Visualizing Social Issues with a Multidisciplinary Approach

By Bianca Munguia

Rising third year Sarthak Panwar made the decision to enrolling in the Summer Institute for Summer Research Methods because of “the opportunity to contribute to the creation of new knowledge which can then be applied to solve real-world problems.”

He adds that the program also aligned with his goal of exploring new research techniques in a structured and formal manner.

Panwar, who is double majoring in Economics and Comparative Human Development, took Intro to GIS and Spatial Analysis. While on the surface that may not seem directly related to his declared majors, the applicability of the content is what made the class fascinating for him.

“The ability to create data visualizations which are both accurate and visually appealing is quite a useful one, regardless of which field I go into,” Panwar explains.

Even without previous background in GIS or spatial data, Panwar gained practical skills in spatial data integration, geovisualization, and assessment of spatial autocorrelation. Because of the course’s condensed time frame, Panwar learned how to be more proactive in class and through online discussion boards in order to keep up with the pace.

“My class is quite focused on real-world applications,” says Panwar. “For example, my favorite lab in class so far explored the economic impact of coal mining in West Virginia by mapping correlated median incomes and percentage of people employed by the coal mining industry across the different counties in West Virginia.”

Weekly workshops introduced students to various faculty’s ongoing research. “The Chalk Talks by professors were quite useful and illuminating, especially because of the variety of fields represented.”

He appreciated the applicability of the workshops. “The talks which discussed the professors' use of field-work and ethnography was highly engaging, because we were able to gain first-hand insights into research techniques as applied to real-world issues and topics.”

Panwar’s experience in class directly relates to his individual research project, where a majority of his work is analyzing spatial datasets. Software taught in class, such as R, QGIS, and GeoDa, are used in a daily basis in his research.

“Even outside of this project, I think the skills I’ve picked up are very useful, especially If I conduct my own independent research.”

Panwar is excited about his research project, which looks at traffic collisions in Cambodia and attempts to understand how weather conditions and other related variables can affect the frequency of traffic accidents. “To be involved in a project which can have widespread implications is really quite eye-opening,” says Panwar, “I enjoy being able to work directly with Charlie Catlett, who is an expert in the field and is pioneering some really interesting and innovative research.”

Given his own multidisciplinary studies, Panwar finds the work of Catlett, Director of the Urban Center for Computation and Data, intriguing. “The projects draw upon insights from Computer Science/Data Science to solve social issues. This was the perfect project to further solidify my interests and skills in these fields.”