Friday, July 22, 2016

STATA + Surveys + Maps + Soil + Farming + Modeling + Some of the greatest people you will ever meet + Menomonie = the Interdisciplinary Dream

My interests, academic and otherwise, continue to bounce all over the place, which is why the LAKES REU initially attracted me. I’ve found the interdisciplinary working and learning environment super exciting, and it’s fun to get to work with everyone and learn new skills and ideas. I’m on the Sociology team, but by this point I’ve been able to spend some time helping out both the Economics and Geography groups, doing everything from stuffing envelopes while watching The Office to getting a GIS tutorial to learning about different kinds of regression.
How we all feel about the LAKES REU

Gunther and Rene are both tackling different aspects of geography, with Rene tackling the physical side of things and Gunther taking the human approach.  Gunther is actually using the farmer social networks data from last year to make a map showing the spatial components of these networks.  The survey asked respondents to identify other people whom they talk to about farming, and all of that data had to be input into a spreadsheet sorted by who talks to whom. Because people provided addresses, Gunther has been able to show on a map where each respondent and the people they talk to live.  The next step involves taking the rest of the data from the survey, such as a respondent’s BMP use or involvement in conservation organizations, and make the map show where these things are (called a heat map). This will be useful information if any geographic distribution of BMP use, involvement, etc. appears because it will help target the right groups when it comes to policy. Alexis and I, on the Sociology team, are hoping to do something similar with our Non-operating Landowner survey results. We asked people to identify any organizations they are involved in, so we are hoping to create a social network of these organizations, and we may need the Geography team’s help if we decide to map it as well!

Rene showed me the maps he has been making and walked me through his project.  He is working on a map of land use changes (grass land to crop land) over the past few years and has additional data that will help him estimate the amount of soil loss, and phosphorus runoff over time.  I believe he has another map showing current land cover in the Red Cedar Watershed, and is also working on one where he looks at the locations of streams and croplands to see where buffers are being used and where they can be used.  When making these maps, he also has to look at aerial imagery to ground truth what is actually there, called remote sensing.   

I’ve always been really into maps and geography, but I did not know a ton about it as an academic discipline before I came here because it’s not offered at Wellesley, so it’s been neat to learn more about it. It was especially cool to see how GIS works because technology has become such an important part of geography now, and Rene has a talent for explaining a complicated computer program in a clear way. I’m also so excited about the fact that Gunther is able to use previous Sociology data and do something new with it because a) that’s just cool and b) it really captures the spirit of interdisciplinary learning, c) it helps inform what kind of data we collect now, since we have better insight into the kinds of interdisciplinary application it can have and d) it means I get to work with the geography group!

(But the Econ team deserves a shout out for teaching us STATA, regression, solving our coding problems, and giving us an excuse to watch The Office all day :)

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