Staff | Advisory Board

Kevin Cueto-AlvaradoDiego Delgado-TamarizColleen Durfee | Matthew MalechaAshton Rohmer |

Lea Sabbag | Reinaldo Santiago | Felix Santiago-CollazoDarien Williams | Siyu Yu


Kevin CuetoMy name is Kevin Cueto-Alvarado, Civil Engineering graduate student. I am currently in the first year of the Civil Engineering master’s program at the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez campus. My interest in structures (especially houses) began when I was little, and this led me to choose this major. Also, I have always thought that it must be a great satisfaction to design and then get to see that structure built. That is why I set a goal to get a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering and a master’s in structural engineering. Once my academic goal is completed, I would like to develop my professional skills in a company that can carry out the design and construction of structures.

The SUMREX project consisted of subjecting a steel box to high-impact waves of different heights. This scenario was seeking to simulate the impact of Hurricane Ike (2008) on the Bolivar Peninsula. The main objective of the project is to understand the behavior of waves on elevated structures, located near the coast. Once this is understood, the design techniques can be improve and strengthening of existing structures on the coast. As part of the project, my goal was to determine if the Rayleigh Distribution applies to the probability of the horizontal and vertical significant pressures at different significant waves’ height.

For seven weeks, I collected data from wave heights for different trials and determined the probabilities of exceedance. Once the data was collected, this exceedance probability was plotted and the Rayleigh distribution was added for comparison. This comparison was made for: significant wave heights, significant vertical horizontal pressures and significant pressures.

With my participation in this research, I had the opportunity to acquire knowledge on another field of Structural Engineering. Specially, of waves and structures interactions, in which I am particularly interested for my major thesis. Also as a professional, it is very important to have the ability to interact and work with others, to improve the job efficiency. Through the seven weeks’ experience I had the chance to expose myself and develop this essential ability.


Diego DelgadoMy name is Diego Delgado-Tamariz, and I’m on my fifth year of civil engineering at the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez. At the point in my life that I needed to decide what career to choose, civil engineering was the one that made more sense. Being able to contribute to society, at the same time that new ways of engineering thinking are being used, is where I want to be. I would like to continue my studies to graduate school and then be able to use my knowledge to found new ways of doing civil engineering in the professional market. Coastal Engineering is an area entirely new for many people but at the same time it is very essential, since every country or state with coasts need every aspect that coastal engineering covers.

As part of the SUMREX program, I participated as an REU program student at the Department of Civil Engineering of Oregon State University. I worked with Dr. Daniel Cox as my advisor and a great team of students with a diversity of academic levels. The project that I participated in is called Elevated Structure Impact, and it’is part of a two-year research project where Dr. Cox and Dr. Van de Lindt (from Colorado State University) are the principal investigators. The primary goal of this project is to understand the behavior of near-coastal structures against high surge levels and wave forces. It is important to be able to relate how the elevation of a building can directly affect the damage created by a storm wave + surge. As part of the internship, I worked on understanding the pressures on an elevated structure created by non-breaking, breaking or broken waves.

When my department director told me about the opportunity of working in the area on Coastal Engineering at OSU, I rapidly did everything to apply for it. The experience of learning about the area of my interest was excellent. Every experience that I got there is in part the reason why I want to expand my knowledge on coastal engineering and keep visiting places around the world. The chance of visiting Oregon, the learning experiences, and the chance of meeting new people was entirely academically enriching.




My name is Colleen Durfee, and I am a student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill pursuing my Masters of City and Regional Planning in the Land-Use and Environmental Planning Specialization. I chose City and Regional Planning because I come from a background in geography where I studied social and political issues through a spatial lens. Through a master’s in city and regional planning I will address those issues and gain the skills needed to better prepare cities and regions for natural hazards. I am specializing in land-use because I think it is at the core of urban form. Land-use not only dictates where housing, utilities, and commercial districts are located but where they cannot be located so as to best protect the environment and local population’s severe losses. 

Educationally, I want to look at post-hurricane recovery and plans for mitigating the severity of the effects of future hurricanes in the recovery process. I am interested in how recovery from a natural hazard is affected by a community’s ability to retain population and how the housing market and debt accumulation determines the capacity for recovery.

Career-wise, I would love to work in a coastal area creating and advising comprehensive plans for cities to be better prepared for rising sea levels, more frequent severe storms, and flooding.

When applying to planning schools, I was coming from a perspective of looking at problems spatially and how spatial factors can influence political, economic, and social processes. I was interested in not only studying these processes but learning how to influence, change, and critically examine them. The Coastal Resilience Center will expose me to the field of natural hazard planning and through this exposure I will hone the tools and skills to not only research but also address the topics I am interested in. I look forward to working with Dr. Gavin Smith on the projects the center is involved with.

I hope the Education and Workforce Development fellowship will give me a platform from which to jump into a career in coastal hazard planning. I hope to work with some of the top researchers and practitioners in the field and use the experiences such as the internships and the conferences provided through the center to focus and delve into my educational interests and career goals.


My name is Matthew Malecha and I am currently in my third year in the Urban & Regional Sciences PhD program at Texas A&M University (within the Department of Landscape Architecture & Urban Planning, College of Architecture) in College Station, Texas. My research focuses on the effects of plans and policies on community resilience to flood hazards. After working as an urban planner for several years, I decided to pursue a PhD so I could study critical planning and resilience issues and contribute more effectively to the “conversation,” with an ultimate goal of helping to strengthen community resilience in anticipation of the natural hazard effects of climate change. Within this broader goal, issues of equity, vulnerability, policy implementation and scale are particularly intriguing.

As part of the Coastal Resilience Center (CRC)-funded Plan Integration for Resilience Scorecard research team (PI: Dr. Philip Berke), I am helping to develop, test and disseminate a pioneering method for spatially evaluating a community’s network of plans with respect to plan integration and responsiveness to flood exposure and physical and social vulnerability. We have tested the methodology in a diverse sample of coastal communities and are currently in the process of analyzing and publishing our findings. In addition, with the assistance of three pilot communities (League City, Tex.; Norfolk, Va.; and San Luis Obispo, Ca.) and a national advisory board of expert academics and specialists, we are developing a guidebook to facilitate use of the scorecard method by planning practitioners.

Following publication of the guidebook, planning and city management staff will be able to use the Plan Integration for Resilience Scorecard to more effectively evaluate their community’s network of plans and improve its integration and responsiveness. Initial reception to the scorecard has been strongly positive, and our partner communities and advisors are making valuable contributions to further refining and clarifying the process.

Because of its focus on flood resilience, vulnerability and scale – and its clear application to practice – this CRC project directly coincides with my broader career goals. The opportunity to take a leading role in this exciting research has given me new insight, direction and momentum and will, I expect, strongly influence my forthcoming dissertation and academic career.



Ashton Rohmer croppedMy name is Ashton Rohmer, and I am a student in the Department of City and Regional Planning (Master’s degree), Land Use and Environmental Planning specialization at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I only discovered the field of urban planning within the past few years, but it has been the perfect way for me to combine all the interests, passions and skills I have. Moreover, I’m excited that this field will give me the flexibility to work in a variety of settings and that I’ll be able to have a positive impact at the community level. In previous experience I’ve had with emergency management, planners were not an integral part of the process; however, I see the potential and need for planners to be involved as their skills can significantly improve resilience and disaster recovery outcomes. 

In the 2016-17 school year, I’m looking forward to working on my Master’s project, which will explore the disaster recovery process through the lens of buyout/property acquisition programs. Through case study analysis, it will focus on the implementation phase of planning, particularly as it relates to open space management, and how lessons learned can inform the development of a disaster recovery exercise that includes land use and community planning issues. As I work to complete my graduate degree, my goal is to get the most out of my classes, particularly those that focus on important skills such as GIS analysis and mapping, facilitation, dispute resolution and cost-benefit analysis. After I graduate, I’m hoping to find a career where I can work to make communities more resilient using thoughtful land use planning and inclusive public engagement, particularly in underserved areas.

In the summer of 2016, I was fortunate to be selected for the George Melendez Wright Initiative for Young Leaders in Climate Change, a program that places interns across the National Park Service to support climate change projects. I worked in the Park Planning and Special Studies office in Washington, D.C., and had the opportunity to interview park superintendents, facilities managers and regional planners. From those conversations, I learned about the challenges and best management practices of climate change adaptation planning and synthesized those lessons into a report for senior planners within the National Park Service. I compiled “fact sheets” that detailed six site-specific facilities projects that have been implemented at coastal parks to make them more resilient to the impacts of climate change.

Through my internship with the National Park Service, I advanced my graphic design skills by creating a template in InDesign to complete the fact sheet project. I also further refined my public speaking skills by presenting my work to various audiences. By enhancing these communication skills, I will be able to collaborate more effectively with stakeholders in my next role building more resilient communities.



Lea Sabbag 3 croppedMy name is Lea Sabbag and I recently completed my master’s degree in city and regional planning at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (2016), and was a Career Development Grant recipient with the Coastal Resilience Center. I chose this area of study in order to better understand how planning principles and governance structures affect various facets of social-ecological systems and hazard vulnerability. Not only has my academic experience highlighted the importance that land use measures have on community resilience, but it has also exposed me to a range of policy recommendations that can better inform future approaches to sustainable development.

In the summer of 2016 I had a unique opportunity to collaborate with the Maui County Planning Department and the University of Hawai’i Sea Grant program on the initiation of a pre-disaster recovery process. To support their efforts, I assessed Hawaii’s current legal and regulatory framework, along with potential approaches to incorporating resilient coastal management principles into future disaster recovery efforts. I gained in-depth exposure to issues regarding emergency proclamations and unintended consequences of the existing process, as well as how a disaster recovery ordinance may be suited to address unmet needs at the county and state level. In addition, I researched key elements of pre-disaster recovery planning for statewide reference and use, including the importance of building social capital and establishing a broader governance framework.

Through my summer experience, I acquired deeper insight into coastal management challenges and various land use applications as they relate to special management area (SMA) permits, Hawaii’s shoreline rules, and cases where variances may apply. This knowledge, coupled with my academic experience at UNC-Chapel Hill, expanded my understanding of risk and uncertainty in complex systems, and will be invaluable to my future career as a natural hazards planner.



Reinaldo SantiagoMy name is Reinaldo Santiago. I am a senior computer engineering major at Benedict College, in Columbia, SC. I chose this major because as a computer scientist and computer engineer, I can change the world by designing, building and deploying innovative solutions to real-world problems. I can design and build hardware and software systems; develop effective ways to solve problems (such as extracting knowledge from massive amounts of data, deploying robots in the real world, or devising new approaches to security and privacy); and invent new and better ways to use computers to address challenges such as decoding the human genome, making transportation more efficient, revolutionizing health care, empowering people in the developing world, transforming education and building videogames. My educational and career goals are to get my computer engineering degree and also get a master’s degree as a computer hardware engineer.

The research work I did in the summer of 2016 with Dr. Anton Bezuglov was really helpful for my future. The research work focuses on design, implementation, and testing of an Artificial Neural Network (ANN) model for storm surge prediction in North Carolina. The inputs to the model are hurricane parameters such as its location, central pressure, and radius to maximum winds. The outputs are the storm surge predictions for specified locations along the coast. This research gave me an excellent opportunity to work with Artificial Neural Networks, learn how they are implemented and trained, learn new algorithms, and technologies. Besides, it gave me an opportunity for better understanding of natural disasters, in this case hurricanes, and a chance to see what the future will be. The experience gained by doing this research has impact on my academic and career planning. I could experience the real-life office work on a real-scale research project. I also learned how to plan my activities and manage time.

In relationship to my academic career, I have learned new things which I had not known before, nor had I known they had existed. It helped me to have an idea of what I want to do for the future. With this experience I could understand the importance of security, and how to know that things can help to save time or prevent any disaster, whether natural or induced. It has also helped me choose or have an idea of what will be my way to the future. This research has also been helpful to know what kind of classes are those that I will be taking for my next semester and the semester that follows. In addition, it has helped me to understand that there are more things you can do with this, which I will be using for my senior research paper and having a little more understanding of what I want to do for my master’s degree.



Felix Santiago croppedI am Felix Santiago-Collazo, a first-year graduate student from the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez. My master’s degree is in civil engineering, specifically in water resources and environmental engineer. My main research areas include hydrodynamics of channel networks, sediment transport, and hydrologic flood analysis.

The fact that water is such an essential component needed in any society and that living in such a small island as Puerto Rico, made me realize the importance of conservation and management of water. Also, culturally speaking, people do not have good water stewardship. All this make me realize the importance of learning more about water resources and drove me towards graduate school. During my first semester of graduate school, I was involved on a research about assessing the flood due to a hurricane event on the eastern coast of Puerto Rico. This research got me curious on how the storm surge event occurs and how we can model it. Therefore, I applied to the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Coastal Resilience Center (CRC) summer research experience to know more about this coastal phenomenon.

Seeing how a numerical model can predict floods and therefore save lives helped me realize that a PhD was for me. After obtaining my PhD from a U.S. university, I want to become part of the academic faculty, since doing research and sharing my knowledge is what drives me in life. Being part of the academic faculty at Puerto Rico will help give back to students and society from all the research opportunities and learning that I received as a student.

During my summer research with Dr. Scott Hagen from Louisiana State University, and Dr. Stephen Medeiros from the University of Central Florida, I was able to expand, deeply, my knowledge in coastal hazard modeling. During my summer research, I was able to learn the basics of the Linux command line, high performance computing and ADCIRC with particular emphasis on parameterizing surface roughness and topography. Also, I became familiar with GPS-RTK surveying and assessing the land cover for bottom friction and wind reduction. In addition, storm surge models were created for different hurricanes that impact the Gulf of Mexico. This experience helped me open doors for PhD opportunities at U.S. universities. Also, it helps me realize the importance of taking into consideration coastal hazard modeling in hydrologic modeling. Finally, this opportunity reaffirms my desire to complete a PhD and become part of the academic and research faculty.



Williams-DarienMy name is Darien Williams, and I am a master’s student at the Department of City and Regional Planning at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. After following a winding path of academic and professional interests, this field almost chose me, as it puts to use every skill I’ve picked up along the way. I chose UNC-Chapel Hill because it very neatly and sincerely folds the contributions of the social sciences into the field of planning.

My background is in sociology and working to mobilize and strengthen communities.  During the summers of 2012 and 2013, I worked with a nongovernmental grassroots development organization to remodel stoves and kitchens in order to prevent a significant public health issue in rural Peru, smoke inhalation, as well as fire risk mitigation.  I also was fortunate enough to have the chance to work on a dairy farm in South Africa, to study a community of farmers connected to markets nearby in urban Pretoria.  I started along this path by examining problems in rural settings.  Sooner or later the problems always led me to larger dynamic issues facing rural and urban spaces alike, so I went to the cities.

My interest in coastal resilience and hazard mitigation was crystallized while teaching and volunteering in Tokyo, not just a city that faces an incredible number of natural hazards, but a society very well-mobilized to meet such challenges proactively. Inspired by this resilience in an area continuously affected by earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, and mudslides, among other threats, I now journey to see if such resilience can be built in my home country, the United States.

I hope the Education and Workforce Development fellowship will enable me to connect to other thinkers and problem-solvers in this field.  Alongside them, I would like to build more resilient coastal cities and surrounding regions. Under the leadership of my advisor, Dr. Gavin Smith, I’m excited to challenge and be challenged as we work towards understanding how to improve the material conditions of coastal communities that face natural threats. I intend to take whatever knowledge gained from this experience and apply it in ways that positively affect the greatest number of people, specifically populations that have historically been marginalized or treated as afterthoughts in the field of planning.



My name is Siyu Yu and I am currently a third-year PhD student in the Urban and Regional Sciences program in Texas A&M University’s Department of Landscape Architecture and Urban Planning within the College of Architecture. My research interests are community hazard vulnerability and plan quality evaluation. My educational and career goals focus on tackling the problems of measuring resilience, integrating and testing concepts linked to networks of plans and increasing community adaptive capacity to climate change.

I work as a graduate research assistant on a national study of the effects of networks of local plans on vulnerability to flooding hazards and climate change along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. My work with CRC is to assist our research team with obtaining, organizing and analyzing data and interpreting results. We have developed ‘resilience scorecards’ for coastal communities based on physical, social and environmental vulnerabilities to coastal flooding and sea-level rise.

I also help maintain and analyze the “Beyond the Basics” website, which was developed as part of a multi-year research study funded by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Coastal Resilience Center. The project was led by the University of North Carolina’s Center for Sustainable Community Design and the Institute for Sustainable Coastal Communities at Texas A&M University. This experience facilitates not only my research interests but also my career goals.

My educational and research goals are to contribute to the scholarship and practice of urban environmental planning, hazard mitigation and adaptation to climate change. We are developing a network of plan evaluation tools to be used by local planning practitioners for evaluating community planning efforts throughout coastal areas in the United States. This unique experience not only accumulates my research capability but also allows me to connect with practitioners.