January 6, 2016

Student Activities


REU students will engage in a variety of activities upon acceptance into the program in preparation for the research experience and several activities in Orlando and in Belize during the program.  To maintain professional development opportunities after the REU, students will also have opportunities to attend conferences and writing retreats with faculty mentors.

Pre-Belize Preparations for International Fieldwork and Feasibility: As an international REU Site, the team recognizes that feasibility, enthusiasm, and preparation are important to express to students before departing for Belize. Upon program acceptance, students will work on a variety of self-paced activities to prepare for the challenges that often arise in international fieldwork and to develop skills needed to succeed in GIS-based fieldwork. To understand their identities, biases, and positionalities, students will complete The Implicit Association Test (IAT) from Project Implicit housed at Harvard University. The test measures implicit social cognition: thoughts and feelings outside of conscious awareness and control. The REU team will have a broader discussion about implicit biases as part of REU Week 1 at UCF. Students will read two articles (Sultana, 2007; Reilly and Senders, 2009) about the challenges of international fieldwork. Students will also read and sign a memo of collaboration modified from the BGX Program outlining expectations for mentors and students, and a fieldwork guide outlining conditions. Students will read three introductory chapters from Gomez and Jones’ Research Methods in Geography: A Critical Introduction (grant provided) to understand the research process (the rest will be read during the REU). A private Facebook page will be used to begin an interactive discussion about research design and program expectations. Students will also complete the basic IRB human subjects training from UCF and two training modules on the basics of ArcGIS and geodatabase design. Similar GIS modules were completed in the BGX program by students with limited/no GIS coursework preparing them for community GIS fieldwork in Belize. The entire REU team will have a 1 hour conference call to answer questions two weeks before the program. Students in each research direction will be expected to Skype/Facetime individually with each of the other three students in their research direction prior to arriving in Orlando (to build collegiality and minimize interpersonal conflicts). The above pre-program reading activities (10 hours), GIS and human subject modules (10 hours), and pre-trip online communications (2 hours) are feasible when spread over three months pre-program.  


Caye Caulker, Belize from the DJI Phantom 3

Caye Caulker, Belize from the DJI Phantom 3

Week 1 Pre-Departure Training at UCF: To ensure students are prepared for departure, the REU team will meet at UCF for five days of training for 9 hours per day. Students will live in shared campus housing. Day 1 will have a discussion of research design, including how to develop research questions, methodologies, and literature reviews. Days 2 and 3 will focus exclusively on GIS training tutorials, including database and application design modules for ArcGIS Collector; online mapping template design with ArcGIS Online; and advanced GIS methods including network analyses, hotspot analyses, and spatial interpolation techniques. A day 3 group dinner will cover logistics and de-briefing of health/safety issues; allow students to organize equipment for the plane; and answer last minute trip questions. Day 4 will focus on a mock-field experience with Collector and sketch mapping on UCF’s campus where students will map recycling and trash receptacles. They will practice data entry, download, editing, and synchronization of field data with Collector. Day 5 will cover focus groups as a method. Students will discuss two readings, then design/lead a mock focus group on “challenges of international fieldwork” while the mentors provide feedback.

REU Activities While in Belize (Weeks 2-5):

  • Belize Activity 1: Community-Based Research with Mentors: In one of the two outlined research directions, each student will collaboratively formulate a research question; perform a literature review; engage in discussions with community partners about research implications; determine appropriate quantitative and qualitative methods; collect data; develop an appreciation for research ethics and human subjects; write up results for public and academic dissemination; and present the work in Belize on the final day of the program as well as post-program at an international meeting.
  • Belize Activity 2: Research Methods in Practice Seminars: Time will be dedicated to interactive discussions, activities, and lectures introducing students to research methods in Belize. Topics will include identifying a study site and engaging ethically with communities; 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 led by faculty mentors and community partners will often include UB students to enhance the international learning environment.
  • Belize Activity 3: Community-Based Fieldwork and Geospatial Trainings: This program is designed to engage students in community-based, geospatial research on social and environmental disparities in Belize. To meet this objective, over 75% of the program will be dedicated to intense on-site fieldwork in communities with faculty mentors, UB students, and local organizations. Students will collect data, engage in stakeholder discussions, and share findings with partners. Along with the PI, Co-PI, and two program coordinators, students will often be accompanied in the field with UB mentor Cano, two UB Natural Resources Management field technicians, and senior UB students. These Belize partners make the fieldwork more feasible as local context and connections/relationships are explored. Under the supervision of faculty mentors, REU students will co-lead two community training sessions to kick off the community-based fieldwork. Training modules will include: how to collect data using GPS-enabled tablets/phones with the ArcGIS Collector application and how to complete participatory sketch mapping and asset mapping using ArcGIS Collector. Each topic was identified previously by collaborators as important to the sustainability of community-based geospatial research in Belize. Training efforts will allow students to not only solidify their geospatial STEM research skills as they teach others, but also contribute to capacity building of future research and field data collection in Belize as UB students and faculty work with and learn from REU students. All geospatial training modules will be posted on the REU project site. Modules will include project documentation/instructions and troubleshooting solutions including images of common field problems. Each research direction will host one geospatial training session in Week 3 of the program so that residents/organizations can understand the technologies used in the community-based fieldwork scheduled for Weeks 3-5. Leading these sessions will allow students to learn and apply geospatial technologies while teaching others and building research capacity for Belizeans.
  • Belize Activity 4: 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.

    Boat transportation at Pelican Beach in Dangriga, Belize

    Boat transportation at Pelican Beach in Dangriga, Belize

  • Belize Activity 5: Blog Discussions: Each student will keep a record of her/his experiences and questions on a private blog site. The blog serves three purposes. It allows for critical reflection on ethical issues that arise in completing international research. It provides thoughtful discussion points for students to share in seminars. It creates an opportunity for all members of the research team to stay updated on project progress. The blog will also serve as a repository for each week’s annotated literature review articles. In the previous REU Site, the team learned that instituting a weekly check-in for literature reviews is essential in order for students to better connect their ongoing work to the academic literature.
  • Belize Activity 6: Community Progress Reports and REU Presentations: Two mid-point progress reports will allow students to informally present research updates and to gain clarity on how their work fits into the larger Belize GIS research context. This includes discussions at the Smithsonian field station (Weeks 3 and 5) and a town dinner with local residents and GIS practitioners (Week 5). The final REU symposium and post-program dissemination of results offers further opportunities for reporting on the research. The final public symposium is meant to mirror professional meetings in preparation for post-REU presentations at international conferences. Fliers will be posted at UB, in local media, and at community gathering spots. The conference will include a keynote speaker and 20 minute presentations followed by 10 minutes for questions. Belize GIS practitioners and Smithsonian staff will serve as discussants to contextualize the importance of the work. A formal dinner will close the program, celebrate accomplishments, and cultivate continued relationships with local collaborators and dignitaries.

Week 7 Post-Belize Final Preparations: Upon return from Belize, students will meet on the UCF campus in Orlando, FL for one week to synthesize results and created deliverable incorporating community feedback.

Post-REU Conference Presentations, Mentoring, and Writing Retreat: As part of continued professional development for all 24 students after Belize, $750 in travel support will be provided if an abstract is accepted to a national or international conference. Example conferences include the Association of American Geographers (AAG), URISA Caribbean GIS, Belize GIS, International Marine Debris, and North American Cartographic Information Society. Students will work with mentors to co-author manuscripts to journals such as Geoforum, Health and Place, Applied Geography, The Journal of Geography in Higher Education, Environmental Monitoring and Assessment, Marine Environmental Research, and Biological Conservation. Mentoring will continue post-program through Skype video calls (at least once every six weeks during the semester) and meeting at international conferences.  In response to student feedback in year 3 of the PI’s previous REU, the PI created an intensive writing retreat where 4 high-performing students were invited back to campus for 7-10 days to work exclusively on REU manuscripts. A similar model will be used in the Belize REU, but will occur after each project year with 2-3 students per year returning to UCF for a short writing intensive time (7-10 days) during semester breaks.   

Belize Extracurricular Program Activities: Given that students will be engaged in collaborative work in a foreign country, it is important to provide extracurricular activities to develop friendships. Students (at their own cost) will explore Belize in small groups or in conjunction with UB collaborators, including visits to Maya Ruins, Belize Barrier Reef, Mountain Pine Ridge, and Belize Zoo. Weekends will be free for such activities, and students will also have two Friday relaxation days off during the program.