Category Archives: Student Experiences

Week 1 of Crash Course: Kenyan Culture

June 7, 2018

By Lauren Scheffey ’20

Today we met Kimberly Wolfe in the Digital Scholarship Lab in the library to learn how to convert physical maps to a digital form. We used the university’s high-tech, super-expensive camera and a program Kimberly called “photoshop on steroids” to take a photo of the map and adjust the focus, exposure, white balance, and alignment. Our end result was a high resolution.jpg nearly identical to the physical map, and ready to be imported to ArcMap and georeferenced. The National Lands Commission has already scanned the maps of the settlements, so we will not be involved in that aspect, rather we will be cataloging, georeferencing, and digitizing the scanned maps. However, seeing how to scan maps and convert them to digital forms helps us understand the process from start to finish, rather than simply the components we will be working on directly.

We been dividing our time between technical, GIS-related prep/training and ensuring we’re prepared with things such as medications, clothing, and TSA-approval, plastic-free travel bags. Yesterday Taylor showed some of the data he has been downloading from OpenStreetMap that will be useful to us when we are digitizing the polygons of the settlements. We created a template map documents including roads, waterways, and counties in Kenya, as well as a 50k and 10k grid. Each settlement map has an index number, which we will use to locate the settlement within our grid system. Once we have the location, we will be able to see the roads/waterways that constitute the settlement’s borders and use the corresponding features of those roads/waterways from the OpenStreetMap data to digitize a polygon of the settlement.

We have also been reading books and articles about Kenyan culture and corporate etiquette and practicing some simple Swahili phrases, such as “habari” meaning “hello,” and “asante” meaning “thank you.” We are trying to read some of the most popular/important books in Kenya culture, and I am currently reading “Wrestling with the Devil,” Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o’s memoir recounting the time he spent imprisoned by the Kenyatta regime. From 1977-1978, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o was detained in Kamiti Maximum Security Prison, under 24-hour surveillance. It is here in prison, however, that he writes his most famous novel, “Devil on a Cross,” on prison-issued toilet paper.

While it is impossible to learn everything about a culture in just two weeks, it has been fun for us to immerse ourselves in Kenyan history, language, politics, and customs as we try to learn as much as we can in preparation for our trip. We are finishing up our training and some last-minute packing and are excited to be in Nairobi soon and start working at the NLC!

VAMLIS 2018 Winners

University of Richmond students from the Advanced Spatial Analysis course took home 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place in the Undergraduate Web Map competition at the 2018 VAMLIS Virginia GIS Conference in Virginia Beach. Congratulations to these amazing students!!!

Check out their web maps below!

Left to Right
Emily Routman (1st), Stanford Lee (2nd) and Conor Tenbus (3rd)

The winners with their Professor/Mentor Kim Browne, Director of the Spatial Analysis Lab



1st: Emily Routman ’20

Immigrants account for around 17% of Dallas’ population, and they have a big impact on local businesses, jobs, and more. I am going to analyze–by census tract–which immigrant populations (by country of origin) are more likely to cluster together, and which are less likely to.

2nd: Stanford Lee ’19

I used American Community Survey (ACS) 2016 data from the US Bureau of the Census and United States Geological Survey National Land Cover Database (NLCD) to create a weighted index model on the vulnerability of populations within the City of Richmond. This vulnerability index is my contribution to the Urban Heat Island Project collaboration with the Science Museum of Virginia. The vulnerability factors from the ACS data were: poverty rates, racial demographics, age demographics, education levels, and unemployment rates. Land cover data specifically aimed towards identifying land cover classes in the areas of the vulnerable populations will also be analyzed. The main objective of this project is to identify locations showing the most vulnerable areas within the City of Richmond so they can be compared with areas of extreme temperature.

3rd: Conor Tenbus ’18

GfK MRI is a survey and analytics company that completes an annual Survey of the American Consumer. Part of this survey includes MLB game attendance and an MLB “Super Fan” Poster/WebMap App Abstracts from the 2018 VA GeoCon 9 | Page designation. Using this data (provided by ArcGIS Business Analyst) at the county (maybe hex bins) level, I will analyze “fan-ship” intensity in relation to proximity to nearest MLB ballpark.

American Association of Geographers (AAG) 2017 Annual Meeting

The American Association of Geographers (AAG) Annual Meeting is a chance once per year for our department’s students, faculty, and staff to present their research to peers and learn about what other universities all across the world are doing with geography. For many of our students, it is an eye opening experience to see the many different sub fields of geography all in one place. As one student remarked “wow, so being a geographer means you just get to study anything, because it’s all spatial!” That is the sort of feedback that makes these conferences worthwhile!

This year’s conference was hosted in Boston (last year was San Francisco, next year is New Orleans). From the University of Richmond we had 3 students, 2 faculty, and 1 staff member in attendance this year. I took the liberty of asking our students and faculty about their trip to AAG. Check out their work and answers below!

Fenway Park - Taken by Mary Finley-Brook

Fenway Park – Taken by Mary Finley-Brook

Left to Right: Jacob Salamy, Ethan Boroughs, Evelyn Jeong, and Taylor Holden

Left to Right: Jacob Salamy, Ethan Boroughs, Evelyn Jeong, and Taylor Holden

Ethan Boroughs

Q: What did you present? 

A: At AAG I presented the project that I’ve been working on for the majority of the year, which has been building a spatial database for the gravestones that have been and are continuously being discovered in the East End Cemetery (a historically African American cemetery) in Richmond, VA.

Here’s my abstract:

The East End Cemetery in Richmond, Virginia is a historically African-American cemetery that has fallen into a state of neglect. The Biology Department at the University of Richmond is working with local volunteers to clean up the cemetery and record data on those buried there. Volunteers have collected GPS coordinates (using a GPS and the Collector for ArcGIS app) of the headstones at the cemetery, as well as collected personal attribute data from the gravestone inscriptions. Local volunteers working on the site submitted the data to Find A Grave, a website that helps people find their family members. Unfortunately, this site does not have options for spatial data, so volunteers also kept a separate spreadsheet in excel with the GPS coordinates. Once the Biology Department got involved, they approached members of the Geography Department to create a database with spatial elements in order for them to store their data about the cemetery in a cleaner, more systematic way. This project is a collaboration between the Geography and Biology Departments and CCE of Richmond to assist in the regeneration of the East End Cemetery. The data collection and review process has been essential to building a database that will feed an interactive and searchable map in the future. Like East End Cemetery, many African-American cemeteries have been forgotten and lost in undergrowth, but this project for East End Cemetery is part of a larger movement in order to reintegrate African-American cemeteries into our history, and to stop such loss from reoccurring.

Ethan Boroughs with his poster

Ethan Boroughs with his poster

Q: What was the best thing you saw at AAG?

The most remarkable poster I saw at the conference was a poster that represented a project where a student used LIDAR data and an algorithm that was trained in order to recognize bumps underneath the surface of topsoil in order to locate unexploded bombs that were dropped in Europe during WWII.

Q: What was the best part of your trip to Boston outside the conference?

My favorite thing I did outside of the conference was touring around the city of Boston with no agenda, just kind of walking around the city, going in shops, seeing famous local landmarks, and eating at good restaurants.

ethan food

Jacob Salamy and Evelyn Jeong

Q: What did you present? 

A: Our poster was called “Demographics Dynamics in Post-Annexation Richmond”. It focused on the work we and the Intro to GIS classed did around Dr. John Moeser’s book: The Politics of Annexation.

Here’s our abstract:

Published in 1983, Dr. John Moeser’s historical account Politics of Annexation: Oligarchic Power in a Southern City remains the most thorough and detailed resource for understanding the historical significance of Richmond’s annexation of approximately twenty square miles of Chesterfield County in 1970. With motivations rooted in racial dynamics generated by both the mass exodus of Richmond’s white population and the migration of African-Americans to America’s urban areas, the annexation was a power move by Richmond’s power elite to maintain the political status quo by incorporating an additional 44,000 white residents of Chesterfield into Richmond’s city limits. This had the effect of diluting Richmond’s black population’s vote enough to ensure a white majority for Richmond’s 1970 councilmanic elections. The annexation was hotly contested all the way up to the Supreme Court, which ultimately ruled that it was racially motivated. However, the annexation stood after Richmond reached a compromise whereby the city would hold local elections using a ward system designed to counterbalance the massive influx of white residents brought about by the annexation. Using census data for the years 1950-2010, we analyze the immediate impact that this annexation had on Richmond’s demographics overall as well as its long-term effects on Richmond’s individual neighborhoods. To complete this statistical analysis, we use dasymetric interpolation to generate equivalent land areas for comparison. Broadly, we hope this research will provide a clear and compelling portrait of Richmond past and present.

Jacob and Evelyn describe their poster to a captivated audience member

Jacob and Evelyn describe their poster to a captivated audience member

Q: What was the best thing you saw at AAG?

A: (Jacob) The best poster I saw was on estimating the population characteristics of non-reporting individuals from Japan’s census.

A: (Evelyn) I also really liked the poster that talked about the non-reported population in Japanese Census Data. There was a huge discrepancy between the number of non-reported for age, which was only approximately 0.9%, and education level, which was up to 20%. The poster mentioned the possible reasons why people would report age but education, as well as how to solve the marginal error when presenting statistics. I thought about the non-reported on the U.S. Census Bureau and how to solve the problem of the marginal errors in the statistical analysis.

Q: What was the best part of your trip to Boston outside the conference?

A: (Jacob) Ethan and I accidentally snuck into an admitted students day at Harvard’s graduate school of design and got to tour the whole school!

A: (Evelyn) I visited the Freedom Trail and the Gas Chambers that informed about Holocaust and the experience people had. The Gas Chamber had anecdotes of survivors and journals that reminded me of the history. It reminded me of the phrase “history repeats itself”, given the domestic and international political situations all over the world. I also loved the Boston Public Library Map Center.

IMG_0497 IMG_0495IMG_0501 IMG_0499



Taylor Holden

Q: What did you present? 

A: I presented in an illustrated paper session on the topic of “Demographics of Annexation: Using History and Politics to Teach GIS”. It focuses on how we used Dr. John Moeser’s book about the history of annexation in Richmond as well as his current research in our GIS courses this semester.

Here’s my abstract:

The City of Richmond, Virginia has a long and complex legacy of racial and economic segregation, one that persists to this day. Scholars from various disciplines have studied Richmond’s political, structural, and demographic history to tell the story of the former Capital of the Confederacy. Geographic Information Systems (GIS) can be used to provide both context and a platform for exploring Richmond’s history. Students in several GIS courses at the University of Richmond used Census and American Communities Survey data from 1950-2010 to explore the 1970 annexation of Chesterfield County by the City of Richmond. Students in introductory courses learned analysis methods including areal interpolation and dasymetric mapping to solve the Modifiable Area Unit Problem (MAUP). They also explored cartographic principles like the use of color, classification, and scale by examining the annexation and subsequent changes to the spatial distribution of race within the city. Students in advanced courses then built on these lessons through geostatsitics and advanced visualization techniques. Throughout this process students used ArcGIS Online and Carto to share their research with the public and bring Dr. John Moeser’s 1982 book, The Politics of Annexation: Oligarchic Power in a Southern City, to a modern audience accustom to digital information and the exploration of data.

Q: What was the best thing you saw at AAG?

A: My favorite part was getting to see Noam Chomsky talk as one of the main speakers. He was interviewed by the head of AAG. The interview itself was a bit lacking in terms of good questions, but getting to see Dr. Chomsky start rolling on a topic and really dig into the history, language, power dynamics, perceptions, and every aspect of something was fascinating. Although I’ve read his writing before, getting to see him speak made me really understand why AAG had no problem introducing him as “the most important intellectual of our times”.

I love that AAG gives an award to a non-geographer each year and has them speak at the conference. It illustrates how geography touches all disciplines in some way.


Q: What was the best part of your trip to Boston outside of the conference?

A: My boyfriend, Josh, tagged along on this trip to check out Boston and the surrounding areas. We went with a friend to Salem one day and did the witch tour and saw all the kitschy museums and shops. I highly recommend it to anyone in the Boston area. We also had lots of incredible meals in Cambridge and Somerville (shout out to Sarma, the best mediteranean/Middle Eastern food I’ve ever had).


Professor David Salisbury

Q: What did you present? 

A: I presented my paper: The Religion of Road Building: A Case Study of the Alto Purus Region of Peru. The co-author was UR/ San Francisco de Quito exchange student Melissa Velasco.

Here’s our abstract:

Road building in the Amazon continues to develop at a rapid rate despite a growing understanding of the socio-environmental impacts resulting from transportation infrastructure expansion in tropical rainforests. In August of 2016 congressional representatives in Lima again proposed a bill to create a road connecting the remote Amazonian Purús region with Peru’s Interoceanic Highway.  The 270 km proposed road would cross a national park, a communal reserve, an Indigenous territory, forestry concessions, and a reserve for Indigenous peoples in voluntary isolation and initial contact.  Currently, the only way to travel to the Purús from Peru is by air given the 4,000 inhabitants of the town of Puerto Esperanza and 22 neighboring titled Indigenous Territories are surrounded by Peru’s largest protected area.  Pro-road and anti-road Purús residents frequently clash over the benefits and drawbacks of the proposed road with each side backed by interested parties such as loggers and environmentalists.  This research combines GIS analysis of the proposed road’s path and potential impacts, survey research of resident attitudes towards the road, and textual analysis of publications and recordings referring to the road.  Results indicate how the argument over the road has become combined not only with discussions about livelihood and land use choices, but also spiritual salvation, ecological imperialism, and the exploitation of Indigenous peoples.

Q: What was the best thing you saw at AAG?

A: The best paper I saw was The necessity of optimism about climate change mitigation and adaptation in the tri-national MAP Region of southwestern Amazonia presented by Dr. Foster Brown from the Woods Hole Research Center and the Federal University of Acre. Dr. Foster Brown talked about strategies for slaying the psychological dragons of inaction that prevent humans from taking action to address climate change. I’ve already incorporated parts of this talk into two International Studies classes.

Q: What was the best part of your trip to Boston outside of the conference?

A: Staying with and spending time with four aunts and uncles. Sharing a session with my 65 year young uncle Dr. Foster Brown as three of his siblings sat in the audience.


Dr. David Salisbury with Dr. Foster Brown, his uncle

Dr. David Salisbury with Dr. Foster Brown, his uncle

Professor Mary Finley-Brook

Q: What did you present? 

A: I presented my paper: Racial Violence and Deadly Energy in the Americas. 

Here is the abstract:

New energy infrastructure and energy transitions commonly lead to contested socioecological spaces and futures. Violent oppression flourishes in Latin America’s expanding fossil fuel and renewable energy systems with deadly force sometimes used to facilitate energy development. Homicide often follows social opposition and is utilized as a cruel tool to eliminate or intimidate land defenders, environmental protestors, and marginalized populations, particularly Afro-descendant and Indigenous Peoples. While direct physical violence towards energy project opponents and populations impacted by energy infrastructure is usually more subdued in the United States and Canada, structural violence built upon racism and economic inequality is frequently apparent in socioecologically harmful energy initiatives across the Western hemisphere, whether in the creation of new projects or in the maintenance of detrimental facilities. This paper provides comparative analysis of petroleum, coal, natural gas, hydropower, and biofuel case studies in North, Central, and South America to (1) identify energy’s pivotal role in social relations and spatial interactions in both industrialized and peripheral economies; (2) expose patterns and processes of energy-related violence; (3) advance understanding of how low-carbon rhetoric is used to justify socially and racially oppressive energy infrastructure; and (4) demonstrate how the term ‘deadly energy’ corresponds to more than situations of homicide as risks with potentially fatal consequences (e.g., explosions, accidents and spills, public health consequences from waste dumping and toxic pollution, land grabbing, competition with subsistence livelihoods, etc.) are experienced in marginalized spaces and by people of color.


Q: What was the best part of your trip to Boston outside of the conference?

Mary Windmills

Wind Turbines

Do These Buttress Roots Make My Trunk Look Big?

Post by Kim Browne 

The past four summers I’ve had the good fortune of leading students to Australia for an intensive field experience which includes visits to two World Heritage sites: the Wet Tropics of North Queensland and the Great Barrier Reef. These sites are connected (literally and littorally) by the rain that falls along the narrow strip of forests along the mountainous coast, by the sugarcane fields the rivers pass through on their way to the sea, by the mangroves which filter nutrients and sediment, and by a thousand other processes that are critical to the health of these important ecosystems.

But today, the main connection I want to write about is the one I felt to my study abroad as an undergraduate at James Madison University in the summer of 1987. During this intensive field biology course in the Ecuadorian rainforest and the Galapagos Islands (think Darwin) we saw buttress roots, crossed altitudinal gradients, and witnessed things few people ever witness. How many people get to swim with sea lions in the Galapagos? Witness blue-footed booby’s feeding their young? Watch an anaconda slide off a log into the river?

My friend Emily in the Ecuadorian Amazon with a tree with large buttress roots

My friend Emily in the Ecuadorian Amazon next to a tree with large buttress roots

I’m very fortunate to have had those experiences and my students are equally fortunate. Many of the Islands I visited in the Galapagos nearly 30 years ago are now closed to visitors (due to damage and pests). Lonesome George, a giant tortoise we saw at the Charles Darwin Research Stations died in 2012.  The Amazon is in trouble.

I wonder and worry about the Reef. I wonder if in 30 years my students will be reminiscing about that thing of the past called the Great Barrier Reef.  Snorkeling this year (after unprecedented coral bleaching) was striking and saddening compared to my experience just one year ago. The reef is in trouble. The destruction of these large rainforest trees (aka carbon storage tanks), combined with other factors (including carbon emissions from our flights), is putting the reef in serious danger.

I’ve since returned to my lab where four high school students are being mentored by two of my lab interns. The students are contributing to an inventory of trees on campus. They are recording the GPS coordinates, diameter, height, and species of trees. Using this information they will estimate biomass and carbon stored. The data collected will help us better understand the role of trees in our world and will help the students connect the trees they see every single day to things like the Great Barrier Reef and Global Climate Change.

Giant fig tree in the Paluma Rainforest

Elaborate root structures in the Paluma Rainforest


Richmond Math Science Investigators (MSI) in the SAL

Post by Marissa Parker ’16

This summer, the SAL is hosting four rising 10th grade students from Richmond Public Schools in the Richmond Math Science Investigators (MSI) program. The goal of MSI is to increase the number of students pursuing a career in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. The students are interested in the sciences and hope to pursue STEM fields in college and beyond. The MSI Program spans five weeks.

Our four students knew little about geography when they entered the program, but now are learning to connect their interests in natural/life sciences and engineering to geography and GIS. In the SAL, the students are learning about earth systems and physical geography relating to climate change, how to create basic maps in ArcMap, what GIS is and how to apply it, and how to conduct fieldwork while contributing to our campus tree inventory.

Take a peek at our students’ reflections on the first week…



During the summer a group of high school students and I engage in a 5 week program with mentors from the University of Richmond. The program starts on Monday and ends on the Thursday of that particular week. This week was very interesting learning about maps and the concept of GIS. We evaluated different maps that relate to GIS and how you can input different data.


I learned a lot over the past few days. Each day in the afternoon we watched these really exciting and fun videos on different countries that explained a lot of the country’s characteristics. We talked about GPS and used one to locate different locations on campus. We looked at maps and talked about the different aspects of them and finding other aspects dealing with maps. Today we looked at GIS which is a system used to view maps and help us as people make decisions for our everyday life. We used a program on the computer and experimented with it. My favorite part was everything I did because it served a purpose in my learning and knowledge gaining and it was very fun.


I learned that the Costa Rica flag has red, white, and blue colors. Working in ArcMap is fun and simple to use. Many people use it today to get around or just find different locations of where they want to travel.


I have learned several things this week. I learned about cartographers, projections, and scales. I now know about various types of projections such as the Mercator and Peters map projections. The Mercator map projection is the typical map that we use today. However, it isn’t proportionate and makes northern continents such as North America, Europe, and Asia appear more important than southern ones like South America, Africa, and Australia. On the contrary, the Peters projection emphasizes southern continents and makes them seem more important. I also learned more about how cartographers use GIS (Geographical Information Systems). Lastly, I learned about how scales show ratios of distances in the real world.

Stay tuned for more reflections from our wonderful MSI students!!!