COLUMBIA, Mo. – When City of Columbia geospatial services manager Matt Gerike walks downtown, he looks at things a little differently than the average person. He notes how crosswalk traffic flows and if there are potential hazards. He also checks to see if the sidewalk invites pedestrians into shops and restaurants, an important part of a vibrant downtown economy.
Gerike also relies on geospatial information gathered by volunteers in a University of Missouri Extension 4-H program that develops science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills in young people.
The 4-H National Youth Sciences Day on Oct. 9 celebrates “Maps & Apps,” work that Gerike and MU Extension geospatial specialist Shannon White promote during the annual Summers @ Mizzou GeoTech Camp and in popular 4-H STEM projects such as robotics, GIS and GPS, and aeronautics.
White and Gerike team up to introduce youth to data collection methods to gather information about Columbia sidewalks for the city’s comprehensive transportation program. “All of the kids said they would never look at a sidewalk the same again,” White said.
Using global positioning systems (GPS) and geographic information systems (GIS), Summers @ Mizzou campers recorded information about crosswalks and sidewalks in Columbia. Data included the slope of the sidewalk or crosswalk, whether sediment is chipped or heaving, and if obstacles create problems for people with disabilities, parents with strollers or cellphone users who walk and talk. “These can present potential hazards,” Gerike said.
Much of the heavily used downtown and East Campus sidewalks have been mapped through volunteer efforts.
Volunteer work by campers is a cost savings for the city and provides young people with hands-on experiences in GIS technology. Gerike, a Columbia native who holds a doctorate in geography, said it is important for young people to understand the geographical study of places and the relationship between people and their environment.
White works with youth enrolled in 4-H STEM projects, one of the fastest-growing areas of 4-H participation; currently, more than 5 million 4-H members nationwide are involved in STEM projects.
On the Oct. 9 National Science Youth Day, the 4-H National Science Experiment offers activities for 4-H members to use geospatial skills to design and map their ideal park. They may contribute the information to the U.S. Geological Survey through the project.
For more information about 4-H STEM projects, contact Shannon White at email@example.com or 573-884-0790.