UO student wins national ‘data visualization’ prize

Published on 
Tuesday, January 10, 2012 - 10:00

Kory NorthropKory Northrop takes the top prize in a national competition with his entry on bicycle commuting trends, taking home a $2,000 scholarship.

A University of Oregon student has won the Grand Prize in a national competition challenging students to create the best graphic presentation of a transportation policy issue.

Kory Northrop, an environmental studies graduate student who works closely with PPPM Associate Professor Marc Schlossberg, will be honored at the 2012 Transportation Research Board’s 91st Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C., January 22-26. His travel expenses will be paid to attend the conference and present his work, and he was awarded a $2,000 scholarship.

mapThe competition – “Data Visualization Student Challenge” – was designed to encourage students to examine infographics options for helping decision-makers make better-informed policy and investment decisions in support of transportation safety and/or economic development.

Northrop’s project, “Bicycling Commuting Trends in the United States,” can be seen at http://pages.uoregon.edu/northrop/flash/USDOT.php

“With work like Kory’s, the UO is increasingly seen as one of the premier institutions in the country that focuses on active, sustainable forms of transportation in research, community service, and in training the next generation of leaders in critical areas of national importance,” Schlossberg said.

“His work also points to the national leadership the UO enjoys in cartography and spatial data visualization, so Kory’s work is also highlighting the cross-disciplinary opportunities on this campus,” Schlossberg said.

MapInnovative multimodal transportation research is one of UO’s strengths. UO is part of the Oregon Transportation Research and Education Consortium (http://www.otrec.us/), a partnership among the University of Oregon, Portland State University, Oregon State University, and the Oregon Institute of Technology to study research innovations in transportation including cycling, walking, transit, and electric vehicles.

Northrop estimates he devoted “upward of 600 hours” to the project, beginning with work during an intermediate GIS (computer mapping) course under Schlossberg.

“I put in a lot of time creating the original graphics over a two-month period and was generally pleased with the results. I knew that I wanted to take them further,” Northrop said. “During the summer Marc informed me about the competition and I knew that it would be the perfect impetus for me to dive headfirst into making interactive graphics.”

chartNorthrop, a longtime bicycle commuter, launched his bicycle studies and added to his mapping work in Schlossberg’s PPPM 536 class, Applied GIS. “We focused on bicycle/pedestrian issues in Salem as one of the twenty-eight courses that were part of the Sustainable City Year Program that year and he did an awesome project,” Schlossberg said. “It is thrilling to see Kory continue to fuse learning and doing; he is tremendously gifted and it is exciting to see him committed to doing policy-relevant projects while still a student.”

The League of American Cyclists, a prominent national policy advocacy organization, was so impressed by Northrop’s entry that they endorsed his work on their website with this summary (http://blog.bikeleague.org/blog/2011/03/a-national-bike-map/).

Kory Northrop created the graphics to show the relationship between bicycle commuting, safety, and government spending. His aim, he writes, was to present bicycling-related data ‘in a manner that is more easily digestible [which] is important to informing policymakers and the public about these issues.’

chartUsing the list of U.S. cities with populations over 60,000, Kory graphed commuter data, sortable by the number of bike commuters, the percentage of bicycle commuters, and the number of female and male bicyclists. Kory (also) presents the number of bicyclist fatalities in the 50 states for each year since 2000. …. We’d love to see Kory’s graphic win the challenge.”

Northrop hopes to use his graphics and GIS skills “to collaborate with communities and organizations that are working toward creating equitable and sustainable lifestyles,” he said. “Highlighting the wonderful work being done by people worldwide is an important step in effecting change in other communities. These stories and information need to be presented in ways that are technologically and culturally appropriate. I don't think that an academic article or a news story is going to cut it in most circles.”

Kory NorthropNorthrop is in his second year as a graduate student at UO. He serves on the board of the Willamette Farm & Food Coalition, is a GIS Technician Intern for the Lane Council of Governments, and a graduate teaching fellow in the Social Science Instructional Labs. He graduated from Tulane University in 2007 with a bachelor’s in ecology and evolutionary biology.

“One of the things that continues to inspire me about the UO is the commitment of students to making sustainable change happen,“ Schlossberg said. “A&AA is not a college where students just complain about the world but are committed to actually do something about it and to work on that process while still students. Kory’s work fits into that mold perfectly, and I’m thrilled at the national recognition he has received for his excellent work.”

Information about the contest is at http://dataviz.challenge.gov/