The Association of American Geographers (AAG) engaged the participation of US undergraduate and graduate students in the My Community, Our Earth Biodiversity Initiative in Africa (MyCOE) with the support of the US National Science Foundation’s Office of International Science and Engineering. Three fellows were competitively selected in the Fall of 2009 for their potential to contribute to long-term biodiversity research using geographic science and technologies and the degree to which their interests and abilities match ongoing research projects in Africa by African students, their mentors, and organizations in Africa: Ryan Valdez, PhD student at George Mason University; Melanie Jonas, Masters student at Illinois State University, and Jason B. Jones, undergraduate student at University of Southern Mississippi. Together with their mentors, each have designed and completed a special set of research activities, developed in collaboration with counterparts in Africa, spending at least three months in 2010 at field sites working with NGOs, government and universities in the region toward using geographic technologies for biodiversity conservation. Their full reports are available at the links at the bottom of this page.
Ryan Valdez is a Ph.D. candidate in Environmental Science and Public Policy at George MasonUniversity and a research fellow at the Smithsonian's National Zoological Park. He was hosted in Nairobi, Kenya in June-July and October-November at the Regional Centre for Mapping and Regional Development (RCMRD). He worked together with RCMRD, the Mpala Research Centre, and the Green Belt Movement to develop a set of map products and capacity building for integrating biological and landscape ecology knowledge with geographic technologies and geographic methods for conservation. His research focuses on trophic-level response to degraded landscapes in transition from intense cattle ranching and livestock grazing toward conservancy. Ryan says “I could not imagine a more incredible opportunity than to work with one of Africa's premiere mapping agencies to launch my wildlife ecology research in Kenya.” His advisors for the fellowship include Dr. Allan Falconer, Chair of the Department of Geography at George Mason University, and Dr. Tesfaye Korme, Director of the RCMRD in Nairobi.
Melanie Jonas recently completed her Master’s degree in Conservation Biology at Illinois State University where her research work was supported by her trip to the Albertine Rift region of Africa for her fellowship term during the summer of 2010. She worked with the Wildlife Conservation Society in Gisakura in Nyungwe National Park, Rwanda to contribute to the Project Conservation de la Fôret de Nyungwe (PCFN). For Mel, “the most valuable aspect of this MyCOE initiative is the opportunity to gain experience collaborating with African researchers who can contribute unique local knowledge of an area so rich in biodiversity and conservation potential.” The goal of her activities was to assist with the analysis and interpretation of several long-term data sets, such as data on diets of primates, monitoring of mammal and birds, phenology of trees, and socioeconomic data of communities living near the park. Mel also identified and strengthened synergies with these activities and among the activities of MyCOE Africa Teams in Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. She was guided in part by Dr. Sabine Loew, her advising professor at ISU, and Dr. Andrew Plumptre with the WCS in Uganda, also a MyCOE African Team Mentor.
Jason B. Jones recently received his Bachelor of Science degree in Geography and GeographicInformation Technology with a minor in Computer Science from the University of Southern Mississippi. He spent his fellowship during the Spring 2010 semester in Pretoria, South Africa, working with EIS-AFRICA, the regional association recognized as a leader in the development of African capacity in geospatial technology and data and organizer of the biennial AFRICA-GIS Conference, the premier geo-information event on the continent. Jason served as liaison between EIS-Africa and the 12 teams of MyCOE program participants in 9 countries in Africa. He supported the partnership between AAG and EIS-Africa to advance activities to disseminate high resolution imagery stemming from the US State Department’s Global Dialogues on Emerging Science and Technology (GDEST): Geospatial Technologies for Sustainable Development Program. He also assisted with managing increases in EIS-Africa membership, with digital communications, and other activities. He was mentored by his home institution advisor at USM, Dr. Jerry Griffith, Associate Professor in the Department of Geography and Geology and in Pretoria by Sives Govender, EIS-Africa Executive Director. Jason wrote from Pretoria that “the MyCOE experience continues to be an incredible journey of exploring new horizons, growing as a professional geographer, and gaining fresh perspectives on the world.”