By: Jessica Throwe, Sofia Marmolejos, and Colette Hochstein
The National Library of Medicine (NLM) periodically hosts classes to introduce aspiring
public health professionals to the benefits of using low-cost GIS mapping tools in
community health research. Recently, NLM interns Jessica Throwe and Sofia
Marmolejos, along with NLM Research Assistant Julian Argoti, presented Community
Health Maps (CHM) to University of Maryland School of Public Health undergraduate
and graduate students.
The first presentation was held during a seventy-five minute “Principles of Community
Health” class of twenty-five undergraduates. A second was provided to a close-knit
class of ten graduate students studying community health and health literacy.
After an introduction to Community Health Maps and to the history and ideology of
GIS/mapping in health research, students used Fulcrum, a mobile data-collection
utility, to create customized forms for collecting data on their mobile phones. They
were then given thirty minutes to explore the classroom building and collect data on the
health topic of their choice. The data collected included the geographic location,
functionality, and visual appearance of the points of interest.
The larger undergraduate class chose a wide variety of subjects, ranging from nearby
bus stops and curb ramps to building water fountains and bathroom stall colors. The
smaller graduate class focused on the school building’s resources, including hand
sanitizer dispensers, bike racks, compost bins, wheel chair accessibility, and food
offerings. After the data collection and review process, problems with the building’s
resources became more apparent, which sparked ideas regarding potential
One group noticed that although the school has a new sustainability initiative, of the
twenty locations in the building with trash and recycling bins, only three included a
compost bin. Another group found that the hand sanitizer dispensers functioned
everywhere except right outside the gym, a site where this product is in high demand. A
third group discovered the school has a limited number of locations to purchase snacks,
and that each of these contains just one vending machine which does not offer healthy
This introduction and exposure to Community Health Maps allowed University of
Maryland undergraduate students to explore the concept of mapping and to make
connections with community health research. UMD graduate students actively applied
the CHM processes to discovering geospatial inconsistencies in their built environment
and to brainstorming areas for potential improvements within the building.
NLM looks forward to learning how students of varied educational levels will apply
Community Health Maps to future educational and professional experiences.