UCHS students gear up to go global in GIS program

Brad Hicks • May 11, 2014 at 9:14 PM

ERWIN — Over the past few years, Dara Carney-Nedelman, Dylan Roberts and Eilsabeth Moughon have worked to develop maps for some of Unicoi County’s more popular destinations, and their proficiency with these projects has helped earn each an opportunity to put these skills to use abroad and bring change to other parts of the world.

The three high school juniors, who are part of the Unicoi County 4-H GPS Team, have been selected to take part in the Global Connections and Exchange My Community, Our Earth Youth TechCamps Program. The program, led by the Association of American Geographers and sponsored by the U.S. State Department, gives those selected to participate the opportunity to travel to different parts of the world and study the effects of climate change in these areas.

Students taking part in the program will also have the opportunity to put geotechnologies such as online mapping, community Geographic Information Systems, mobile Global Positioning Systems and crowdmapping to use.

Those chosen for the program were able to choose from one of three countries in which to study — Bolivia, South Africa and Panama. Only 10 U.S. high school students were selected for each country, meaning the UCHS trio represents three of the nation’s 30 students selected to take part.

They said they learned of the opportunity to take part in the program late last year through their participation in the National 4-H GIS/GPS Leadership Team and submitted applications, a component of which was experience with GIS. Each later learned they had been selected to take an all-expenses-paid trip to the destination of their choice, and although headed to different locations, the three agree they are honored to participate in the program.

Both Carney-Nedelman and Moughon have selected Bolivia as their destination. There, they will study the impact natural disasters have on a region of the country. These disasters are often caused by flooding or drought, and this presents an issue to Bolivians living along the landslide-vulnerable slopes of the Andean terrain, information from the GCE said.

Before heading to Bolivia, the two will first travel to Miami for an orientation June 27. They will leave for Bolivia on June 30 and will remain there before leaving to return to the U.S. on July 9.

“I’m honored to be chosen,” Moughon said. “I didn’t try to get my hopes up. When I found out, I was just like ‘Wow, I’m going to Bolivia.’ I am most excited probably for the cultural experience, but to go along with that, I’m just excited it’s an educational trip.

“I feel like going to Bolivia and studying there, going out in the field and working with the students, I’ll get much more of a feel of the place rather than just staying in a hotel room and touring the streets. I feel like I’ll learn a lot from the people and from studying there, so I’m excited for the purpose of the trip, and I’m just honored to have been chosen.”

Like Moughon, Carney-Nedelman said she is looking forward to the cultural experience. She also said she is looking forward to working with Bolivian students to make a difference there.

“With this trip, and actually being able to travel to Bolivia and help change that country, hopefully speaking to the leader of that area where we’re in, we’ll hopefully make an impact on how they can set up the buildings so they know about erosion and such, but also culturally where we’re actually able to work with other Bolivian students there,” Carney-Nedelman said.

“We’ve traveled to San Diego, to Nashville, all these places, but it’s just been us. In San Diego, it was other students from throughout the U.S., but it was never actual students in San Diego. We weren’t really able to impact that area particularly, so I think that’s the major thing I’m looking forward to is we’re going to be able to change that part of the country in some manner or another.”

Roberts opted to travel to South Africa. His work there will focus on how climate change is impacting food security. In sub-Saharan Africa, climate change has posed a large threat to food secuirty, the GCE said. Roberts will leave for Washington, D.C., on July 9 before heading to South Africa. He will return home July 23.

“For me, being accepted is amazing, but this is going to open so many doors for us, not only today but down the road,” Roberts said. “This will be something that we’ll carry with us for the rest of our lives. For three of us to be accepted from Unicoi, that’s huge. It’s going to be the adventure of a lifetime, halfway around the world.”

Over the past few years, the three have created maps for destinations in Unicoi County such as the Nolichucky River, the Erwin Linear Trail, the county’s recycling centers and the Pinnacle Fire Tower Hiking Trail. Ty Petty, 4-H agent for the University of Tennessee Extension in Unicoi County, said these three have worked hard over the years, and he is proud to see this work continue to pay off.

“I’m so proud of these three students,” Petty said. “They have worked so hard using their GIS skills to promote Unicoi County, and now that success has brought them a new opportunity to make a difference in a foreign country. This is a great honor for our Unicoi County students to achieve, when you consider that only 10 students from across the United States are selected for each of these international projects.”

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