February 13, 2020
Q&A with PSTC faculty associate Kevin Mwenda, Associate Director of Spatial Structures in the Social Sciences (S4) and Assistant Professor (Research) of Population Studies. Kevin recently led the Winter 2020 GIS Institute and is part of a team that recently received a Research Seed Award. - Kitri Sundaram, PSTC Communications Aide
Q: What are some of the focuses of your research?
A: My research focuses on the intersection of spatial inquiry and human-environment dynamics (such as population health, climate and society), and the role humans play at the nexus among these. These are closely linked to the PSTC’s signature themes of Children, Families and Health, Migration and Urbanization, Population and Environment and Social Inequalities. My ongoing research explores changing spatial distributions of health outcomes such as infectious disease and malnutrition among vulnerable populations around the world, and how these patterns are influenced by various environmental, climatic and socioeconomic factors. Thanks to a 2020 Seed Award from the Office of the Vice President for Research at Brown, I am excited to embark on a multidisciplinary collaborative project with S4 Faculty Diana Grigsby-Toussaint (PI) and Patrick Vivier (Co-PI) to investigate the association between greenspace exposure and birth outcomes in Providence, RI.
Q: How did you get interested in spatial methods?
A: My interest in GIS and spatial analysis were sparked during a college summer job at the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center (DHMC) in Lebanon, NH when I applied to work on a spatial epidemiology research project under the guidance of a graduate student. That summer, as I embarked on learning the necessary research tools for the project, I stumbled upon GIS – to which I immediately took a liking – and used online resources to learn more and employ insights to map and model environmental variables before investigating impact on health outcomes.
This collaborative & interdisciplinary experience of working on spatial research and GIS projects, particularly on the population-health-environment nexus made such an impact on me that I decided to enroll in GIS & spatial analysis courses during my remaining time in college. I then proceeded with further studies in graduate school, consequently leading to a career path that brought me to the PSTC & S4 at Brown where I continue to use spatial perspectives within population studies, by and large.
Q: Can you speak a little about your role as Associate Director of Spatial Structures in the Social Sciences (S4)?
A: My overall responsibility includes scholarly program development, which entails support and advancement of spatial researchat Brown. In that capacity, I coordinate and teach an intensive two-week GIS Institute twice a year. The Institute provides an introduction to Geographic Information Systems (GIS)and spatial analysis to PSTC faculty, trainees and post-doctoral associates, as well as the larger Brown community. Additionally, I teach courses on GIS and spatial analysis methods to undergraduate and graduate students and supervise students from a range of disciplines with their spatially-oriented research. I am also the program director for the Doctoral Certificate in Spatial Analysis administered through S4. This certificate is designed for PhD students across all disciplines at Brown who have an interest in developing their spatial analysis skills.
Q: What are some of the goals of the S4 initiative?
A: S4 is designated as the Spatial Analysis core for the PSTC. We support spatial inquiry by fostering a community of spatial researchers at Brown. S4 both initiates and offers consulting services on a wide variety of spatial research projects, research & grant proposals. Our 40+ faculty affiliates represent the breadth of spatial thinking across various units at Brown. S4 hosts 100+ graduate fellows from a diverse set of departments and programs, which has included more than 30 PSTC trainees over the past five years.
Q: What are some of your future research goals?
A: I hope to continue collaborative and multidisciplinary research endeavors that use multiple perspectives, including spatial approaches, to help explain or account for vulnerability and different outcomes among disadvantaged populations. I look forward to advancing GIS/Spatial Analysis research and program development at Brown, collaborating with both local and international researchers, and training colleagues in the skills necessary to conduct cutting-edge spatial research.