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Uncovering GIS: A Tool that Ignited My Passion for Advocacy and Mentorship

11-09-2023 01:22 PM
New Contributor II
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Not in a million years did I picture myself using a powerful yet empowering tool at the age of 16. 

It all started with asking questions during my junior year at the Math, Science, and Technology Magnet Academy (MSTMA) at Roosevelt High School. My team and I were tasked to explore an issue within our community for our Service-Learning Project. 


My Service-Learning Project Team 

Given our constant exposure to crime, our team decided to explore the relationship between where violent crimes were occurring and where MSTMA students lived. With ArcGIS Online, our team got to work by manually plotting 637 violent crimes in Boyle Heights, East Los Angeles, and South Los Angeles, as well as plotting MSTMA student households. When conducting a spatial analysis of our map, we concluded that majority of the students living in South Los Angeles, were exposed to the highest number of crimes in one year.


Our ArcGIS Online map depicting violent crimes, income and student residences

It was a discovery that raised many questions, especially, in the limited mental health resources available within LAUSD schools. At MSTMA, the psychiatric social worker (PSW) to student ratio was 1:300 which has now increased to 1 PSW per 450 students across LAUSD. My team and I proposed that higher needs schools required additional support to facilitate the accessibility of mental health resources. As a result, my team and I became advocates for mental health in urban communities. We presented our findings to UCLA’s Education Graduate Program, Politics & Pedagogy Collective: East Side Stories Conference, Esri headquarters, and to all MSTMA students. 


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Three presentations I gave to help bring awareness to community and students

However, I felt the need to do more and that’s exactly what I did. I decided to pursue a career as a school psychologist to advocate and provide youth with the right tools to cope with their trauma(s). The same traumas that many students, like myself, have normalized and internalized throughout our lives. 

My advocacy journey continued in 2019, when I was accepted into the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), the #1 public university in the country, to pursue a degree in Psychology and Linguistics. However, there were many times where I felt discouraged due to challenges like enduring 4 hour round trips in public transportation to receive an education, while balancing being a part-time academic tutor, and a single mother to my 9-month-old daughter.


My daughter and I before starting my undergraduate career at UCLA

Although discouraged, I never lost sight of my goals. I knew I wanted to make a difference in people’s lives and give back to the community that once nurtured me. I aspired to be a success story for urban students, so they too, know it is possible to achieve higher education despite adversities.

As my undergraduate experience came to an end, I rekindled with the tool that fueled my education and career goals. So, I took a chance and enrolled into a GIS course and dove into the world of the geographic approach, once again. In the span of these 10 weeks, I always looked forward to engaging with geography, maps, and geospatial technology to explore real-world issues like how sea level rise impacts coastal cities. Not only did GIS revive a curiosity in me, but it made me think about all the possibilities GIS can bring within problem-solving issues in not only my community, but communities all around the world.

ValeriaTenorioMonterrosas_9-1699560552578.jpegMy GIS project at UCLA looking at Sea Level Rise in Miami, Florida

At the same time, I was also given the opportunity to work at my alma mater, MSTMA, in hopes to mentor youth as a teacher assistant. During this time, I was invited by my former SLP coach, Alice Im, to help mentor the junior class with their assignments and Service-Learning Project. What a better way to motivate these students given my prior experience with this very same project. My vision was clear to help these young students develop their communication, critical-thinking and problem-solving skills. 

It was a learning experience for these students as they realized these issues were much bigger than them. There was a deeper lesson to learn on how taking a geographic approach transformed their way of thinking and acting as they venture out into the real-world to get educated, and possibly assume positions of power to protect the future of their home, Boyle Heights, and every other community like it.

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In culmination of the service-learning project, MSTMA students are welcomed to the Esri headquarters to present their topics, share their findings, and propel a call to action. As a chaperone, it felt nostalgic to be back at the Redlands office remembering my own experiences when I was their age. Being nervous and anxious as our team recited our presentation in the charter bus countless times. However, this time reassuring our students that they were the experts, and they were there to present their stories.

Once these presentations came to an end, students were given an opportunity to participate in an Esri Campus Tour. Our students were in awe as they took in the greenery, creativity, and intention in the landscape and buildings within the Esri campus. Without a doubt, it was a feeling we mutually shared. In our last stop of the Esri Campus Tour, I sat in the café with my mind full of questions and eagerness to keep learning more about GIS. I thought to myself: What better place to learn than to learn from the world’s global market leader in GIS? 

But first, I wanted to personally thank Jack Dangermond for his immense support in my community and the ever-lasting impact he is having on students, like myself. So, I took the initiative to introduce myself to Jack, as he walked past my table. I expressed my gratitude and shared my curiosity of learning more of GIS and Esri’s mission. A conversation that truly speaks into the importance of being curious and asking questions as it can be the difference in unlocking new and amazing opportunities.

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MSTMA alumni and teacher, Alice Im, with Jack Dangermond

As of today, I am proud to say, I am an Industry Solutions Marketing Intern for the Earth Sciences team at Esri, where I am eager to keep advocating of the revolutionizing capabilities GIS has, in hopes to build a more sustainable future together.

Now, it’s my time to pay it forward in hopes to inspire and empower future generations to become “maptivists” for their communities and their world as a whole. 

#BecomeAMaptivist #InspireEmpowerAct #InvestInOurYouth