Monday, June 25, 2012

Summer Internships: Teaching Girls in Brazil

Samantha Pride
IDSC, Class of 2013
My summer home is in the city of Salvador, Brazil, where I was an exchange student for one year during high school. I am very close to some beautiful beaches and even though it is winter here, the temperature is around 85°F everyday!  

In my position, myself and another teacher from Columbia University are responsible for planning and instructing English classes to 75 Brazilian girls from the ages of 8 to 13 at a nonprofit organization called Bahia Street. 

I have been aware of the Bahia Street organization for over a year. The purpose of their work is to break the cycle of poverty through the education of girls in the form of an academically focused after-school program. From working at Bahia Street, I have seen firsthand how important their work is in the community and how it continues to change the lives of girls’ and their families. In addition to teaching, I am also conducting research independent of Bahia Street on Brazilian women’s attitudes towards female politicians after the election of their President Dilma Rousseff in 2011.

The Brazilian coastline in the state of Bahia.

Lacerda elevator, originally built in 1873, in Salvador's Historic Center.

Near São Francisco church in Salvador.

There are many challenges to overcome in this situation, from making English relative and fun for the different age groups and levels, to working within a small nonprofit. The biggest challenge for me is to prepare lessons in Portuguese that keep the girls involved during the entire class. I have learned from working at other nonprofits that flexibility and a positive attitude really do go a long way and it is no different with my current experience.

Development Theory and Project Management are two courses that have helped prepare me for this internship.  The nonprofit that I am interning with is currently going through some changes and I am observing the discussions and steps developing around the organization’s mission, culture, and funding. Those courses introduced me to a critical thinking of development and projects and as a result, I am able to grasp more fully the situation and discourses happening in front of me. 

Education Policy for Developing Countries was another course that provided me with the material and time to do a great deal of research on the Brazilian education system. The research, along with my internship, has increased my awareness of the quality, practices, and current policies of education in Brazil which has led me to fully understand the difficulties that these girls are up against. 

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Summer Internships: Mapping Fires for NASA

Rachael Maingot
GISDE, Class of 2013
This summer I'm working with NASA's DEVELOP National Program at the Langley Research Center in Hampton, VA.  I am part of a team of eight students of various academic backgrounds tasked to develop maps of fire severity and ecological forecasting of the two largest fires in the North Carolina 2011 fire season.  We are using remotely sensed data from multiple NASA satellites, as well as other platforms, to analyze the fuel load and burn damage from peat fires. I live two blocks away from the cleanest beach in Hampton. Whoo! I definitely have taken advantage of the beach by reading there after work and spending weekends with co-workers swimming in the Atlantic. 

North Carolina fire in 2011
North Carolina fire in 2011
Nasa is awesome and I feel very lucky to be close to so many NASA scientists who are passionate about their research and are so willing to teach students. I am excited to learn new skills on how to work on a team to find solutions for a real client. We have the opportunity to create materials for the NC Department of Agriculture to aide in their constant fire struggles, and these materials could actually make a difference for the citizens of North Carolina. I am also excited about learning more skills towards professional growth and making networking contacts to help my career in GIS. Lastly, I am eager to learn how to apply all that I have learned on analyzing raster data on two software programs, ArcGIS and ERDAS, that I have not had much experience working with yet for raster data. All of my GIS-based classes at Clark have helped me prepare for this, though the largest assest to this internship was the Advanced Remote Sensing class because it introduced me to several raster applications and multiple software programs that I will be utilizing this summer. 

-Rachael Maingot, GISDE 2013

Monday, June 18, 2012

Summer Internships: Mapping in Oregon

Jacob Wasilkowski
GISDE, Class of 2013
As a GISDE student, some my main interests lie in communicating geospatial information and involving myself with new developments in cartography.  I feel lucky to have found an internship doing just that.  Right after the semester ended, I flew out to Oregon State University to work with Dr. Bernhard Jenny in his Cartography and Geovisualization Lab.  I have been assisting with two main projects, particularly "Pseudo-natural maps" and "Scale-adaptive web maps".

I feel it's best to explain the purpose of the first project by quoting the website description: "The aim is to develop a more engaging and expressive map style that web mapping services can offer in addition to their traditional vector and satellite mapping modes."  I have been testing out some map designs in Adobe Photoshop and also finding ways to automatically build maps from data available at  This is a large-scale project that will certainly continue to develop and progress after I return to Worcester.

The second project focuses on providing dynamically changing map projections for web map users, and I have been helping to test this functionality on mobile and tablet (e.g. iPad) browsers.  Though there aren't any public demos available right now.

Here are a few links to the projects I mentioned:
Pseudo-natural Maps:
Scale-adaptive Web Maps:

Additionally, they provide free downloads to software that's been created within this lab group, which is great for anybody interested in geography and mapping:

- Jacob Wasilkowski, GISDE 2013

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

IDSC's Visits DC

On April 11, 2012 The IDSC project management class took a trip to DC to meet with organizations like the World Bank, US Department of State, USAID, The Inter-American Foundation, Chemonics, The Department of Child Labor and Human Trafficing to discuss various issues and policies affecting development in the third world. They also got the oppportunity to network with IDCE alums and several of these organizations.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Welcome to IDCE


With the idea of providing a break for our busy IDCE students, the Student
Association organized a Movie Night Under the Stars last Friday. Going to see a new movie is something that requires a precious commodity: "time," which many of you may know is something graduate students severely lack! So, the SA brought movies to the students! Hugo was the featured film of the night and students enjoyed snacks and hot chocolate on the comfy chairs and floor of conference room D in the IDCE house. The new flat screen TVs installed over winter break were prefect for movie night. I must say, it was an eventful night, full of laughter, and good company. Thanks to everyone who helped organize and host the event. We look forward to more movie nights under the stars (but really in the basement)!

Devastation in Japan: One Year Later

First-year IDCE student Eriko Nakanishi (IDSC) was traveling in Myanmar on March 11, 2011, when the devastating tsunami and earthquake hit Japan. A Japanese native, Eri arrived back in her homeland a month later and volunteered in the humanitarian aid effort. Her “internship” with Megumi Japan involved lots of dirty and dangerous work. To mark the one-year anniversary of this tragic event, Eri reflected on her experience and what it taught her.
Q: What was the decision or purpose behind your internship?
EN: I was traveling in a remote village in Burma (Myanmar) when the tsunami hit Japan. Information is restricted by the military junta there and the international phone line is very unstable. I couldn’t contact my family for two days. The only reliable information source was illegal satellite news channels in the underground cafe (but even CNN or BBC changed the information every hour!). It was a horrible experience, but I was touched by the kindness of the Burmese people. Many people came to me—an unknown foreigner—to share the sorrow, bring me food, and pray with me at temples. It saved me because I was frustrated that I was stranded far away when my people were suffering so much. When I left Burma I was determined to do everything I could for my people.

Q: What were the initial circumstances surrounding your internship?
EN: I arrived at the camping site for volunteers in mid-April (one month after the earthquake). It was the beginning of the shift from the rescue phase in which the public sector—the self-defense force and rescue squad—were the main actors, to the next step in which the nonprofit sector was gradually taking a greater part in field operations.The mud/debris removal team was just about to expand their operation into more devastated areas, where the search for bodies by the public sector was completed. (It doesn’t mean they found all the bodies there.) Before then, My team was operating mostly in areas where damage was much less, and people continued to live on the second floor after the tsunami (not in evacuation cities).

Q: What was the name of the organization you interned with?
EN: Megumi Japan
Q: How was the experience working with that organization?
EN: I liked the organization because their size was moderate. It was big enough to have some budget and human resources (especially automobiles: the organizations with budgets that were too small to afford enough trucks were not functioning well), but small enough to reflect my opinions in their policy. But on the other side of the coin, it was sometimes frustrating that the organization was very young and not well-established so the operation was sometimes not efficient (especially in budget management).

Q: What were your roles and responsibilities at the organization?
EN: I was Chief Volunteer of the Mud/Debris Removal Team. I did almost everything. Most of the time, I got my feet into the mud and carried broken furniture by myself to clean up the houses. I instructed new volunteers (In fact, most of them were there for just two-to-three days, so we always needed someone to instruct them. At most, there were 300 newcomers. My phone never stopped ringing!) about procedures, safety, and mental health care to the victims. I also did door-to-door investigations and established the demand database. (There was no system when I arrived there, just random pieces of paper on which someone scribbled the address of the house to be cleaned up, and how to contact the owner. We set up a system to prioritize these demands, dispatch volunteers according to the areas, etc.). I was also responsible to communicate with the public sector (the most tricky part, many of the local officials were victims too, and their system was not functioning at all in some towns), and with other NGOs (the most exciting part was discussing the future plan or coordinating/collaborating the current missions).

Q: How did the earthquake affect the area you were in?
EN: It was one of the most badly affected areas. The tsunami reached 8.6m—around 28 feet—at the highest. More than 4,000 people out of 160,000 lost their lives or are still missing. Nearly 25,500 buildings were completely or mostly destroyed. The earthquake did not cause big damage to the area (nor to the other disaster areas); it was the tsunami. My area (Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture) is located in an area that includes a long coastline, riverbanks, and bays. All these areas were devastated. Historically, the city had been a tsunami-prone area. This was the worst one in the last 1,000 years.

Q: How did you think the work you did helped the residents of that area?
EN: I contributed to clean up many houses in the area and people could go home and leave the evacuation sites. But I’m not confident if I really helped them. There still remain too many challenges waiting for them. The area has been underdeveloped for the past 30 years or so, and the most of the residents engaged in the fishery-related industry, whose entire infrastructure is destroyed. The residents are generally very old, so most of them have no income now and no job opportunities in the future. Cleaning up the house is a small thing compare to the future challenges they will have to cope with. But I want to believe that our existence and commitment showed our solidarity to them, and that some people were encouraged by that.

Q: Overall, what did you gain from this experience?
EN: I learned how to drive a big dump truck! It was very important for me because I learned there are so many things necessary other than academic knowledge. People who don’t know how to fix cars, like myself, were useless (if not obstructing) in the very tense forefront field. I need to be able to take care of myself at least. If I did my master’s without this experience, I think I would think my degree and academic knowledge by themselves would be able to help people.

Q: Do you think the degree you are attaining from IDSC will help you in your future career choice? If yes, how?
EN: Yes, there are so many practical, hands-on courses in IDSC. But my favorite part is that we can take classes in the other programs in IDCE, because disaster relief is very much related to geography and environment, too. For example, I’m taking Applied Aquatic Ecology (ES&P) this semester. I’m learning how vegetation of the riverbank mitigates a flood. This is not something I could learn in the development programs in other universities.

Q: So far, how has your experience been at IDSC and at Clark?
EN: It was very hard for me at first. I felt that I was abandoning my people whom I left back in Japan. When I was actually “doing something” on the field, talking to the residents, I could feel that I was helping someone however small each of our accomplishment was. Also, the fact that I was staying in a tent for almost four months, without being able to take shower very often, gave me a sense of relief since I was sharing the hardship with the victims. (I found how hypocritical I was only afterwards.) But away from my country, confining myself to the library and reading development theories was a completely different thing. I could not imagine myself using this knowledge to help someone. Now, I’m getting used to the situation and the load of assignments little by little. I think I’m just taking a roundtrip to make myself more efficient and helpful in the field.