Masters student finds passion in geography

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  • 2022•01•24     Bonn

    © UNU-EHS

    Today is International Day of Education, a day dedicated to acknowledging the important role that education plays in our world. This year’s theme is “Changing Course, Transforming Education.” To celebrate this day, we sat down for an interview with Taiwo Ogunwumi, a student of the Joint Master’s of Geography of Environment and Human Risk from Nigeria who finds passion in geography and climate action, and even greater joy in sharing it with others.

    What led you to study geography?

    My passion for geography started in high school. I grew up in a community impacted by floods, and around this time, I became more aware of the human impact on the environment. I was interested in science and I followed the advice of my uncle, a Geophysicist, who encouraged me to study geography as it was multidisciplinary. I took several geography courses in school and I knew that it was the topic for me. I then studied it at the University of Ibadan in Nigeria. After graduation, I landed my first job at an NGO as a Junior Geospatial Information Analyst, working on projects addressing food insecurity in the country. Our work intersected a lot with climate change, which inspired me to continue down this path of geography and environmental risks and to get into climate action.

    What particularly drew you to the Master’s Programme?

    My goal is to become a national disaster risk management expert in Nigeria. To help me get there, I want to have a strong research background. I looked for a programme that could help me attain that. I had the technical experience through my previous job, but when I found this programme I saw an opportunity to enhance my skills and to go further into research.

    What have been your favorite classes in the programme so far?

    So far there are two that really stick out to me. The first is “Theories and Concepts of Risk” taught by Dr. Michael Hagenlocher. This course gave me a clear understanding of several types of hazards, theories and methods to explain vulnerability, exposure and climate resilience. Through this class, I published my first research paper on flood hazard mapping in Nigeria. The second is “GIS and Remote Sensing in Disaster Management”, taught by Professor Klaus Greve from the University of Bonn. This class led to collaboration with my classmate Chris Ihinegbu on a paper we published together on drought modelling. The class also inspired me to start a youth-led initiative that provides flood early warning maps for communities in Nigeria through the use of geospatial technology.

    What is the initiative called and what are some of the activities you have done so far?

    The initiative is called the GeoHazards Risk Mapping Initiative and is a non-profit. I started it in September of 2020. Our goal is to map hazard-prone areas using GIS and open source geospatial platforms. We found that few flood early warning maps at the local level exist in Nigeria. We aim to fill that gap by mapping exposed structures and geographical features in flood-prone areas to mitigate the impacts of future events in communities without maps. Furthermore, we deploy youth volunteers, whom we train to help create these maps. We hold mapathons, trainings and events to expose youth to geography and disaster risk reduction. In 2021, we created and shared 15 maps with the National Emergency Management Agency in Nigeria. We even developed an app for reporting flood events, which is accessible to the public. It allows people to report floods in real-time, which we hope can help flood responses.

    At the moment, you are completing your internship, which is a mandatory part of the programme. Where are you interning at and what are you working on in your role?

    Currently, I am doing my internship with a research and development firm in Luxemburg. The company uses advanced geospatial technology and drones to address water-related risks in Europe and African countries. I get to work on a project doing space-enabled modeling for water resource management for the Niger River. I am supporting by collecting earth observation data and doing GIS work. I am also learning more about the use of drones in addressing extreme climate events.

    Technology is an important aspect of International Day of Education this year. Why do you think it plays such an important role in transforming education right now?

    We are facing several unprecedented crises, climate change being one of them. I think young people, especially those interested in technology and science, see the possibility to make positive changes, and technology is an area with a lot of opportunities. Mapping is a small example. I hope we can increase youth knowledge in harnessing the power of emerging technologies and science to build a sustainable environment. Education is where that starts. Geography, for instance, has a nice application of technology through GIS and our programme is a good entry point for students.

    Overall, what has been your experience studying in the programme and being in Bonn?

    We have a great support network here. We all come from different countries, bring different perspectives but we work well as a team. I am also a DAAD EPOS scholar, so I am thankful for their support and for connecting me with other scholars.

    Being in Bonn has exposed me to so many organizations working on many topics, which is fitting for us because the programme is multidisciplinary. Furthermore, the UN is here, and we are exposed to the organizations whose work we are directly learning from, like UNDRR and UNFCCC. Being in such a science and research-oriented environment is inspiring and critical to our learning.

    On International Day of Education, what advice can you give to younger students, perhaps those aspiring to study geography and participate in climate action?

    Education and climate action are linked together. If we are to minimize the impacts of climate change, we have to prepare young people for the future. I think a big part of that is through knowledge sharing. Whether that is already in existing academic structures and networks or initiatives like mine, we need to show how positive contributions can make an impact so that others can see what is possible for them to do. So I would advise students to immerse themselves in knowledge-sharing activities and settings, so that they can learn where opportunities are and how they can start setting themselves up with skills for the future.