2. Mapping refugees through online engaged scholarship

Students in Enschede, The Netherlands

Picture taken on June 22, 2016 at International Institute for Geo-Information Science and Earth Observation (ITC) in Enschede, The Netherlands. Penn Staters indicated in bold.
4th row: Menno-Jan Kraak, Corné van Elzakker, Anthony Scavone, Julien Wilson, Leslie Jessen, Nate Roberts, Edward Walsh
3rd row: Jackie Silber, Beth King, Fritz Kessler, Chrisper Abuni, Tim Naegeli, Jamal Cadwell, Anthony Robinson
2nd row: Rachel Wong, Dio Dafrista, Qiujun Li, Rosa Aguilar de Archila, Heloisa Gabrielpinheiro, Jeanne Nebre
1st row: Arif Rahman, Bani Muttaqien, Tianyuan Wang, Mikias Hundie, Shengce Wang



This summer, Penn State Department of Geography online geospatial education program instructors Beth King and Fritz Kessler took ten students in the online Master of Geographic Information Systems (MGIS) program on a unique travel experience.  In the new course, GEOG 597G: Challenges in Global Geosptial Analytics, Penn State students collaborated with graduate students from ITC - University of Twente located in Enschede, Netherlands to develop solutions to analyze spatio-temporal patterns in refugee migration data.

“We wanted our students to work on an applied research project with students at another university,and ITC students come to the Netherlands from all over the world, so that aspect was appealing to us as well.”—Anthony Robinson

“The current refugee crisis is unprecedented and has implications for mass migration, humanitarian aid, resettlement, and it affects nations world-wide. Our students developed visualization solutions using the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) database to provide assistance to refugees,” King said. The solutions entailed developing software, identifying potential funding sources, and making recommendations on how best to allocate resources to benefit refugees.

The first six weeks of the course featured collaborative learning at a distance. Penn State students spent that time engaged in problem-solving activities using a range of digital learning tools. They also partnered with ITC students and began interacting online, Kessler explained. After that, the Penn State students and intructors traveled to Enschede, Netherlands to collaborate in person with ITC students in an intense one-week project development experience. During the second week of their trip, they visited national mapping agencies in the Netherlands, Germany, and Switzerland to talk about their results and make professional contacts with geospatial professionals. After the two weeks of travel, they returned home to complete their final project.

“Our students had the opportunity to present their work and develop new connections with EU geospatial professionals via the site visits,” King said.  “They also worked in teams to tackle this global-scale data set, and use geospatial analytics to arrive at a solution to visualize refugee migration patterns over space and time.”
This class has been in development for several years. “The core idea emerged after Cindy Brewer and I took undergraduates around the world for a CAUSE trip in 2012,” said Anthony Robinson, director of online geospatial education programs and assistant professor in the Department of Geography. “We talked on that trip about how something could be created to serve the needs of our professional MGIS students. I’ve been working on the proposal and logistical details since then, in coordination with Professor Menno-Jan Kraak at ITC,” Robinson said, adding, “Penn State and ITC have had a lot of collaboration on research over the years, so making a connection to ITC was a natural for this. We wanted our students to work on an applied research project with students at another university, and ITC students come to the Netherlands from all over the world, so that aspect was appealing to us as well. Professor Kraak at ITC is also the current president of the International Cartographic Association—an organization that I’m quite active in, along with others in the department like Cindy Brewer and Alan MacEachren. We saw this as a unique opportunity to create a new model for how to couple research with online learning at the graduate level, and to do it in a way that reflects the unique abilities of our professional World Campus students.

“We’ve had a lot of support from the Department of Geography, John A. Dutton e-Education Institute, College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, World Campus, and the Office of Global Programs,” Robinson said. “We are actually the first online graduate program at Penn State to offer a study abroad experience like this, and the first among our peer institutions who offer online geospatial education programs. It’s not easy to set everything in motion, but it’s never easy when you’re blazing the trail. We’re really excited to see what our students have produced in this class, and to refine the model we’re testing here to deliver an impactful study abroad experience tailored to our online graduate students.”



online geospatial grads spring 16

Master of Geographic Information Systems (MGIS) and Master of Professional Studies in Homeland Security: Geospatial Intelligence Option (iMPS-HLS) students traveled to University Park Campus from California, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.

Before attending graduate commencement at Bryce Jordan Center, they attended a reception with their families at the Dutton e-Education Institute. Back row, left to right: Alan Szulwach, Tanner Allshouse, John Saunders, Ann Masangcay. Front row, left to right: James Spayd, Kym Kelly, Sherry Roth, Richard Boruta, Myia Woodson.