UK Student's Map Project Becomes Resource for Under-resourced Young Moms

By Whitney Harder

(Sept. 9, 2015) — What started as a project in a University of Kentucky geography course is now a resource for young single mothers across Lexington.

The resource, an online interactive map, was developed by UK senior Laura Greenfield for Step By Step, a mentoring ministry for under-resourced mothers ages 14 to 24. The geospatial technology pinpoints where young moms can find abuse counseling and support; emergency shelters; clothing resources; education institutions; childcare; and more services around Lexington.

"Being a nonprofit that works with teen moms, you wouldn't think we could use the geography department to make a difference, using their skills to bring about change," said Tanya Torp, program director at Step By Step.

When Step By Step receives calls from young moms with questions about where to go, or who to turn to, staffers and volunteers can now quickly find nearby resources by inputting the caller's address into the interactive map; an important capability, Torp says, because many callers may not have a driver's license or vehicle and rely on walking to those services. And for anyone with Internet access, they can access the map and information about resources from their own device at http://lfgreenfield.github.io/step-by-step/.

A student in geography Professor Matthew Zook's GEO 409 course last spring, Greenfield came up with the idea when tasked with utilizing and showcasing the skills she learned in a final class project.

"I have this engrained belief that GIS (geographic information systems) and geospatial technology are such powerful tools that can be really helpful to community and grassroots organizations," Greenfield said. "I chose Step By Step because I had heard of the organization and the important work they do."

Believe it or not, this is the first online map Greenfield has created. Before the course, she had experience in GIS software (ArcGIS and QGIS), but none with coding or online maps. In this class, students learned JavaScript programming, the web standards of HTML, CSS and collaborative/versioning work tools like GitHub.

"I met with Tanya in January and then was able to go to Dr. Zook and discuss what exactly I would need to learn to fully fulfill what Tanya asked for and what Step By Step needed," Greenfield said.

Zook provided an initial set of suggestions and strategy on how to organize the collection of the original paper records into a useful database. Rich Donohue, a post-doctoral scholar working on developing a new online digital mapping program, and Ate Poorthuis, a Ph.D. candidate in department, both co-taught the course with Zook and worked extensively with Greenfield on the design and implementation of the map.

Anyone using the map, whether it be a young mother or staff at Step By Step, is able to type in an address and see what services exist close by. The services are color-coded and the user has the ability to filter through different service categories. Greenfield says there is a need to receive information fast and, additionally, see it spatially. With this map, a user can visually identify where the services are and find information such as telephone numbers, websites and more all in one place.

Greenfield, a geography major, aims to farm after graduating in May 2016, but says that doesn't mean she won't continue utilizing this skillset.

"I learned in my first geography classes that there is a social activism aspect to mapping," she said. "I've become involved with others working on certain social justice issues in Lexington and, in these groups, I am able to collaborate with others to produce maps, both static and interactive, that share information, reflect a reality, and tell the important stories that are usually covered up in mainstream avenues."

Greenfields also plans to use her last year at UK to help start building an infrastructure for more nonprofit GIS work, which would include creating maps, as well as increasing awareness about these technologies so organizations can become empowered to create their own.

And Step By Step plans to continue adding more resources to the map, eventually including free or reduced food services.

"I would just encourage other academic departments to think outside the box like the geography department has, to follow their example in using their skills to make a difference," Torp said.

Additional maps created by students in this new and exciting web mapping course at the University of Kentucky can be viewed at http://newmapsplus.uky.edu/explore-new-maps.

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