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Mapping for malaria prevention

July 29, 2016   /   by Kristen Dalton

ASSIP students mapping rural areas of sub-Saharan Africa to provide data to help treat and control Malaria outbreaks. Photo by Ron Aira.

High school and undergraduate students participating in George Mason University’s Aspiring Scientists Summer Internship Program (ASSIP) learned that they can undertake humanitarian efforts from anywhere when they participated in the second annual White House Mapathon.

The goal of the Mapathon was to assist in the fight against malaria in Africa. ASSIP students, working with George Mason’s College of Science and the Department and Geography and Geoinformation Science, used OpenStreetMap to trace, edit, and label key infrastructure in sub-Saharan Africa to help maximize applications to deliver vaccinations, manage mosquito control, and treat patients afflicted with malaria.

“The students are mapping territory in Africa using satellite imagery,” said Paul Delamater, assistant professor in Mason’s Department of Geography and Geoinformation Science. “They are mapping roads, buildings, and environmental features to provide necessary information for an open global database that will help malaria prevention.”

The data collected by students will be used in the President’s Malaria Initiative, the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Peace Corps.

This year’s class of 94 students includes 28 undergraduates from Mason and other Virginia universities including the College of William and Mary and Virginia Tech, as well as students from University of California, San Diego and Duke University. High school students from across the Washington, D.C., metro area also are part of the internship cohort. The program has grown since its first year in 2007 to include nearly 1,000 applicants for this year’s cohort.

“Our ASSIP program gives students real-world skills and knowledge that they can apply in the community, the workforce and the classroom,” said Amy VanMeter Adams, director of ASSIP. “We focus on giving students innovative STEM experience and education. We teach them how to communicate complex science topics to a diverse audience and how to take a discovery or new product to the market. Overall, we show them all the different options they can pursue with a STEM degree.”

Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology senior Steven Li is exploring new technology this summer with Mason geography and geoinformation science associate professor Sven Fuhrmann.

 “The Mapathon provided a great opportunity for students to gain perspective about the applications of Geographic Information Systems, and contribute to solving important global issues,” Li said.

ASSIP students who participated in the mapathon are studying various fields, including computer engineering and biochemistry.

“This unique service opportunity showed students how academia, industry, government and community partnerships can support humanitarian efforts,” Fuhrmann said. “Students learned the importance of geospatial information and how geoinformation science plays a role in STEM fields.”