Skip navigation

USM Geography Student, Faculty Selected as Finalists of the 2023 ArcGIS StoryMaps Competition

Wed, 11/29/2023 - 03:45pm | By: Ivonne Kawas

Story maps created by a geography student and faculty member at The University of Southern Mississippi (USM) have been selected as finalists for the national 2023 ArcGIS StoryMaps Competition.

Receiving submissions from more than 50 countries, the competition was cohosted by Esri, the leading location intelligence and spatial analytics software for mapping, 3D GIS, imagery, and geospatial app development, and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).


There were two tracks that participants could submit to: Track 1 consisted of local or indigenous conservation projects and Track 2 consisted of a place-based research project or scholarly article on conservation. The projects by USM student Joshua Green and faculty member Dr. Kayla Stan were selected as finalist for the latter.

During a web mapping course, held by Dr. Stan, an assistant professor of geography in USM’s School of Biological, Environmental and Earth Sciences, students were challenged to create stories about conserving our planet using the software ArcGIS StoryMaps and were required to submit their work to the competition.

Joshua Green, a senior from Sumrall, Miss. majoring in geography, submitted a StoryMap titled, “Following the Herd: A look into the History, Endangerment, and Reemergence of the American Bison.”

“I am thankful to ESRI for hosting the competition and allowing students such as myself to have the opportunity to gain insight into map creation, while becoming proficient in ArcGIS,” said Green. “My StoryMap being selected as finalist alongside other students' well-crafted submissions is still a surprise to me, and something I am truly grateful for.”

“With this year's competition being focused on conservation, I first thought of American Bison. I had a misunderstanding of the status and conservation of American Bison, so I wanted to make a StoryMap detailing the history and updated status of Bison,” shared Green. “Through my project submission and USM's web mapping course, I have learned how to use spatial data to communicate information and present a story to an intended audience. I have also learned numerous GIS techniques and workflows from our professor Dr. Stan.”

Dr. Stan submitted a StoryMap, co-created with colleagues, Arturo Sanchez-Azofeifa from the University of Alberta and Hendrik F. Hamann from IBM titled, “Roots of Resilience: Battling Degradation in the Tropical Dry Forests.”

Expressing the inspiration behind her StoryMap creation, Dr. Stan says: "The tropical dry forests, often overshadowed by rainforests, hold immense beauty and importance. This competition provided a perfect format to merge science and art, showcasing the magnificence of these endangered ecosystems and emphasizing their worth in a global conversation."

Dr. Stan adds: “Being a finalist is proof of concept for the teachings in my class and a fantastic opportunity to expand the reach of my research. It goes beyond academic papers, as this platform will allow me to reach a broader audience and raise awareness about vulnerable ecosystems.”

Reflecting on the skills imparted in the course, Dr. Stan emphasizes communication: “Teaching web mapping isn't the sole focus of the course. It's about equipping students with effective communication skills across diverse mediums, StoryMaps being one of them, all while building a portfolio.”

Dr. Stan is particularly excited about the student finalist, Joshua, stating, "Having one of my students in the finals adds another layer of excitement, making this achievement more accessible and inspiring for future students.”

“Additionally, it is also a testament that the communication principles I taught resonated with the class,” said Dr. Stan. “Even for those who weren’t selected as finalists, the effort put into a competition of this level is commendable.”

Highlighting the significance of creating a portfolio, Dr. Stan notes, "For me, a portfolio speaks louder than words. Instead of saying 'I can do web mapping,' students who take this course can show their future employers a collection of applications they've built. It's about tangible proof of their skills and their ability to communicate complex information."

Esri and IUCN will announce the 2023 ArcGIS StoryMaps Competition Winners on December 7, 2023. Explore the selected stories.