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For those interested in taking part in disaster relief initiatives, the Geospatial Information System Coalition’s YouthMappers Map-a-thon offers an opportunity to contribute.

The event, which will be held from 7-9 p.m. on April 4 in 229 Walker Building, is a mapping marathon that aims to help develop infrastructure maps using an application called OpenStreetMap to help manage flood risk in Mozambique, Africa.

GIS is, as its parent company Esri calls it, “the science of where.” With GIS, people can take different kinds of data and display them in the form of a map. The program helps visualize trends and problems, allowing people to analyze data to draw conclusions from it.

The GIS Coalition seeks to bring it to Penn State and show people some of the many ways GIS can be applied to almost any field.

Nicole Rivera, president of the GIS Coalition, said last semester she and a few other students revived the club after it had been inactive for about two years

“GIS is such an up-and-coming field a lot of people don’t know about and we think it could be applied to not just geography majors, but to other majors as well,” Rivera (junior-geography) said. “The whole point of [GIS Coalition] is to try to spread the word of what GIS is and also give people the opportunity to become more familiar with ArcMap and the different types of tools you would need to be successful with it.”

Penn State is one chapter of the nationwide group YouthMappers , an organization that seeks to foster a generation of youth leaders who are able to use mapping to solve problems. The purpose of the Map-a-thon is to map out disasters that have occurred all around the world as well as areas where possible crises could happen in the future in order to help mitigate the damage and support recovery efforts.

YouthMappers puts different projects on their website for their chapters to work on. The GIS Coalition decided on Mozambique, Africa for the Map-a-thon this year.

“We wanted to pick one of the projects that hasn’t been worked on as much,” Rivera said. “There’s a percentage of how much has been mapped already by other chapters and or people and we wanted to pick an area that needs the most help mapping.”

In the future, Rivera said the club has plans to invite more guest speakers from the different fields that GIS applies to. Right now, the club is focusing on inviting graduate students within the geography department to speak, but they hope that in the future companies that use GIS will come to speak about the practical application of the program.

“With this Map-a-thon in particular, the goal is to spread the word more about GIS Coalition and YouthMappers as well,” Rivera said. “OpenStreetMap is very user-friendly and that’s what we actually utilize during the Map-a-thons, so we’re hoping that will attract more people who don’t know how to do it and they can learn.”

Brittany Waltemate , treasurer of the GIS Coalition, agreed that the focus of the upcoming Map-a-thon was to spread word of GIS and to increase participation in the club.

“You don’t have to be a geography person,” Waltemate (junior-geography) said. “You only need a computer and a web browser to participate in this and we’ll have both of those available at the event, so we welcome anyone with no experience, some experience.”

Waltemate emphasized GIS Coalition’s desire to bring together a community around GIS and geography.

“I’m really looking forward to seeing a bunch of different people show up and meeting new people who might learn about something that they didn’t know existed beforehand, learn about how important maps are in the world today.”

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