|UCF graduate student Nicholas Altizer shows children in Belize a drone that was used to |
help locate and identify marine debris that was accumulating onshore.
Working from a laptop at his home, UCF graduate student Nicholas Altizer is
able to help people around the world determine where best to plant food or
harvest fish, which roads in their towns are likely to flood in the rainy
season and where insecticide can safely be sprayed to protect populations from
He is able to do this through his internship with YouthMappers, a humanitarian
organization that uses technology, young people, open-source mapping and
idealism to help solve problems in impoverished areas.
With chapters at universities across the globe that work together using
laptops and technology like Skype and Geographic Information Systems,
volunteers are able to identify potential health or humanitarian issues in
impoverished areas and seek solutions from technology-savvy students.
Altizer, who received his undergraduate degree in anthropology from UCF, is
studying for his master’s in sociology under Assistant Professor Timothy L.
Hawthorne, who was hired in 2015 as part of the College of Sciences Faculty
Cluster Initiative in Geographic Information Systems, introduced Altizer to the
YouthMappers program and found an enthusiastic match.
“Nick took the lead and went on to co-found the UCF chapter of YouthMappers,”
In 2016 as a YouthMappers volunteer, Altizer compared satellite images he
downloaded from areas of Mozambique with information other YouthMappers
organizations in the field had collected to establish,
which roads typically flood during rainy seasons and what alternative routes
might be available.
“Basically we can map just about any information that will be useful to
people who don’t have access to a lot of resources,” Altizer said.
He was offered the internship after his volunteer work and his other
experiences including a trip to Belize with the Citizen Science GIS NationalScience Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduates group led by
Hawthorne. There Altizer served as a staff
leader for a team that focused on identifying marine debris from flooding that
was accumulating onshore and presenting a health hazard. That information was gathered with the use of
The researchers share their data via OpenStreetMap, a free online map of the
world that encourages active data sharing on everything from roads and trails
to cafes and railroad stations.
He and Hawthorne are also currently working on a project co-founded between
UCF and the University of Belize called the Open Reef Mapping Society
to map all the islands of Belize, taking special note of precautions coastal
residents have taken to protect against sea level rise and adapt to climate
The YouthMappers organization is supported by the United States Agency for
International Development (USAID). As
part of his internship Altizer will map and verify location data from reports
on the ground, mesh the intelligence with satellite imagery, and blog about his
experiences. He also hopes to attend
international conferences to present his data.
Hawthorne said employment in the Geographic Information Systems field is
wide open with specific needs by governments and non-profit agencies to assist
with mapping and population planning. And
he said Altizer, with his hands-on experience both at home and internationally,
will likely make him a leading candidate for many positions.
UCF offers a Graduate Certificate program in
Geographic Information Systems to complement degrees in other fields. https://www.graduate.ucf.edu/GIS/.