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Experiential Learning in the Dominican Republic

Read more about the work of Geography faculty and students in the Dominican Republic

In November 2017, we commemorated the establishment of the Mary Ann Kimber Endowed Fund in Geography. Two scholarships were awarded from this fund to amplify Mary Ann’s spirit of life long service: one to assist in furthering the establishment of the Department of Geography’s Kilimanjaro Study Abroad in Tanzania and another to establish experiential learning field studies in the Dominican Republic.

The effects of climate change present new challenges to island nations across the world. Remote sensing scientists from the BYU Geography Department are working to help coastal communities overcome some of these challenges.

In February 2018, Dr. Ryan Jensen, Dr. Steve Schill, and Ryan Shields (B.S. Geography 2019) set out for a week long trip in the Dominican Republic to meet with NGO and local government leaders,explore future partnerships, and collect imagery using Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (sUAS) as part of the Resilient Islands initiative--a collaborative project between the Nature Conservancy, the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent (IFRC), the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety, and now the BYU Geography Department. The team primarily focussed on the northern part of the island--Santiago, Monte Cristi, Puerto Plata, Sosúa, Sanchez, Los Haitices, and Samaná.

Aerial image of salt flats on the coast near the city of Monte Cristi. Taken by BYU Geography team using a DJI Phantom 4 Pro at 400ft.

Over the summer, Dr. Schill returned to the Dominican Republic with Rachel Layko from William & Mary and Dr. George Raber, Professor of Geography at the University of Southern Mississippi (B.S. BYU Geography 1999), to collect more imagery. Rachel digitized the buildings in the images and generated Digital Surface Models which were then presented to the Miches city government when the BYU team returned in November 2018.

A city official from the city of Miches reviews the mosaic and DSM generated by the BYU team over the summer.

Rachel also worked with ThinkSpatial and Dr. Raber, to collect and select data from the 2010 Dominican Census, for use in a vulnerability index to identify coastal communities that could most benefit from Ecosystem-based Adaptation (EbA). This index is now live online at

In November, the team, now including Dane Kimber and Dr. Matthew Shumway, traveled to the east end of the island: Santo Domingo, Sabana de la Mar, Miches, Las Terrenas, and Nagua to collect imagery. The fine scaled DSMs generated from each of the three trips was then used to increase the accuracy of a nationwide DSM.

Left: Dane Kimber, Steve Schill, Matthew Shumay, and Monserrat Acosta-morel survey a coastal area. Right: Matthew Shumway, Steve Schill, and Ryan Jensen monitor ongoing drone flights with the help of some of some local children.

In addition to the DSMs and city maps, the BYU team also surveyed mangrove forests and coral reefs on different parts of the island using both aerial and marine UAVs. New projects for upcoming trips are currently being planned.