UND Geography students help new Americans get their bearings

Service learning project helps refugees navigate the Grand Forks community

As anyone who’s been a stranger in a new town  can tell you, getting around can be a challenge. Add to that a new language, different customs and a foreign culture, and it all makes for a big challenge.

University of North Dakota Geography student Garrett Jepsen and his classmates built a technology-based solution with paper and web-based products for a community of folks in just such a situation: New Americans. Working with the Grand Forks office of Lutheran Social Services, the Geography 471 class–comprising students from a variety of majors besides geography–they produced a series of handy community maps destined to help New Americans of all ages find the services they were looking for.

“I think it’s a great idea,” said Jepsen, a Vermillion, S.D., native who was one of 24 students enrolled in Geography 471–Cartography and Visualization this spring. “It started out as a class project, an assignment. Then we divided ourselves up into groups to work on this. Each group selected a topic of interest to this community, such as low-cost and free activities for children and families, available social services and food stores. Then we did the research and gathered the data to design and produce maps for each of these needs.”

For Bailey Bubach, a geology master’s student at UND who graduated from Grand Forks Central High School, the project is a lot more than a course requirement.

“I think it’s a vital part of learning what geography is all about outside of the classroom” said Bubach, who’s minoring in Geography as part of her Geology master’s degree program.

It’s that contact outside the classroom that makes this project special.

“This is, as far as I know, a truly unique program–Lutheran Social Services partnering with a Geography class to produce this kind of much-needed service,” said Tara Dupper (pronounced Doo-per), a social worker who is coordinator of resettlement at LSS-Grand Forks. “The students did fantastic work with these maps, really valuable for our clients. We not only got the maps, we got the files so that we can reprint them as needed in the future.”

The refugee program that LSS is associated with is part of the national refugee resettlement program administered through the U.S. Department of State, noted Dupper, a Syracuse, N.Y.-area native who did similar work in Colorado and Alaska before coming to Grand Forks with her husband. The LSS refugee program in Grand Forks resettles about 90 people annually, many of them members of family groups who try to join up here.

“The class produced six maps, and we just delivered 30 copies of them to Tara, said Michael Niedzielski, the UND Geography faculty member who teaches this cartography class. “UND Geography will continue to work with LSS in the future providing these maps with updates made by students.”

“We teach Geography 471 as a service learning class,” said Niedzielski, who grew up in Warsaw, Poland. “Not only is this about the ins-and-outs of map design, we understand that maps are another form of communications. So the point is for our maps to fill a need, to make those maps for someone—in other words we’re making maps as a community service.” In this case, for a very specific community.

“In this community mapping project, students got to brainstorm instead of me telling them what they should do,” said Niedzielski, who last year was involved through the Center for Community Engagement in similar community project with the Near Northside Neighborhood in Grand Forks. “The students figured out what to do by putting themselves in the shoes of the community they aimed to help: they asked ‘what would I need in these circumstances,’ and designed maps to meet those needs.”

A typical question: where do I find inexpensive clothing and home furnishings? The answer low-cost retailers and thrift stores. One map produced by the students details all such locations in the Grand Forks area. This and other maps can be found on the Maps4Community website: http://arts-sciences.und.edu/geography/maps4community/index.cfm

“One key aspect of this project is that the maps live beyond the class,” Niedzielski said. “Some of the students even worked past the end of the class, updating some of the maps.”

Contact:
Juan Miguel Pedraza
writer/editor, National Media Relations Coordinator
UND Office of University and Public Affairs
701.777.6571| juan.pedraza@UND.edu

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