Stained glass from the Geography building at Clark

The HERO Research Program

Opportunities for Undergraduate and Graduate Research

The Human-Environment Regional Observatory research program provides opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students to analyze the causes and consequences of global environmental changes at local scales in faculty-led research projects. This program permits students to conduct research in interdisciplinary and inter-institutional projects. In 2012 The Human-Envrionment Regional Observatory-Central Massachusetts (HERO-CM) finished a 10-year stretch of NSF funded research in three main areas (see below). In summer of 2012, HERO-MA began the first of a 3-year NSF funded grant to look at the Asian Longhorn Beetle Impact in Worcester, MA and the surrounding area. Many of the same agencies as listed below continue to support HERO.

HERO-MA currently has two main areas of research:

  • Beetle Impact Assessment
  • Place-making Assessment

Visit the HERO web-site for detailed information and read profiles of former HERO Fellows.


Past and present HERO research is funded by the National Science Foundation, the National Marine Fisheries Service, National Ocean and Atmospheric Associationm, the Thoreau Foundation, the Mosakowski Institute for Public Enterprise and the O’Connor ‘78 Fund. HERO is an NSF REU "Site," which means that students from around the U.S. are invited to participate in paid summer research activities.

HERO-CM had three main areas of research from 2000-2011:

  • large-area forest-change monitoring
  • vulnerability analysis
  • prediction of land-use and land-cover change

Program Director Professor John Rogan talks about HERO

Q. What are HERO Fellows expected to do?

HERO students will use remote sensing data such as aerial photography and satellite imagery to describe environmental changes over space and time. We call that geographic information science or GISci. Research which is grounded in social science traditions, uses statistical analysis of socio-economic data gathered from primary and secondary sources, including interviews, to explain the changes observed by the GISci research. These areas integrate descriptions of environmental changes with explanations of those changes into a computer model that can generate maps of Massachusetts land use and change into the future.

Each HERO Fellow is aligned with one of two current research areas and works full time with one of the HERO faculty members and student managers. It's an intense eight weeks. They live here in Worcester, and every day are involved in hands-on work. They learn how to use geostatistical modeling, qualitative inquiry methods, geographic information systems and remote sensing techniques. The Fellows who work in the social science stream are heavily involved in interviewing subjects around the state and analyzing that interview data.

Q. How is learning as a HERO Fellow different?

Working on HERO is a very different experience for undergraduates because they are used to the classroom. This is an opportunity for much more independent learning, which can be painful at times. You come upon an obstacle and there's not always someone there to immediately answer your question. It's like a professional experience and that's how we view it—as professional development. HERO Fellows from Clark University are also required to enroll in an academic year-long HERO research seminar following their summer experience, which allows them to extend and refine their summer findings. During the school year we ask the Fellows to present their findings several times, including at professional conferences like the Association of American Geographers meeting. This structure often encourages the Fellows to parlay their HERO work into a senior honors thesis. For Non-Clark students, from around the U.S., in the summer program, are also offered opportunity to gain credit at their home schools for their work on HERO, some attend AAG and still others continue to collaborate with their Clark partners during the school year.

Q. What are some of your former HERO Fellows doing now?

Many have used their HERO experience to gain access to excellent educational and professional opportunities. Some have gone on to Ph.D. programs at the very best environmental studies schools, like the Yale School of Forestry or a joint program between the University of California-San Diego and University of California-Santa Barbara. Others are teaching or working in the field of environmental studies and environmental science in government agencies and NGOs. We're proud to say that our HERO alumni are using their experience from the program to change the world.