Using GRACE to study well-being

The GIS Resources and Applications for Career Education (GRACE) project is looking for high school teachers and students to be a part of the upcoming project.

The statewide project trains high school teachers and students to use GIS (geographic information science) and spatial technologies to foster new ways to analyze community well-being.

The objective is to prepare youth in economically disadvantaged communities for the prospect of careers in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics through Geographic Information Science and Technologies.

“We felt this would be a good region for students to able to learn those skills and to not just get jobs but to make a difference in the community,” said project leader and Michigan Tech faculty member, Don Lafreniere.

The program is coming into its fourth year and its third in the Keweenaw area.

“We brought it here because we know that the community and high schools students in the region can learn from these projects,” said Lafreniere. “It’s an economic development growth area.”

The project is currently in need of 12-15 high school students across the region to be a part of the five-week summer internship program, earning $1200 throughout.

What the students study varies every year. This year, the participants will be partnering with the village of Calumet and the Western Upper Peninsula Planning & Development Region to create a map for the community.

Lafreniere said the purpose is to help the village have a map to identify buildings that are at risk. He added that it was an effort to “save those buildings” but also to promote economic development in the village.”

“They learn how to use the technology, ask scientific questions that are geographic in nature, learn how to work the data and collect data in the field and how to create maps of their data,” said Lafreniere.

Prior to the summer, the students complete a combination of in-person training and online self-training under the supervision of a teacher mentor.

The students learn to understand how environmental factors affect their communities, understand challenges and opportunities in the community while also improving their confidence in their own ability to effect change.

“These students get to learn a tremendous amount about their own communities and neighborhoods,” said Lafreniere.

In 2017, funded by a Michigan Tech Research Excellence Fund seed grant, GRACE students from Houghton and Calumet high schools mapped the villages of Calumet and Laurium to evaluate the quality of the built environments and their potential impacts on children’s health and well-being.

Students learned how ground-penetrating radar and unmanned autonomous vehicles like drones are used to map cultural resources and shed light on potential environmental problems facing communities.

Many students expressed their gratitude and how impressed they were after completing the project.

In the “Youth-led Mapping” recap video, Nick Laemmrich, a first-year student at MTU, said the skills were great to learn and beneficial in the job market.

“Industries across the world are looking for the people who have these skills and being able to get these skills and being paid to learn these skills, that’s amazing,” said Laemmrich.