Laituri encourages participation in Jefferson Science Fellowship

Professor Melinda Laituri recently completed a year as a Jefferson Science Fellow in Washington D.C. working as a science advisor for U.S. Foreign policy to the US. Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development.

The Jefferson Science Fellows program was established in 2003 to strengthen the engagement of American academic science, technology and engineering and medical community in the formulation and implementation of U.S. foreign policy.

Professor Laituri is the fourth CSU faculty member to receive this honor, and CSU’s first female fellow in the program. CSU has had a successful history of participation in the fellowship program, with past Fellows including: Marvin Paule, Department of Biochemistry (2007), Rajiv Kholsa, Department of Soil and Crop Sciences (2012), and Mo Salman, Department of Clinical Sciences (2013.

“I would highly encourage senior faculty to apply for this fellowship,” Laituri said. “It’s not what you’d think it would be. The experience was full of surprises. The people I worked with at the State Department were dedicated and really the behind the scenes workers who make the government work.”

Working as a part of the Humanitarian Information Unit, Laituri assisted with responses to disasters by contributing data and mapping tools for agencies responding to crises. Her unit created maps that identified effective locations of medical clinics for aid organizations to address the Ebola crisis in Africa. They also determined that data for countries in West Africa were significantly lacking, and turned to a unique volunteer organizations to help fill in the gaps.

Facilitated by the Humanitarian Information Unit’s MapGive initiative, groups such as the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap hold ‘mapping parties’ where GIS experts and citizen volunteers get together to use high resolution satellite images to generate data sets for disaster response in areas where data are sparse.

In the case of West Africa, these groups were instrumental in helping provide critical data for the mapping efforts. Laituri worked with Unit team members to assist in data development for the Ebola outbreak response. In additional to contributing data about the physical environment, Laituri and the team contributed cultural and social data, highlighting the role of local burial practices in facilitating the spread of the disease and tracking such practices using geospatial tools.
Dr. Laituri will continue to work on projects she engaged in with the State Department now that she is back at CSU. The Secondary Cities project will examine the emergency preparedness, infrastructure and service needs of rapidly developing cities throughout the developing world. Using geospatial technologies, the Secondary Cities project will provide capacity building for mapping and analysis in those cities prone to disaster and experiencing rapid population growth. With this rapid growth comes challenges for infrastructure that need better planning for the future.

This ongoing research will help those governments be proactive in their planning efforts around natural disasters and potential security issues in these rapidly developing areas.

Dr. Laituri is a professor of geography in the Department of Ecosystem Science and Sustainability at CSU’s Warner College of Natural Resources. She has been at CSU in over the past 20 years and teaches courses related to watershed science and sustainability, geographic information systems, and the geography of hazards. She is the director of the CSU Geospatial Centroid, a center that promotes GIS activities, education, and outreach at CSU and throughout Colorado.

As a Fulbright Scholar, she was at the Center for Indigenous Knowledge and Scientific Innovation at the University of Botswana. She is also a Rachel Carson Fellow at the Rachel Carson Center in Munich, where she contributes to geospatial applications in environmental history and river systems.