Category: Students

Summer Research Team to build on collaborative summer project work

Two researchers from Norfolk State University (NSU) will continue a second summer of funded collaboration with Old Dominion University (ODU) as part of a Coastal Resilience Center of Excellence (CRC) project.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Summer Research Team Program for Minority-Serving Institutions will support continuation of work by Dr. Camellia Okpodu and Dr. Bernadette Holmes, who will work with CRC’s ODU partners, led by Dr. Wie Yusuf this summer. Their original collaboration, from the summer of 2017, focused on the impacts of disasters on minority communities.

The project for this summer, “Advancing Preparedness for Coastal Resilience,” will be a continuation of their 2017 collaboration. The goal of the project is to support research and education initiatives centered on impacts from and opinions toward sea-level rise and other environmental factors by minority populations in the Hampton Roads region of Virginia.

The 2017 project, titled “A Systems Approach:  Developing Cross-Site Multiple Drivers to Understand Climate Change, Sea-level Rise and Coastal Flooding for an African American Community in Portsmouth, VA,” included five students, three from NSU and two from ODU.

Norfolk State University students Mikel Johnson an Raisa Barrera participated in a summer research team project at Old Dominion University.
Norfolk State University students Mikel Johnson an Raisa Barrera participated in a summer research team project at Old Dominion University.

The Summer Research Team program aims to increase and enhance the scientific leadership at Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs) in research areas that support the mission and goals of DHS.

Dr. Okpodu, Professor of Biology at NSU, led biological and ecological aspects of the project and Dr. Holmes, Professor of Sociology and Criminal Justice at NSU, led the sociological elements of the project of the project in 2017. Read more about the research in this Q&A.

“This summer, my team will participate in engaging in Citizen Science,” Dr. Okpodu said. “We will be supervising undergraduate research projects, and most importantly, canvassing for the continuation of the perception survey research we started as it relates to African Americans in Portsmouth, Va.”

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Students in the Workforce – Lea Sabbag, North Carolina Emergency Management

Lea Sabbag, one of the Coastal Resilience Center’s Education and Workforce Development grant recipients, was part of CRC work from 2014-2016. She spoke about her current role with North Carolina Emergency Management and how the CRC shaped her career path.

Can you describe the work you did with the Coastal Resilience Center?

Lea SabbagFrom 2014-2016, I was a research assistant at the Department of Homeland Security’s Coastal Resilience Center of Excellence (CRC). During that time, I supported [CRC Director] Dr. Gavin Smith on a FEMA-funded project investigating the role of governors and state agencies in disaster recovery, and explored how these actors influence the degree to which resources address local needs, timing of assistance and inter-organizational coordination across the disaster recovery network. Through literature reviews of congressional testimony and academic literature – as well as personal interviews with two former governors who were heavily involved in state disaster recovery efforts – we assessed the importance of gubernatorial leadership and the role that pre-event planning had long-term recovery outcomes. Not only was I provided the opportunity to present our preliminary findings at the 2015 Natural Hazards Research and Applications Workshop in Broomfield, Colo., but our research is now published in the peer-review journal Risk, Hazards & Crisis in Public Policy. Read more

CRC project expands emergency preparedness intervention program to high school students

A new project between the University of Rhode Island (URI) – with the URI Coastal Resources Center and Rhode Island Sea Grant as partners – and Westerly High School of Westerly, R.I., is focused on encouraging students – and by extension, their families and school community – to assess how well prepared they are for weather emergencies, such as hurricanes, or the longer-term change that comes from sea level rise.

This month, ninth- and 10th-graders at Westerly High School will make use of a new online program so they can assess their readiness for themselves. The information will help URI researchers learn more about behavior change in terms of emergency preparedness and better gauge which tools best support this change.

Dr. James Prochaska
Dr. James Prochaska

“Students Creating Change: Reducing Our Risk from Natural Disaster,” is a voluntary project and engages students who receive parental or guardian permission. Students taking part in the program receive information about preparedness and readiness activities that can be applied by a family and carried out at home with little or no cost.

The project team is led by Dr. James Prochaska as an extension of his work for the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Coastal Resilience Center of Excellence, which focuses on risk communication to motivate individual actions. URI CRC Coastal Manager and Sea Grant Extension Agent Pam Rubinoff, who is also part of the DHS work, is helping lead the outreach effort. Read more

Summer research team focuses on disaster impacts on minority communities

This past summer, Old Dominion University (ODU) hosted a summer research team led by Norfolk State University (NSU) faculty Dr. Camellia Okpodu and Dr. Bernadette Holmes as part of an interdisciplinary, multi-institution collaborative summer research project.

Norfolk State University students Mikel Johnson an Raisa Barrera participated in a summer research team project at Old Dominion University.
Norfolk State University students Mikel Johnson an Raisa Barrera participated in a summer research team project at Old Dominion University.

The project was titled “A Systems Approach:  Developing Cross-Site Multiple Drivers to Understand Climate Change, Sea-level Rise and Coastal Flooding for an African American Community in Portsmouth, VA.”  Dr. Okpodu, Professor of Biology, led biological and ecological aspects of the project and Dr. Holmes, Professor of Sociology and Criminal Justice, led the sociological part of the project. Read more about the research in this Q&A.

Funding for the project came from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Summer Research Team (SRT) Program. The program aims to increase and enhance the scientific leadership at Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs) in research areas that support the mission and goals of DHS.

The project included five students, three from NSU and two from ODU:

  • Raisa Barrera, Graduating Senior, Biology (NSU)
  • Mikel Johnson, Rising Senior, Sociology (NSU)
  • Bryan Clayborne, Rising Senior, Sociology (NSU)
  • Donta Council, Doctoral student, Public Administration and Policy (ODU)
  • Isaiah Amos, Master’s student, Ecological Sciences (ODU)

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Students participate in second annual summer exchange program

For the second summer, 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, providing them the opportunity to gain important research skills and experience designed to aid their academic and future careers.

Sabrina Welch of Jackson State University learns about surveying at the University of Central Florida as part of the CRC's SUMREX program. Photo by Dr. Stephen Medeiros.
Sabrina Welch of Jackson State University learns about surveying at the University of Central Florida as part of the CRC’s SUMREX program. Photo by Dr. Stephen Medeiros.

Eight students who are enrolled in CRC-supported courses at partner universities were hosted by principal investigators (PIs) of CRC research projects through 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 researchers 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. Students come largely from Minority-Serving Institutions, part of the CRC’s work to increase diversity in research environments.

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, were hosted first by Dr. Stephen Medeiros at the University of Central Florida (UCF) and later by Dr. Scott Hagen at Louisiana State University (LSU).

During the UCF portion of her summer experience, Welch said she learned the fundamentals of the ADvanced CIRCulation (ADCIRC) model. This included the completion of a mathematical methods pre-test in addition to the Surface-water Modeling System (SMS + ADCIRC) boot camp tutorial. Two field days were also included, the first covering the basics of Real Time Kinematic (RTK) surveying, while the second day focused on teaching methods of assessing land cover in order to determine Manning’s n Value for a site of interest.

The second half of Welch’s SUMREX experience was spent at LSU, where she applied the knowledge gained at UCF. At LSU, she learned about high-performance computing and the Linux command line, the generation of ADCIRC required input files, executed storm surge simulations and analyzed output data.

“The SUMREX research program was a great experience for me as a rising ADCIRC user,” Welch said. “My participation in this program has led to an improved understanding of the ADCIRC system, which is beneficial since ADCIRC will play a major role in my PhD dissertation topic, and the knowledge gained will aid in the development of my aspiring career as a coastal engineer.”

In other pairings, two students from the University of Puerto Rico-Mayagüez, Hector J. Colon and Peter Rivera, both undergraduate students in Engineering, were hosted by Dr. Dan Cox at Oregon State University, where they learned about extreme surge/wave forces during hurricanes.

Stephen Kreller, a graduate student in Geography at Louisiana State University, was hosted by Dr. Brian Blanton at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, whose project involves developing enhancements to the ADCIRC storm surge model.

The University of Rhode Island (URI) hosted three undergraduate students from Tougaloo College: Psychology major Courtney Hill and Biology majors Rosalie Cissé and Kierra Jones. As a participant in URI’s Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURFO) program, Hill worked with co-PI Pam Rubinoff on the CRC project “Overcoming Barriers to Motivate Community Action to Enhance Resilience.” The summer project examined how the 2010 floods of Rhode Island led to specific reforms, creating a timeline of events, gathering information from documents and press reports and creating a social network map to showcase the various roles involved when discussing the new policies.

Cissé worked on a project identifying species of toxic plankton bloom present in the Narragansett Bay and Rhode Island Sound in 2016.  Jones worked on a project analyzing the role of phytoplankton to temperature changes.

One-day exchange

Johnson C. Smith students spent a day learning from PI Dr. Casey Dietrich (foreground, left) at North Carolina State University.
Johnson C. Smith students spent a day learning from PI Dr. Casey Dietrich (foreground, left) at North Carolina State University.

Summer activities also included a one-day exchange where students from Johnson C. Smith University (JCSU) in Charlotte, N.C., visited North Carolina State University (NCSU). Nine students enrolled in a summer research program led by Dr. Hang Chen visited the NCSU Department of Civil, Construction, and Environmental Engineering (CCEE),   where CRC PI Dr. Casey Dietrich exposed the students to the concepts of computing-intensive and coastal resilience research.

The visiting students learned about the CCCE department, along with summer and graduate program opportunities. Dr. Dietrich arranged presentations and discussions with faculty members in their computing and system group. Ten faculty members presented their interdisciplinary research projects addressing problems throughout civil and environmental engineering using computational tools. The JCSU students also interacted with Dr. Dietrich’s graduate students and learned more about their  individual research projects.

Imyer Majors, a computer engineering major at Johnson C. Smith University, said he learned “exactly what an engineering graduate student looks like and how much work and dedication is put into the students’ work.

“We had the opportunity to go around to each student’s work area and hear their stories on what they all created,” Majors said. “I love the honesty they gave on the difficulties they were faced with in certain areas of their projects, and how they were able to think of different ways to solve them.”

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).

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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