In his time at Macalester Ross Donihue ’11 (Waterville, Maine) ran a radio show on all things Latin American, honed his photography skills with MacPics, and, like most geography majors, could often be found in the GIS lab.
Now Donihue’s skills have landed him—together with geography partner Marty Schnure—a $5,000 National Geographic Young Explorers grant to map the site of the future Patagonia National Park in Chile, one of the last remaining wild places on earth.
Located in Chile’s Aysen Region along the Argentine border, the future park forms a protected area the size of Yosemite National Park. With the support of the park and the National Geographic grant, Donihue and Schnure, a Middlebury graduate, will create a “place-based portal” for exploring the future park from anywhere in the world. They plan to create an interactive model for viewing the future park that is accessible worldwide and that communicates its conservation-based mission.
Donihue and Schnure are also partners in a company called Maps for Good, which produces maps for individuals and organizations doing worthy social or environmental work.
Donihue’s post-college mapping work started when he spent nine months working as a contractor for National Geographic’s digital development group in Washington, D.C., developing web and destination guide maps and creating, managing, and designing content for web applications. One of his maps was published in the December 2011 issue of National Geographic magazine.
His Macalester study of geography and cartography was key to landing that first National Geographic job, Donihue says. He attributes the origin of his mapping passion to time spent as a GIS lab assistant and to courses such as People and the Environment, Urban GIS, and Environmental Leadership Practicum.
After National Geographic, Donihue worked for CIEE Study Abroad, the organization he’d studied with in Costa Rica as a student. For them he established a conservation-mapping program for American students studying abroad. Supervising students barely younger than himself, “I connected with them,” Donihue says. “I knew what it was like to balance a demanding workload, yet want the freedom to explore a specific subject or question. I knew how students can be pushed when they’re motivated but how it can also be overwhelming for them at times.”
Ultimately, Donihue supervised three student mapping projects in Costa Rica: invasive plant species in Monteverde’s cloud forest, reforestation efforts with a local partner organization, and macroinvertebrate diversity in springs across Monteverde. His students came from across the U.S., and none had previous experience with mapping tools. “The best part was seeing their progression from not having any GPS, GIS, or cartography skills to leaving with all those skills, as well as having a new understanding of maps and how they can be used.”
“Small-scale farmers can’t afford high-end cartography maps. I volunteered my map skills in exchange for expenses,” Donihue says.
Donihue and Maps for Good partner Schnure remained in Costa Rica for a few more months, producing maps for the Monteverde Conservation League and a Monteverdean coffee producer. “Small-scale farmers can’t afford high-end cartography maps. I volunteered my map skills in exchange for expenses,” Donihue says. “That project got me interested in doing mapping work in the United States to help socially and environmentally conscious farmers and organizations communicate their story to a wider audience.”
Temporarily back in his home state developing an interactive web map for the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, Donihue, together with Schnure, is planning and raising additional funds for the Patagonia project. “Our goal is to tell the unique story of the future park through compelling cartography combined with rich multimedia visual content and spoonfuls of educational information,” Donihue wrote on his travel blog ourfieldtrip.wordpress.com