Mission: Outreach

Department of Geography

AR Sandox

UT geography students in the GIS Outreach and Community Engagement Lab are bridging the gap between the knowledge of geography and geospatial technology and the need for these skills in the professional world by working with four different audiences: K-12 students, K-12 teachers and administrators, the public, and university students.

“Tennessee has been busy stripping meaningful geography education from the curriculum of K-12 education,” said Michael Camponovo, GIS outreach coordinator. “The need for geographers and geospatial professionals continues to grow, which leaves students in Tennessee at a significant disadvantage for future careers.”

Very few students choose to major in geography when they begin their academic career at UT. Most geography majors switched in their sophomore or junior year after taking a geography elective, which indicates the need to promote geography and geospatial technology to students before they get to UT.

One way Camponovo and his students are addressing this issue is through a partnership with Vine Middle Magnet School, a Title 1 school in East Knoxville. Staff, undergraduate, and graduate students taught the middle school students how to use GIS, collect field data using iPads, and produce Story Maps they can share with their families, schools, and communities.

“We hope that supporting these students will encourage them to continue their geography and geospatial education and choose our department for the foundation of their career,” Camponovo said.

Another outreach effort in the UT geography department is through the Tennessee Geographic Alliance (TGA), a nonprofit educational organization focused on fostering collaboration with college and university geographers, teachers in K-12, educational administrators, private industry, and other interested parties to advance geographic literacy.

“Geography has an image problem, especially in K-12 schools in Tennessee,” said Kurt Butefish, coordinator of the Tennessee Geographic Alliance. “We have to actively educate students that geography is a viable career path and then recruit them into our programs of study.”

Without greater buy-in from teachers and administrators, however, the struggle to expand the reach of these programs will continue. During the 2017-18 academic year, UT geography students and staff taught more than 200 K-12 teachers and administrators in East Tennessee about geospatial technology through Geospatial Academies, a strategic partnership orchestrated by members of the TGA.

“The success of the GIS and Community Outreach Lab over the past couple of years is a direct result of both the exciting research being conducted by UT faculty, staff, and students, as well as the foundation laid by the TGA,” Camponovo said. “As a result of combining our different strengths, we reach an average of 4,000 people at more than 80 different events each year. None of this would be possible without the Volunteer Spirit embodied by our department.”