Ohio Wesleyan Student Earns NSF Funds to Attend First-of-Its-Kind Conference

Building Community Through Geography

Ohio Wesleyan Student Earns NSF Funds to Attend First-of-Its-Kind Conference

DELAWARE, Ohio – Ohio Wesleyan University student Janelle Valdinger is one of fewer than 20 undergraduate and graduate students across the country invited to participate in January in the first national Workshop on Community Geography.

Valdinger, an OWU geography major, has been named a Community Geography Fellow and awarded funds to attend the two-day conference Jan. 25-26 at Georgia State University in Atlanta. According to organizers, the National Science Foundation-supported workshop will bring together 40 to 50 Community Geography Fellows, who are “academic researchers and community leaders interested in using geographic research for community development, social justice, and environmental sustainability.”

In addition to being a full-time Ohio Wesleyan student, Valdinger also is a full-time employee of the City of Delaware, where she works as a Geographic Information System (GIS) technician.

She said her main goals for the workshop include “learning new ways to use geographic research for community development, especially in other countries … and finding new ways to build a stronger, long-lasting working relationship between Ohio Wesleyan University and the City of Delaware.”

Valdinger already has helped to coordinate a joint university-city project to install three water-purifying rain gardens on OWU’s campus. She is helping now to implement a collaborative relationship that involves the city’s Department of Public Utilities hosting OWU students as interns and “developing a partnership with the OWU Summer Science Research Program where the city hires a student-intern for the summer and the university provides housing, along with faculty guidance for a research project.”

The first Ohio Wesleyan student to hold the summer research internship is junior zoology major Brianna Graber. Graber is working with the city this semester on a project to fund and install storm-drain nets to catch large waste items and prevent them from entering the Olentangy River.

While attending the Georgia conference, Valdinger will present information on the developing OWU-Delaware partnership, which currently includes eight university students working on environmental projects.

In addition, she hopes to glean information to assist with her Ohio Wesleyan departmental honors project, which focuses on mapping public utilities in Belize.

On campus, she is collaborating on the honors project with Department of Geology and Geography faculty members John Krygier, Ph.D., director of environmental studies; Nathan Amador Rowley, Ph.D.; and Ashley Allen, Ph.D., and with Jay Scheffel, assistant director of physical plant. Off campus, Valdinger is working with 2003 OWU alumnus Tim Hawthorne, Ph.D., assistant professor of GIS at the University of Central Florida.

“Not only will we be mapping utilities, but we will be providing utility locators to the local government officials in Belize,” Valdinger said. “Citizen Science will play a large role in this project, and learning (at the workshop) about what avenues other professionals have taken will help greatly in the execution of my project.”

Krygier, who was also named a Community Geography Fellow, said he is excited for Valdinger to attend the workshop and share her OWU accomplishments with scholars from across the country, and to learn how to further community engagement on campus, in Delaware, and abroad.

He also is excited by the overall potential of community geography, one of his research specialties, and its focus on engaged community work.

“It’s about creating a win-win situation for colleges and their communities,” Krygier said, “with positive impacts, research experiences, and real-world engagement between people and institutions who share many common goals.”

Learn more about the upcoming national Workshop on Community Geography at www.communitymappinglab.org/commgeog19.html and more about OWU’s geography major at www.owu.edu/geography or https://sustainability.owu.edu.

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