Student's Web app earns Environmental Protection Agency award

Submitted by admin on Tue, 11/15/2011 - 10:19am

Robert Sabie, a recent graduate of Western Washington University’s Huxley College of the Environment, recently won runner-up in the student category of the Environmental Protection Agency’s “Apps for the Environment Challenge.”

This national contest challenged app developers to create new ways to display and use environmental information.

Sabie, a native of LaPorte, Ind. who graduated last summer with a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Studies, submitted his interactive web mapping application, “Environmental Justice Participatory Mapping,” as part of a senior project collaboration with the environmental group The Forgotten People, located in the Navajo Nation. Sabie developed an online interactive map showing the proximity of abandoned uranium mines to drinking wells near Cameron and Tuba City, Ariz. Using 2007 EPA geospatial data, this online web map provides a new mapping resource for Navajo residents.

Western Associate Professor of Environmental Studies Troy Abel, who was Sabie’s senior project adviser, said, “Bob’s work on his senior project represents some of the finest applied environmental problem-solving I’ve seen. He has given our environmental studies field and the EPA an innovative demonstration of how participatory mapping web applications can empower communities struggling with environmental injustice.”

Sabie said the project opened to his eyes to the cost of the extraction of these minerals.

“The last week of the spring quarter, Professor Abel and I made a trip to the Navajo Nation to meet several of the families that were affected by uranium mining and lack of safe drinking water. The trip was humbling. The Navajo people have unequivocally shouldered the social cost of coal mining, uranium mining and nuclear testing,” he said.

“After returning to Bellingham, I spent the rest of the summer in the Spatial Analysis Lab working with GIS data available through the EPA and data that was collected by the Forgotten People. A few weeks after graduating, I moved to Seattle, and Professor Abel contacted me to inform me of the Apps for the Environment Challenge that the EPA was putting on.”

In addition to simple viewing and downloading of data, Sabie’s project is also able to provide online editing and geoprocessing functionality as well as tools for uploading of new data from web users. Therefore, Navajo residents will be able to add relevant spatial information to the online map in the future, such as drinking-water sources or abandoned, undocumented uranium mines.

“When I found out that I had come in runner-up I was very surprised. While I was in Washington, D.C. to accept the award, I reflected on the big contrast of where I had been in June – from sleeping on two sheep skins in a one-room home in Tuba City, Ariz., to being at the EPA conference podium presenting a speech on environmental justice and participatory mapping,” he said. “Although I felt honored by being chosen as a winner, the biggest sense of accomplishment came from knowing that the dialogue of environmental injustice on the Navajo Nation is still being addressed and that the citizens indeed, are not 'forgotten people.'”

Sabie’s project was made possible by support from the Forgotten Navajo People and Huxley’s Institute for Spatial Information and Analysis’ GIS Specialist Stefan Freelan.

For more information, contact Troy Abel at (360) 650-6133 or

Western’s Huxley College of the Environment is one of the oldest environmental colleges in the nation and a recognized national leader in producing the next generation of environmental stewards. The College’s academic programs reflect a broad view of the physical, biological, social and cultural world. This innovative and interdisciplinary approach makes Huxley unique. The College has earned international recognition for the quality of its programs.

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