2019 Galapagos Urbanization & Sustainable Development Undergraduate Research Program

2019 Galapagos Urbanization & Sustainable Development Undergraduate Research Program

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About the Program

Most people associate the Galapagos Islands with Darwin, evolution, and a natural ecosystem with incredible biodiversity. However, the archipelago is urbanizing rapidly – what were once small fishing villages are now dense towns with populations in the tens of thousands, and show no signs of slowing growth rates. This isolated environment presents a unique opportunity for urban scientists to measure the relationship between human development and the natural environment, and to identify development management strategies that address the needs of both people and the myriad species endemic to the islands. Through analysis of this microcosm, the Mansueto Institute for Urban Innovation and its research partners aim to define macro processes that can inform sustainable development best practices for urban areas around the world.

The Mansueto Institute for Urban Innovation will partner with the Universidad San Francisco de Quito (USFQ) and the Melbourne School of Design (MSD) to conduct the 2019 Galapagos Urbanization & Sustainable Development Study, which will begin to explore evolution of the built environment and recent resource consumption. Pritzker Director Luis Bettencourt has collaborated with USFQ and MSD in the past to apply principles of systems theory to explain challenges to urbanization in the Galapagos.

The 2019 study represents the first time the University of Chicago will lead a key piece of the research, to capture satellite, drone, and street-level imagery data of island settlements to create critical geographic and graphical resources on which to build future urban development research. Creating this first-ever documentation of the built environment will lay the foundation for researchers and local stakeholders to better quantify development patterns and the impact on natural habitats. This is a necessary first step to identifying strategies for development that are least disruptive to the natural ecosystem while supporting the socioeconomic needs of residents.

Faculty Program Directors

Luis Bettencourt, Mansueto Institute for Urban Innovation
Sabina Shaikh, Program on Global Environment, Environmental & Urban Studies

Program Dates

The total program is six (6) weeks; research in the Galapagos will run for four (4) weeks from June 17 - July 12, 2019. In addition, students will be expected to spend approximately a total of 20 hours before and after the field-work research experience to cover advance preparation as well as image analysis upon return.

Undergraduate Research Program Description

Student research assistants will help with gathering and analyzing a variety of spatial data – satellite, drone, and street-level imagery – to create critical geographic and graphical resources on which to build future urban development research. Currently, no comprehensive, image-based maps or models of the Galapagos Islands are in existence, limiting opportunities to effectively categorize different types of land use and development, and document changes over time. The research team will partner with Mapillary – an open source mapping service – to aggregate all geotagged data. Mapillary software provides tagging and coding features to segment physical elements of the landscape, producing additional data layers for everything from water and vegetation to fences and trash cans.

Undergraduate researcher responsibilities will include:
  • Design an image capture methodology for multiple towns in the Galapagos, factoring in unique built environment conditions and possible constraints for each
  • Develop a quality assurance protocol to ensure images accurately cover desired terrain
  • Use 360-degree camera to capture street-view imagery on foot or bicycle
  • Support research leads in accessing and categorizing drone and satellite images; possibility to build 3D models for those with coding and programming skills
  • Process street-view imagery through Mapillary: manage upload process, and use tagging features to document key types of space use and development patterns
  • Synthesize key findings from spatial analysis
  • Write and/or proofread academic papers, reports, and presentations

Students will receive guidance from Mansueto Institute Pritzker Director Luis Bettencourt and PGE Director Sabina Shaikh. Field work and data collection in the Galapagos will be overseen by Mansueto Institute Postdoctoral Fellow, Daniel Zuend. Research assistants will be part of a small team of students all working on study tasks.

Undergraduate researchers will receive:
  • All travel and lodging expenses for student research assistants will be covered by the Mansueto Institute
  • $2,400 research grant
  • All accommodations and travel logistics will be coordinated by partners from USFQ. This will ensure faculty and students – from UChicago as well as partner institutions – will have an aligned itinerary and shared operational resources. UChicago undergraduate researchers will not have to arrange their own travel/accommodations
  • Following completion of their summer research, 2019 Galapagos USDS research scholars will benefit from the ongoing support of the College Center for Research and Fellowships (CCRF). Research scholars are also required to present their research at a conference or symposium and will be eligible for support through the Dean’s Fund for Undergraduate Research to present their work at a domestic or international research symsposium/conference
Basic Eligibility:
  • Must be a current, full-time student at time of application and in good-standing with the University of Chicago
  • Have a minimum 3.2 GPA
  • Open to all majors
  • Hold a current passport; if an international student, you will need to be able to secure the appropriate visa required for the duration of the summer program
  • Willing to devote your energies full-time to this experience and able to be on site for the duration of the program
  • Note: this field work involves significant walking and/or bicycling on a daily basis
Additional Eligibility Requirements:
  • Demonstrated interest in issues of urbanization and sustainable development practices
  • Excellent verbal and written communication skills
  • Experience with data collection and quantitative analysis
  • Strong interest in spatial data analysis, geocoded data, and mapping
  • Willingness to walk or bike through towns to capture street-view imagery
  • Ability to take an entrepreneurial approach to research – conceive of creative strategies for effective data collection, suggest novel approaches to analysis, prioritize the most promising data solutions
  • Analytical and problem-solving skills, and an enthusiasm for learning new methods and skills independently
  • Excellent time management skills and attention to detail
  • Ability to work both independently and as a team member
Preferred skills:
  • Experience with mapping and data visualization
  • Programming, computational, and 3D modeling capabilities; Some experience with STATA, R, Python, and/or web-scraping

This is a competitive program and students are required to submit a complete application online here by the campus deadline: Friday, March 22, 2019


A collaborative, interdisciplinary undergraduate research scholars program developed and supported by:

The Mansueto Institute for Urban Innovation studies the fundamental processes that drive, shape, and sustain cities. Our researchers come from the social, natural, and computational sciences, along with the humanities. Together, we pursue innovative, interdisciplinary scholarship, develop new educational programs, and provide leadership and evidence to support global, sustainable urban development.

The Program on the Global Environment (PGE) includes the Environmental and Urban Studies BA major and minor; the Chicago Studies Quarter and related activities, faculty-led research projects; lecture series and other events; student initiatives and working groups; collaborations with registered student organizations, university and community partners; and public education and outreach.

Additional support provided by the Social Sciences Collegiate Division and the College Center for Research and Fellowships.


If you have any questions, please contact pge@uchicago.edu or Julie Erdmann (juliee@uchicago.edu)