Sarah Murtaugh, '23

November 16, 2022
Senior geography and global studies major creates maps for community empowerment
By Joanne Bong, '25, Communications Assistant for Equity & Community

Charles City County is about 25 miles southeast of Richmond. Within the community lies a mega-landfill.
As a Burhans Civic Fellow, Sarah Murtaugh interned with Concerned Citizens of Charles City County (C5), a nonprofit that works to inform citizens concerning local events that could affect them and empower them to be civically active.
Over the summer, Murtaugh worked with C5 to tackle the issue of Charles City County’s mega-landfill.
"It’s called a mega-landfill because it takes up to 3,500 tons of trash every day," Murtaugh said. "It has a lot of environmental and public harm, so my goal was to communicate these harms to C5 and the citizens of Charles City County."
Utilizing her studies with faculty mentors Dr. Mary Finley-Brook, associate professor of geography and the environment, and Beth Zizzamia, GIS operations manager for the Spatial Analysis Lab, and her knowledge of GIS technology, Murtaugh created maps of the landfill to visualize and spread awareness about the issue.
"Civic fellowships are among my favorite ways to work with students because faculty get to work with exceptional students like Sarah who are eager to go beyond readings and theoretical material to build real-world skills, such as participatory planning with underserved communities," Dr. Finley-Brook said. "Using GIS with spatial and demographic data, Sarah was able to effectively communicate the unfair toxic burden on this environmental justice community in Charles City - and why expanding the mega landfill would extend and deepen historical prejudice based on race, income, and rural location."
Murtaugh also emphasizes the collaborative nature of the process with C5’s Dr. Beth Kraydatus and Wanda Roberts to accurately portray the map.
"There were so many things that I was missing because I wasn’t familiar with Charles City," Murtaugh said. "For example, there is a concrete plant and natural gas power plant next to the landfill. These are both things that fit into the bigger story of the landfill and this system of polluting industries within Charles City, but I was missing it."
The final product was a story map detailing the history and impacts of the mega-landfill.
"Whether or not you live in Charles City, there are ways to support this positive change," Murtaugh wrote. "Small action steps can go a long way."
After completing her Civic Fellowship, Murtaugh has continued to work on maps in the Spatial Analysis Lab for Unpacking the Census, a University of Richmond collaboration with Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities, which examines structural inequality through census research.

Murtaugh’s maps for the Unpacking the Census project can be viewed and downloaded through the UR Scholarship Repository.
"When people see the maps and statistics that come from this data, it’s really what inspires them to make change," Murtaugh said.