Geographers Recognized For National Research On COVID-19

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Geographers have been recognized in 14 research and educational fellowships from The Geospatial Software Institute (GSI) Conceptualization Project. The fellowship’s support projects that tackle COVID-19’s challenges for public health, social networks and contact tracing, housing stability, and disparities due to age, race, and disabilities, using geospatial software and advanced capabilities in cyberinfrastructure and data science.

“The COVID-19 crisis has shown how critical it is to have cutting-edge geospatial software and cyberinfrastructure to tackle the pandemic’s many challenges,” said Shaowen Wang, a geographer who is the principal investigator of the NSF project and founding director of the CyberGIS Center at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. “We are extremely grateful for NSF’s support to fund this talented group of researchers, whose work is so diverse yet complementary.”

The American Association of Geographers (AAG) is a partner in the GSI Conceptualization Project, which is supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF). Other partners include the Consortium of Universities for the Advancement of Hydrologic Science, Inc. (CUAHSI), the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago, Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC), and University Consortium for Geographic Information Science (UCGIS). Technical and cyberinfrastructure support are provided by the CyberGIS Center for Advanced Digital and Spatial Studies (CyberGIS Center)  at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. 

“Geospatial technologies connect us and make us more geospatially aware, and in doing so, diminish everyday inconveniences,” said Coline Dony, senior geography researcher at AAG. “The AAG is committed to working with groups like GSI to ensure that the complex, interrelated, social, environmental, and scientific challenges of geospatial technologies are addressed. I think these challenges are what the GSI and Geospatial Fellows are well-positioned to accomplish.”

The Fellows come from varied professional, cultural, and institutional backgrounds, representing many disciplinary areas, including public health, food justice, hazard prediction and response, housing and neighborhood change, and community-based mapping. The fellowship projects represent frontiers of emerging geospatial data science, including for example deep learning, geovisualization, advanced approaches to gathering and analyzing geospatial data, and GeoAI.

Pioneered by multi-million research funded by NSF, cyberGIS (i.e., cyber geographic information science and systems based on advanced computing and cyberinfrastructure) has emerged as a new generation of GIS, comprising a seamless integration of advanced cyberinfrastructure, GIS, and spatial analysis and modeling capabilities while leading to widespread research advances and broad societal impacts. Built on the progress made by cyberGIS-related communities, the GSI conceptualization project is charged with developing a strategic plan for a long-term hub of excellence in geospatial software infrastructure, one that can better address emergent issues of food systems, ecology, emergency management, environmental research and stewardship, national security, public health, and more. 

The Geospatial Fellows program will enable diverse researchers and educators to harness geospatial software and data at scale, in reproducible and transparent ways; and will contribute to the nation’s workforce capability and capacity to utilize geospatial big data and software for knowledge discovery. 

With a particular focus on COVID-19, the combined research findings of the Fellows will offer insight on how to make geospatial research computationally reproducible and transparent, while also developing novel methods, including analysis, simulation, and modeling, to study the spread and impacts of the virus. The Fellows’ research will substantially add to public understanding of the societal impacts of COVID-19 on different communities, assessing the social and spatial disparities of COVID-19 among vulnerable populations.

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