First EcoGIS Program Introduces High Schoolers to Environmental Justice – and the Tools to Address It

What, exactly, is environmental justice? What technical skills are needed to address it? Elliot Paloff has solid answers to these questions after completing the first EcoGIS pre-college program in collaboration between trubel&co and the University of Michigan’s Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning.

“I understand what exactly environmental justice is, instead of just vaguely knowing what it is,” says Paloff, a rising junior at Ann Arbor’s Community High School. “I can point it out and interpret data to know where problems are and start finding solutions based on that data and other sources.”

Paloff is one of 31 Michigan high school students to complete the two-month program, which consisted of eight virtual workshops and a final presentation on April 27 at Taubman College. Students who completed six or more workshops received a certificate of completion and gained valuable skills and experience.

trubel&co ran the EcoGIS program, providing instruction on water, air, and waste issues in Michigan, the history of the environmental justice movement, and an introductory understanding of geospatial data and GIS (geographic information systems). trubel&co offered the program free of charge thanks to a grant from CIV:LAB of Michigan. trubel&co founder Nick Okafor said the organization would love to continue EcoGIS if future sponsorship can be secured.

trubel&co (pronounced “trouble”) is a tech-justice nonprofit that champions underserved youth to tackle societal and environmental challenges. It calls the youth involved in its mission “trubelmakers” for their role in sparking “good trubel” in solving the world’s most complex issues.

“We are proud of the dedication, enthusiasm, and active participation of the trubelmakers who took part in this workshop,” Okafor said. “Their eagerness to learn, engage, and contribute to each discussion reflects a promising future where young leaders will shape a more equitable and sustainable society.”

Taubman College promoted the program to high school students around the state and provided space for the presentation showcase, where students presented their research projects on topics such as water burden and poverty levels in Metro Detroit and urban heat islands in relation to kidney disease. This program also exposed students to Taubman College’s Bachelor of Science in Urban Technology.

“We hosted this community program because it’s a great example of the types of questions and interests that we embrace within the Urban Technology Program,” said Bryan Boyer, faculty director of the program and associate professor of practice in architecture.

Taubman College’s Bachelor of Science in Urban Technology degree is the first of its kind in the nation, combining technology, urbanism, and design with the goal of making cities more humane, just, and sustainable. The degree program welcomed its inaugural class of students in 2022, and the first student is expected to graduate in December 2024.