back to news May 26, 2016

Students in Cartography Class Learn Map Design While Helping Local Youth with Homework

Students in Ola Ahlqvist’s geography service-learning course, Elements of Cartography: Serving the Community Through Cartography (GEOG 5200S), were given a unique opportunity to partner with the Columbus Metropolitan Library on a mapping project in the library’s Homework Help Centers (HHCs). The course allowed students to learn the art, craft and science of creating maps while at the same time helping children in the HHCs learn more about cartography.

“This was the first time we have worked with the Columbus Metropolitan Library and it has been an amazing experience,” said Ahlqvist, associate professor of geography and director of Ohio State’s Office of Service-Learning. “The library and homework help center (HHC) staff are incredibly resourceful and committed to their clients, yet they managed to find room for our students and guide them to become effective HHC helpers during the semester.”

Throughout spring semester, more than 90 students in Ahlqvist’s class worked once a week in 10 library locations across the city. They helped elementary and middle school children with homework and developed a mapping project to close out the semester.

CML students“The best part of this project was applying the GIS mapping skills we learned in class and in labs to produce a map-based activity entirely of our own design and that could help the students at the Homework Help Centers,” said Cynthia Jennings, a double major in geographic information science and international studies. “I think it impacted the students at the library by helping them see maps and geography as something fun and interesting versus just something to look at or memorize.”

Ahlqvist teaches the cartography course as both a ‘regular’ course and a service-learning course. He has noticed a different dimension in the attitudes of the students enrolled in the service-learning version of the course.

“It is clear to me that students feel a lot more engaged in their learning when they can see that someone other than me is interested in their work. When they do their final project, I often hear that they put more effort into it because they feel a greater sense of responsibility. “

What started as a simple mapping project turned into something much more meaningful when students realized the impact they were having on the children at the libraries. The class provided eye-opening experiences for the students that extended beyond the classroom.

“I was really glad to be able to make a contribution to my hometown community,” said Anthony Gillespie, an Earth sciences major. “I think it made a big impact showing the children that older students were interested in helping them with their academic success.”

Arin Blair

Civil engineering student Amanda Padamadan had such a great experience as a tutor and map mentor that she is staying on as a community volunteer at the library.  

“My overall experience in both the class and at the library was so positive that I have decided to stay on volunteering at the Hilltop Library. I really like helping and interacting with the kids. The staff at the library was so nice, and I was really made to feel at home. I felt like I was really encouraging these kids to try hard and never give up.”

Arin Blair, a city and regional planning graduate student, described her experience as one she will never forget.

“The best part of this project was the excitement I saw in the kids as they were doing the map activity and when they saw how their work informed the final product. Creating the curriculum and activity to follow was awesome experience for my professional life, but the fun I had with the kids at Livingston is an experience I won't forget.”

This Arts and Sciences course combines academic study and service-learning outreach. Students in different colleges come together to learn, foster connections, engage with the community and impact the young minds of the future.

“The library partnership was intentionally designed to fit many different types of courses,” said Ahlqvist. “The only requirement for this model to work is that the student-learning experience is enhanced by engaging with local youth, and what our students learn in the course is of interest to those kids. It’s a recipe that I’m convinced many Ohio State courses could buy into.”

(top) Students at a Columbus Municipal Library Homework Help Center engaging in their mapping project.
(bottom) Arin Blair, a graduate student in city and regional planning, holds her completed map.


Story by Molly Kime, ASC Communications student