The Center for Community Engagement supports Middlebury College faculty seeking to deepen student learning through collaborative projects with community organizations. We recently had the chance to connect with Dr. Niwaeli Kimambo, assistant professor of geography, and talked more about her fall 2020 Remote Sensing and Land Use in Sub-Saharan Africa course (GEOG 0351). With support from a CCE Academic Outreach Endowment Grant, Dr. Kimambo was able to partner students with the World Resources Institute (WRI) on a project entitled “Mapping Landcover Change in Restoration Landscapes.”
Prior to embarking on extensive forest restoration, WRI partners needed to understand the landscape changes that have taken place historically in target restoration sites, and remote satellite imagery is a powerful way for analyzing such changes. Students worked with the WRI to perform these needed preliminary analyses of landscape change, contributing to a more efficient preparation for restoration activities. Students conducted analyses for restoration areas in Malawi, Cameroon, Niger, and Rwanda. Below are Dr. Kimambo’s reflections on this collaboration.
- How have community collaborations contributed to your teaching and research? Collaborating with Dr. Arakwiye at World Resources Institute has enabled me to bring real-world problems to the classroom and inspire new avenues of research. I found that students were more engaged with the content because there was an audience on the other end: someone who was keen to see what they came up with. The collaborations that started in the classroom have also spilled over into research, and will certainly spill back into the classroom.
- Can you share an example of a particularly gratifying moment of student learning related to the community-connected project you facilitated? We held several workshops of work in progress with our community partner. After one of these workshops, one student remarked how it was evident that lessons learnt in the classroom can be applied to solving world problems. As a teacher, knowing that students can apply what they have learned in my class is important to me. The project made that very apparent.
- Do you have any advice for those who may seek to collaborate on a project? Start small, plan early, and take advantage of technology. The current pandemic moment spurred more virtual communication, which allowed collaboration with a community partner who was on the other side of the globe!
Dr. Kimambo’s WRI colleague reflected on the partnership by sharing, “My collaboration with Middlebury students has pushed our work forward in the use of geospatial technologies for monitoring landscape restoration. Here are some examples of how:
- Middlebury students compared various tree cover maps and even generated new ones of their own. This was an illuminating and impressive exercise. I would be interested in pursuing this topic further, particularly assessing how Collect Earth data can be used to further improve tree cover maps of our target landscapes.
- During workshops and in their final write-ups, Middlebury students gave me valuable feedback on the geospatial surveys I had designed. For example, students pointed out challenging components such as 1) how to estimate tree cover and tree density inside a plot, and 2) what land cover types are difficult to interpret with satellite imagery. Having this information has already helped me improve our training materials and will ultimately lead to a better implementation of restoration monitoring work in the target landscapes.”