Make The Connection

October 22, 2020 | By Cole Hatcher

Mapping Out the Future

Ohio Wesleyan Student Completing NSF-Funded Internship, Planning Post-Graduate Career

Dustin Braden ’21

Dustin Braden ’21 doesn’t need satellites or mapping software to chart his course after he graduates in December from Ohio Wesleyan University.

A double-major in Environmental Science and Geography, Braden plans to combine his undergraduate degree with his interest in communication to help make science more accessible to everyone.

“I’ve always had a passion for telling stories and getting people involved in science,” said Braden of Granville, Ohio. “But I didn’t realize people were already doing this work. Through classes and meetings with my professors at Ohio Wesleyan, I have been able to refine my interests.

“I want to get more people involved in science and science projects,” he said. “I also want to help researchers and scientists to communicate more effectively – to tell their stories in a better way. Sometimes they struggle to share their results with those who need the information most.”

As he finishes his time at OWU, Braden also is completing an internship as an undergraduate research assistant with Orlando, Florida-based Citizen Science GIS. His position is being funded by the National Science Foundation’s Research Experience for Undergraduates (NSF REU) program.

For the internship, Braden is working with Timothy Hawthorne, Ph.D., a 2003 OWU graduate and founding research director of Citizen Science GIS. The organization is dedicated to using geographic information systems (GIS) and drone imagery to connect science with the communities it researches.

Citizen Science GIS drone photo taken as part of the Open Reef project.

Braden’s work includes analyzing data collected in Belize as part of the organization’s island-mapping Open Reef project as well as processing imagery collected as part of an NSF Smithsonian Drones project to map eelgrass as a way to monitor the health of marine ecosystems along the U.S. Pacific Coast.

Though only time will tell, Braden hopes to explore a longer relationship with Citizen Science GIS after completing his internship, and he is exploring the possibility of graduate school at the University of Central Florida, where Hawthorne teaches and Citizen Science GIS is headquartered.

Braden said he first learned of Hawthorne’s work when Hawthorne spoke on campus as part of OWU’s Science Lecture Series. Later, as Braden realized how closely his academic interests were to Hawthorne’s, he received an introduction with help from geography professors John Krygier, Ph.D., who also mentored Hawthorne as a student, and Nathan Rowley, Ph.D.

In addition to Braden’s work with Citizen Science GIS, he has completed a number of other internships during his time at Ohio Wesleyan, often continuing to work with the organizations as a freelancer or volunteer.

His resume already includes connections with the National Wildlife Refuge System/Student Conservation Association, the Friends of the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, and Phoenix Environmental, a Delaware, Ohio-based company that helps clients resolve environmental risks and return their property to beneficial use.

Braden said he is grateful for his time at Ohio Wesleyan and for the support he has received here.

“I’m fortunate to have been part of the E&S (Environment and Sustainability) Program and Geography department,” he said. “I’ve had the most amazing professors and help from fantastic experts to show me the ropes.”