication experience is gained by each team through the drafting of a group academic paper (less than 5000 words) and an informal, highly visual community report (3-5 pages). Communicating through presentations occurs in several activities: a) bi-weekly meetings with Village Council leadership that are open and advertised to the Hopkins community; b) an informal presentation at the Smithsonian field station at the midpoint of the program; c) presentation at the U.S. Embassy in Belize the last week; d) informal presentations at a community celebration on the last evening in Hopkins; e) 30-45 minute presentations by each team in a final symposium at UCF on the program’s last day; and f) post-program presentations at an international conference or industry visit. Social media communication experience is gained as each team develops a weekly Facebook post with 2-3 photos from the field to share project updates with the broader public.
The final REU symposium is meant to mirror a professional meeting experience where students present their results using PowerPoint, Prezi, or an ArcGIS StoryMap. We utilize Facebook Live to stream our presentations. One unexpected (and welcomed) outcome of using Facebook Live is that family members and friends of REU students can join the conversation. This is an important moment for our students (especially for 1st generation students) and supporters as evident by the comments/questions on Facebook Live. As in the current REU, our final symposium celebration dinner hosts a keynote speaker with interests in community geography from outside of the REU who also acts as a discussant of student presentations.
Extracurricular Activities: Given that students are engaged in collaborative work in a foreign country, it is important to provide time for extracurricular activities. Students (at their own cost) often explore Belize in small groups or in conjunction with UB collaborators, including visits to Maya ruins, the jungle, reef islands or the Belize Zoo. “Sunday FunDays” are set aside for such activities with faculty and students, and a 4 day weekend is provided mid-program to explore Belize in smaller groups.
Post-REU Activities: As in the current REU to support professional development for all 30 students, $750 in travel support is provided if an abstract is accepted to an international conference such as the Association of American Geographers (AAG), URISA Caribbean GIS, Belize GIS and North American Cartographic Information Society. Students work with mentors to co-author manuscripts to journals such as Geoforum, Applied Geography, The Geographical Journal, The Journal of Geography in Higher Education, Environmental Monitoring and Assessment, Marine Environmental Research. RET participants will specifically aim co-authored submissions to The Journal of Geography in Higher Education, Journal of Geography and The Geography Teacher. RET presentations will be targeted to conferences such as The National Council for Geographic Education, The National Science Teaching Association or Esri Education. Based on student feedback from our current REU, we also expand post-program support to include an option for a short networking visit to share project findings with a geospatial technology company, government agency or non-profit organization (i.e. commitment letters from Esri and MarineGEO). Mentoring continues post-program through Zoom calls at an interval agreed upon by student and mentor, and meetings at international conferences or industry visits. In the current REU, we host funded, post-program writing retreats during student breaks where 2-3 high-performing students are invited back to Belize (or UCF) for 4-7 days to work on REU manuscripts/data. These retreats will continue in the renewal