Category: Students

CRC graduate participates in Hurricane Irma recovery

Matrix McDaniel, far right, is a member of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Memphis District Power Team currently working in San Juan, Puerto Rico, to aid recovery from Hurricane Irma.
Matrix McDaniel, far right, is a member of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Memphis District Power Team currently working in San Juan, Puerto Rico, to aid recovery from Hurricane Irma. Photo submitted.

A graduate of a Coastal Resilience Center of Excellence (CRC) education program is part of a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) team aiding in Hurricane Irma recovery.

Matrix McDaniel, a spring 2016 graduate of Jackson State University who earned his Bachelor of Science degree in Civil Engineering, is part of a 14-person USACE Memphis District team responding to impacts of Hurricane Irma in Puerto Rico. The team arrived in the island territory on Sept. 11 to provide technical expertise and “turn-key” installation of FEMA emergency generators at critical public facilities, such as hospitals and shelters.

McDaniel joined the Memphis District earlier in the summer and is pursuing his Master of Science degree in Engineering with a Coastal Engineering concentration. His graduate education has been supported by the Education and Workforce Development program of the Department of Homeland Security Office of University Programs. One of the goals of the CRC’s education programs is to educate and place graduates in the workforce of the greater Homeland Security enterprise.

McDaniel’s role with the USACE Power Team is Action Officer, linking USACE, FEMA and other government institutions to fulfill requests. His background is in the technical elements of engineering, he said, and he has realized the value of project management skills in running on-the-ground projects. He said he credits his JSU education with providing a strong foundation in the engineering process.

“With project management experience, in addition to technical expertise, an engineer can venture into many more roles and gather many different experiences,” McDaniel said. “This is relevant because although the mission is to help repair infrastructure, the mission my team had was more about governing.”

The Power Team is part of more than 700 USACE employees in Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Florida, North Carolina AND Texas supporting the response to hurricanes Irma and Harvey. Hurricane Irma passed north of Puerto Rico as a Category 5 storm on Sept. 7, causing more than 1 million residents to lose power in the initial wake of the event.

Q&A: Career Development Grant recipient Ashton Rohmer

Ashton Rohmer, a recent master’s graduate from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, was one of the first recipients of the Career Development Grants (CDG) from the Coastal Resilience Center of Excellence (CRC). She reflected on her work with the CRC and other projects to bring together practitioners focusing on resilience.

Can you describe the work you did with the CRC during graduate school and how it shaped your career goals?

I worked on two major projects with CRC Director Dr. Gavin Smith over the past two years. One examined the state’s role in disaster recovery, a project that was aided by the fact that Dr. Smith has been quite involved with various state recovery operations in his career. In particular, we looked at both Mississippi’s response to Hurricane Katrina and North Carolina’s response to Hurricane Floyd, specifically on recovery processes. Together with Lea Sabbag, the first CDG recipient, I helped with drafting the overview pieces for each state and also proofread and edited the final article that Dr. Smith authored and that we’re hoping to get published in an academic journal.

Ashton Rohmer

The other project that I worked on was the Resilient Design Education Study, which was requested by the White House under the Obama administration, as a way to learn about the state of resilient design education at colleges and universities across the U.S. There are different disciplines that relate to the topic of resilient design that we focused on for our study – engineering, architecture, landscape architecture, planning and building sciences. We wanted to get a sense of what these programs were offering to students, what innovative programs there might be, and potentially what gaps and challenges schools might face. We are hoping that this information could be helpful to catalog existing programs, identify best practices, and determine whether or not students are adequately prepared to go into this field and contribute to our nation’s homeland security efforts.

 

Describe your experience interning with the National Park Service in the summer of 2016 and how that applies to the sort of things you want to do in your career, regarding climate.

I was really fortunate to be selected for the George Melendez Wright Initiative for Young Leaders in Climate Change. I worked with the National Park Service Park Planning and Special Studies Division in Washington, D.C. as a climate change adaptation planning intern. I was involved with several projects: One was interviewing park superintendents, park planners at the regional level, facility managers for specific parks, the Hurricane Sandy Recovery Manager, and others who have insight into climate change issues at coastal park units about the challenges they face around climate change and the progress they have made to make their parks more resilient.

Through these interviews, I collected information about projects that made coastal park units more resilient to storm surge, sea-level rise, and other climate change impacts, and then created six fact sheets with detailed information that could potentially help other parks look at what their options are and determine how feasible different projects would be. I wrote a report on my activities and presented it to leadership within my group to highlight what we could do to better support parks’ work in the face of climate change. It was a very helpful experience working with the Park Service because I now have a better understanding of not only how climate change is affecting infrastructure and buildings, but also natural and cultural resources. That exposure and the folks I was able to talk with who expanded my knowledge of climate science and specific impacts that are happening on the ground will be useful going forward in whatever career I end up in.

 

You started the Carolina Hazards and Resilience Planners group – it’s a listserv, a newsletter and a website, and you planned a Triangle Resilience Student Research Symposium. Can you tell me about how that started and what you hope to do with it in the future?

In my first semester, I got a request to send a resource to “all of the hazards people” – I didn’t really know who those were, so I thought this would be a good opportunity to come up with a way to reach out in a centralized fashion. Lea and I began by collecting email addresses and sending the Triangle Resilience newsletter, which included job postings, events, and articles. The newsletter catalyzed the creation of the Triangle Resilience blog, which served as a repository for newsletter content. Now that I’ve graduated I hope to transfer that to another student – fortunately there are several students in the program who are passionate about hazards, so I’m hoping there will be interest to keep it going.

The newsletter and blog led to the creation of the Carolina Hazards and Resilience Planners (CHRP) group within the Department of City and Regional Planning [at UNC-CH], which serves to give the growing group of students interested in hazards a way to come together and create programming that is helpful to their academic or professional pursuits. We are open to people all across the Triangle, and indeed would love to collaborate with students from local universities or different schools and departments at UNC.

The CHRP group coalesced around an idea for a research symposium – which we held in April – that would provide students from UNC, Duke, and NC State an opportunity to present their research in a low-cost, low-pressure setting. We were also successful in bringing experts from different fields to the Symposium to share their insights on issues related to equity, communicating with local stakeholders on climate change issues in the current political atmosphere, and how to work across silos. These panels and discussions were a great complement to the student presentations.

Going forward, I am abdicating my duties, but have spoken with some current students about how best to move the group forward and ensure that student interests are well represented in our events. Either way, I am hoping that these efforts will continue to bring students, researchers, and practitioners from across the Triangle together and also recognize opportunities to co-host events and highlight resources across a broader audience than just our little student group at UNC.

 

You have been working with the Hurricane Matthew Disaster Recovery and Resilience Initiative to aide recovery for six eastern North Carolina communities. What have been your biggest takeaways from this kind of work?

The primary takeaway I have is an appreciation of just how complex recovery is. Specifically, recovery is a constant tug-of-war between speed and deliberation – it’s something we talked about it a lot in class, but being in it gives you a whole new perspective. We’re constantly having conversations about meeting unmet needs as soon as possible, but also doing so in a way that is responsible as there are broader issues that we need to keep in mind. Thankfully, though, I’ve also learned that there are a lot of passionate and smart people working on recovery issues. While it’s complex coordinating with all of those different partners, it’s also encouraging to know that there are so many people that are trying their best to help these communities in North Carolina.

 

What does the future hold for you?

I’ve been so grateful to have received support from the Department of Homeland Security to pursue my passion for resilience, and look forward to finding a job contributing to the field. Throughout the past two years as a fellow, student and conference participant, I have been amazed by how broad the field is, how interesting and dynamic it is, and how many opportunities exist. Because there are so many areas involved in resilience and hazards, my experiences thus far have taught me that once I find a niche, it will be really important for me to keep that in mind – the idea that, while I might be focused on a specific aspect of resilience, there are hundreds and thousands of people who are working on a wide variety of issues that will have a lot of overlap with what I’m doing, and to not shy away from trying to make those connections and see how we can all work together to make more resilient communities. Lastly, I’ve learned how critically important it is to look at resilience through an equity lens, so I hope to work in a place that values tackling the social justice issues that increase vulnerability.

Former CRC education program student selected for prestigious Knauss Fellowship

A former student who was part of a Coastal Resilience Center of Excellence (CRC) education program has been awarded a prestigious fellowship from the National Sea Grant College Program.

Devon McGhee. Courtesy of North Carolina Sea Grant.

Devon McGhee, a recent master’s degree graduate in environmental management at Duke University, was named one of five North Carolina finalists for the 2018 John A. Knauss Marine Policy Fellowship program. Finalists will head to Washington, D.C., this fall to meet with potential host offices in the legislative and executive branches of the federal government. The fellowships are expected to begin in February 2018.

McGhee received a certificate in natural hazards resilience from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, which is part of a CRC education project led by CRC Director Dr. Gavin Smith. She also worked on a CRC-led Hurricane Matthew recovery project, the Hurricane Matthew Disaster Recovery and Resilience Initiative. McGhee’s master’s project focused on effectiveness of buyouts on Staten Island after Superstorm Sandy.

“I was ecstatic to find out I had been selected as a finalist,” McGhee said. “I am looking forward to working on the Hill and learning more about how federal agencies and legislative bodies are, or could be, encouraging coastal resilience.”

Knauss finalists are chosen through a competitive process that includes several rounds of review. Students finishing Masters, Juris Doctor (J.D.), and Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) programs with a focus and/or interest in marine science, policy or management apply to one of 33 Sea Grant programs.

For more information, see a release from the North Carolina Sea Grant.

Students, faculty to exchange for summer research programs

For the second year, the Coastal Resilience Center of Excellence (CRC) will facilitate exchanges between students, faculty and research projects as part of its summer programs.

Eight students from the CRC’s education projects will be hosted by principal investigators (PIs) of research projects as part of the SUMmer Research Experience (SUMREX) Program. As part of the program, CRC Education & Workforce Development partners arrange for one or more students to visit the home institution of participating CRC Research PIs for a summer research internship lasting between six and 10 weeks. Key to the program’s success is making the best match between the student interns and the research PIs, so that the students have the opportunity to become fully immersed in a research project.

The program is already showing success: Felix Santiago, a graduate student in Civil Engineering at the University of Puerto Rico-Mayagüez, was hosted by Dr. Stephen Medeiros at the University of Central Florida and by Dr. Scott Hagen at Louisiana State University in a cooperative effort. He was recently awarded a prestigious National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship and will continue to work with Dr. Hagen at LSU in 2018.

This year’s pairings are:

  • Sabrina Welch, a PhD candidate in Engineering at Jackson State University, and Diego Delgado, a graduate student in Engineering at the University of Puerto Rico-Mayagüez, will be hosted first by Dr. Medeiros at the University of Central Florida and later by Dr. Hagen at Louisiana State University.
  • Two students from the University of Puerto Rico-Mayagüez, Hector J. Colon and Peter Rivera, both undergraduate students in Engineering, will be hosted by Dr. Dan Cox at Oregon State University.
  • Stephen Kreller, a graduate student in Geography at Louisiana State University, will be hosted by Dr. Brian Blanton at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
  • Three undergraduate students from Tougaloo College will be hosted at the University of Rhode Island’s Coastal Resources Center: Psychology major Courtney Hill (advised by Pam Rubinoff and Donald Robadue), Biology major Rosalie Cisse (advised by Jan Rines and Lucie Maranda) and Biology major Kierra Jones (advised by Tatiana Rynearson and Stephanie Anderson).

Read more

N.C. students present work on resilience projects

Students from three central North Carolina universities – the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC-CH), North Carolina State University (NCSU) and Duke University – met last month at a student-organized event to present and discuss issues tied to resilience, particularly in coastal areas.

Students shared their most memorable hazards experience during the event.
Students shared their most memorable hazards experience during the event.

The Triangle Resilience Student Research Symposium, organized by a student group called the Carolina Hazards and Resilience Planners (CHRP), also brought together researchers from UNC-CH and NCSU, as well as employees from federal agencies. CHRP is a student group started by recent UNC-CH Department of City and Regional Planning graduate Ashton Rohmer, one of three Department of Homeland Security Science & Engineering Workforce Development Grant (WDG) recipients hosted by the Coastal Resilience Center of Excellence (CRC).

“I was thoroughly impressed with the breadth and quality of the student research projects, and am truly grateful for the valuable insights offered by our panelists,” Rohmer said. “I was especially inspired to see that so many of the presentations and discussions focused on crucial issues related to equity, social vulnerability, and public engagement.

“I hope the event continues in future years as a way to bring researchers and practitioners from the physical and social sciences together – as a way to build Triangle university relationships, highlight student work and address the complexities of professional work in this field, especially given the increasingly challenging political environment and the multitude of climate change impacts we’re seeing.” Read more

‘Scorecard’ guides winners of architecture award

Students at Texas A&M University have won awards for their proposed flood protection measures for vulnerable communities identified through a tool developed by a Coastal Resilience Center of Excellence (CRC) project.

Graduate student Zixu Qiao and an undergraduate team – Alaina Parker, Molly Morkovsky, Phillip Hammond, Maritza Sanchez and Claudia Pool – were winners of their respective categories for awards determined by the American Society of Landscape Architects – Texas Chapter. The TX-ASLA Honor Awards were announced on April 28, at the group’s annual conference.

An example of flood defense measures suggested in the "Climate Change Armor" proposal.
An example of flood defense measures suggested in the “Climate Change Armor” proposal.

The landscape architecture students are advised with Dr. Galen Newman, a co-Principal Investigator on a CRC project led by Dr. Phil Berke. The students used a resilience scorecard that is the focus of Dr. Berke’s project to envision changes to vulnerable League City, Tex. The scorecard, which is under development, is used to help local planners and emergency managers integrate disaster risk into every element of urban development, so that all plans work together.

Read more

Student from CRC program receives Distinguished Dissertation honor

Dr. Sierra Woodruff, who will graduate this spring from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, was recognized for her outstanding PhD work on climate change adaptation planning.

Woodruff received the 2017 Dean’s Distinguished Dissertation Award in Social Sciences from the Graduate School at UNC-CH. Her dissertation was titled “Climate Change Adaptation in the United States.”

Sierra Woodruff (Photo by Kristin Prelipp)
Sierra Woodruff (Photo by Kristin Prelipp)

While pursuing her Ph.D., Woodruff was a student in a Coastal Resilience Center of Excellence (CRC) education program at UNC, a graduate certificate in natural hazards resilience. She served as a Department of Homeland Security Office of University Programs Graduate Student Climate Preparedness Intern in Washington, D.C., in 2014, working with the White House on the President’s national climate change policy. CRC Principal Investigator Dr. Phil Berke and Center Director Dr. Gavin Smith served on her PhD committee. Read more

Students reflect on summer research and internships

Undergraduate and graduate students in Coastal Resilience Center of Excellence (CRC) education programs were involved in a wide variety of academic exchange and professional internship programs this past summer, providing them the opportunity to gain important research skills and experience designed to aid their academic and future careers.

Seven students from CRC Education & Workforce Development (E&WD) partner institutions participated in the SUMmer Research Experience (SUMREX) Program, the centerpiece of the Center’s efforts to integrate its research and education projects. With facilitation and management of the SUMREX program provided by CRC Education Director Dr. Robert Whalin, CRC Education & Workforce Development partners arrange for one or more students to visit the home institution of participating CRC Research PIs for a summer research internship lasting between six and 10 weeks. Key to the program’s success is making the best match between the student interns and the research PIs, so that the students have the opportunity to become fully immersed in a research project.

The CRC has recently launched a companion program called RETALK, through which the E&WD PIs sponsor a seminar or lecture given by a Research PI on the campus of the host university. Visiting CRC PIs will discuss their current CRC-sponsored projects while engaging the students in discussion about the science and its ultimate impact on coastal resilience.

Read more

Students at CRC partners to hear from experts around Center

Over the next few semesters, Coastal Resilience Center (CRC) investigators will be giving lectures to students in other parts of the country about their research as part of the integration of CRC research and education projects distributed among 21 universities and colleges in 12 U.S. states and Puerto Rico.

CRC PI Dr. Casey Dietrich
CRC PI Dr. Casey Dietrich

The CRC’s RETALK (short for Research Talks) program facilitates guest lectures from principal investigators (PI) of research projects and institutions hosting the Center’s education projects. Starting the program, PI Dr. Casey Dietrich of N.C. State University talked about his project, “Improving the Efficiency of Wave and Surge Models via Adaptive Mesh Resolution,” in May at Jackson State University (JSU). JSU is home to a CRC education project initiating a PhD program in coastal and computational engineering.

Dr. Dietrich’s presentation, “Hurricane Wave and Storm Surge Forecasting for the North Carolina Coast,” is available on his project page. In it, he related storm surge and flooding impacts in Louisiana in 2005 – primarily from hurricanes Katrina and Rita – to developments of the CRC’s SWAN+ADCIRC storm surge model. Several CRC projects are working on improving inputs and speed of the ADCIRC model.

Read more

UPR-M places seventh in national competitions

Engineering students from the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez (UPR-M) picked up several top-5 awards at the ASCE Concrete Canoe Championship, held June 9-11 in Tyler, Texas. They placed seventh overall among universities in both Concrete Canoe and in the National Student Steel Bridge Competition on May 27-28 at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah.

The University of Puerto Rico-Mayagüez compete in the during the Concrete Canoe Competition
The University of Puerto Rico-Mayagüez compete in the during the Concrete Canoe Competition (Credit: American Society of Civil Engineers)

The events were a competition between regional champions from several universities across the United States and internationally. Among the awards UPR-M earned in the Canoe competition were third place in Coed Final Sprints, fourth place in Men’s Final Sprints and fifth place in Design Paper. The team finished seventh overall.

Students came from the Department of Civil Engineering and Surveying at UPR-M, home of a Coastal Resilience Center of Excellence (CRC) project led byPrincipal Investigator Ismael Pagán-Trinidad and Co-Principal Investigator Ricardo López. Professors Pagán-Trinidad (department chair) and López (department associate chair for research and graduate studies) direct the CRC project “Education for Improving Resiliency of Coastal Infrastructure.”

Read more