Student Profile

Pat Oberle

I learned about SCG when I came to Syracuse in 2012 as a grad student and took the Community Geography class in the spring of 2013. I had worked on community-based projects before as an undergrad and have always been interested in community activism and volunteering. SCG was appealing because it allowed me to combine those interests with geography. During the class, my group worked on a project with the City of Syracuse on housing tenure and residential housing vacancy. We used GIS to map 10 years of demolition data provided by the planning department. Doing so revealed that although residential structures had been demolished across the city, the majority were clustered in certain areas. The rest of the project involved determining why those areas were more prone to demolitions than others. The results demonstrated that a complex interaction of politics, history and planning at local, state and national scales has led to the patterns of vacancy and neglected housing we see today and has opened the door to further investigation.

SCG allows me to learn more about working with community partners while balancing their interests and histories against the needs of the project. It is a novel application of theories about participatory action research (PAR) and public participatory GIS (PPGIS). Being able to apply those theories to actual research questions is very useful for further refining the theory and testing it in real-world circumstances. After taking the community geography course I was encouraged to ask to be considered for the graduate assistant position with SCG which is where I am now. It fits in nicely with my thesis research on volunteered geographic information and participatory online mapping practices. I would recommend SCG or any of the community geography courses to any student interested in GIS, urban issues and participatory research methods.