This month's Student Spotlight is Ronney Phillips, a senior majoring in Geography and studying with Dr. Lu Liang since Spring 2020. He is deeply involved with Dr. Liang's Spatial-Temporal Air Monitoring Project, a study that measures ambient air pollution and air temperature in neighborhoods using low-cost sensors. Ronney was awarded an American Association of Geographers (AAG) internship to study the optimal placement of sensors to best represent the microenvironment of air quality and heat in our city. He also helped set up a solar-panel-powered air quality sensor system for areas with no access to WiFi and power, including one at the Lewisville Lake Environmental Learning Area (LLELA) in August under a National Geographic grant (see photos on the right). Ronney is actively engaged in community education. He just recently spoke with Dr. Liang at an AP Environmental Science class in Flower Mound about air pollution and how geography can address environmental issues. But would you believe that it was not too far back that Ronney's research interest in geography began? A few years ago, he took a job working as a graphic designer for a company that also uses GIS as a major part of its business. When the company's GIS analyst quit, his boss asked him if he would be interested in taking over the position while continuing graphics production. Ronney agreed and taught himself how to use various GIS platforms. Later, he decided to obtain an associate's degree in GIS from Tarrant County College to broaden his employment prospects. While there, he got to know one of his professors who encouraged him to continue on to a bachelor's degree. Since his professor received her bachelor's and master's degrees from UNT and that she taught him most of the things he knows, Ronney thought that's what he should do as well - study at UNT.
Interestingly, Ronney wasn't overly enthusiastic about joining our undergraduate program. However, when he visited the UNT campus for orientation and spoke with Dr. Paul Hudak, Ronney was hooked. Dr. Hudak's advice and attention completely sold him on the program. Today, Ronney can tell you the best parts, both equal in measure, about being an undergraduate student at UNT: 1) Having professors who are able to meld his interests into geography research has helped keep Ronney's interest in UNT. Without their encouragement and enthusiasm, he knows he wouldn't be nearly as interested as he is in his subjects. And 2) The people Ronney has met and worked with along the way have been absolutely wonderful. Opportunities to talk with other people about geography-related issues don't come along very often outside academia. Relating to others can be difficult, and Ronney's peers and professors have been model examples of people with whom he can talk openly and honestly. Where else can he find large groups of people who will talk endlessly about GIS every day? After he graduates with his bachelor's degree, Ronney plans to apply for a master's degree in geography at UNT, concentrating on geographies of vaccine hesitancy, and then obtaining his teaching credentials. He hopes to teach high school students the same valuable lessons he's learned here.
Here are some fun facts about Ronney! He is the self-proclaimed world's biggest Henry Rollins fan. He also collects and polishes rocks. Last, but not least, he talks a lot so don't get him started if you're not prepared for it. And if you are interested in the outdoors, Ronney recommends a "hidden gem" in the DFW area - south of US Highway 380 and north of Lewisville Lake, nature enthusiasts will find Fish Trap Park. There is a hiking trail that leads south to the lake and a large beaver dam. Anyone who wants to get back to nature should start there - but make sure you bring mosquito repellent!