Skip to content

Community Mapping Has Its RewardsVassar students honored for innovative work with local non-profits

While the COVID-19 pandemic has curtailed many interactions between Vassar students and local residents, one student organization, Hudson Valley YouthMappers, has continued to make significant contributions to the community. Using GIS (Geographical Information System) technology, members of the group created a map that provided vital information to local residents during the height of the pandemic.

Benjamin Bachman ’21 and Dina Onish ’23 and fellow members of Hudson Valley YouthMappers won several awards from the international YouthMappers organization.Photo: Karl Rabe

The group also collaborated with a Poughkeepsie-based historical group, Celebrating the African Spirit, that is working to publicize the plight of enslaved Africans who were brought to the region in the 17th 18th, and 19th centuries, and the Vassar team helped a local nonprofit agency, Hudson River Housing, conduct an inventory of businesses in a portion of the City of Poughkeepsie.

The group provided information on food, testing and vaccination sites and other information for local residents during the COVID-19 pandemic.Photo: Courtesy of Hudson Valley YouthMappers

This spring, the group was recognized for its efforts, winning several awards from the worldwide YouthMappers organization, which is funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The awards were for:

  • Innovation in Mapping, awarded to YouthMappers chapters that have organized and implemented ways to collect, use, and analyze geographic data in support of local communities;
  • Women’s Participation, for engaging a majority of female student mappers into the chapter, and
  • Best Blog, awarded to recent graduates Adele Birkenes ’20 and Siennah Yang ’18 for conceiving and implementing the mapping project that located health and nutrition facilities and other vital services for Hudson Valley residents during the pandemic.

Current leaders of the group, Stephanie Ingraldi ’22 and Benjamin Bachman ’21, said they were excited to learn about the awards but even more pleased they had been able to use their skills to help others. “I love the creative problem-solving aspect of GIS and interacting with people in the local community,” Ingraldi said. “It’s really been fulfilling.”

Bachman agreed.  “Hudson Valley YouthMappers is all about open-source mapping, putting the tools of geography in the hands of people who might not have that information and helping communities identify issues that can be addressed by using GIS,” he said.

Using GIS technology, members of the group helped Celebrating the African Spirit, a local group that is spotlighting the contributions of enslaved people in the region, identify key historical sites in Poughkeepsie. Photo: Courtesy of Hudson Valley YouthMappers

Since its inception in 2019, Hudson Valley YouthMappers has been supported by Vassar’s Office of Community Engaged Learning, providing work study positions to two students to serve as “community geographers.” OCEL Director Lisa Kaul said the awards were well deserved. “At a time when we’ve been largely closed off from the rest of Poughkeepsie, [Hudson Valley YouthMappers] has offered a powerful way for Vassar students to remain connected to the area,” Kaul said. “We see mapping as a dynamic tool for resource sharing, communication, and community building. We hope the organization will continue to undertake projects proposed by community organizations as well as complement or supplement community-engaged learning work undertaken by individual students.”