Amplifying University-Community Voices: Geography to “Fight the Good Fight”

By: Jessica Villena Sanchez, PhD Student, Department of Geography and the Environment 

“So, what do you do with a degree in Geography?” As a 4th year PhD student in Geography, I get asked this question a lot. I usually respond” “Well, geographers help people!”, and as I approach the end of my program, I feel more and more driven to find opportunities to apply my academic skills towards solving real world issues, so I can make a difference and help historically disadvantaged communities.

With these desires in mind, I applied for a student research assistant position, offered by the Center for Community Engagement to advance Scholarship and Learning (CCESL), to work in the “Valverde Movement Project (VMP)”.

Through investments in transportation, VMP seeks to bring community health and wealth to Valverde, a historically redlined and marginalized neighborhood located in West Denver. Being a part of this project has given me the opportunity to work with a multidisciplinary team of scholars who share a commitment to equity-centered and community-driven research. Working with this amazing team that includes academic, civic, public, and private partners, has helped me develop my leadership, communication, and research skills. It has also shown me what productive teamwork synergies look like.

Specifically, I supported VMP by processing spatial and participatory mapping data, translating materials into Spanish, and organizing stories and narratives into several online story maps by using cloud-based mapping. As a final product, we developed a series of online, interactive, and “living” story maps embedded in a hub site. This hub site shares Valverde’s unique history of resilience and empowerment.

Moreover, working with VMP has given me the opportunity to reflect on my own background as a Mexican student who also comes from an underserved neighborhood in East Mexico City, I feel very strongly about using my PhD Geography degree to “fight the good fight”, and continue empowering historically marginalized and underrepresented societies in the US and in Mexico.

Lastly, I would like to acknowledge the support that the Arthur Vining Davis Foundation (AVDF) provided, which includes the DU Grand Challenges Student Scholars program. Their financial support continues to fund DU students who want to work to advance the public good, including myself.  

Here are a few photos from the Valverde Movement Fest.

Story Circle
Story Mapping
One of the many performances.
Welcome tent

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