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Two new graduate students have joined the Coastal Resilience Center of Excellence (CRC) as fellows.

This semester, Colleen Durfee and Darien Williams, both graduate students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC), began as Science & Engineering Workforce Development Fellows. The Department of Homeland Security-funded program aims to ensure that students are trained in homeland security-related science and engineering disciplines to maintain U.S. leadership in science and technology. Fellows will gain practical experience through paid summer internships, attendance at professional conferences and assistance with job placement within the homeland security fields upon graduation.

Colleen Durfee
Colleen Durfee

Students are also expected to pursue the CRC-based Certificate in Natural Hazards Resilience at UNC, led by CRC Director Dr. Gavin Smith. The 10-credit program, which began in the fall semester of 2015, focuses on the nexus between the threats and impacts of natural hazards and disasters on human settlements, including those exacerbated by climate change, and how individuals, organizations, communities, and larger systems of governance prepare for, respond to, mitigate against, recover from, and adapt to these events.  More information about the certificate can be found at

Durfee will specialize in land use and environmental planning in the Department of City and Regional Planning. She comes from a background in geography and has studied social and political issues through a spatial lens, and hopes to use those skills to help communities better plan for natural hazards.

“I want to look at post-hurricane recovery and plans for mitigating the severity of the effects of future hurricanes in the recovery process,” Durfee said. “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.”

Williams, who is also a student in the Department of City and Regional Planning, said he plans to use his academic experience to improve the lives of populations at risk of natural hazards that have traditionally been marginalized.

Darien Williams
Darien Williams

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,” Williams said. “Inspired by this resilience in an area continuously affected by earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, and mudslides, among other threats, I now want 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.”

Both students are taking the CRC-based Certificate in Natural Hazards Resilience at UNC, taught by CRC Director Dr. Gavin Smith.

“I am thrilled that both Colleen and Darien have chosen to attend UNC-Chapel Hill,” Dr. Smith said. “We are happy to be able to provide them with a grant that allows them to study not only natural hazards and disasters, but more importantly, the process by which the effects of these events on people and property can be reduced.

“The ability to do so is becoming increasingly important in an era of climate change, when the nature and severity of natural hazards and disasters are changing and yet human settlements have been designed in a way that reflects a climate of the past. The knowledge and experience they gain while at UNC will uniquely position them to address one of the pressing challenges of the 21st century, namely how individuals, communities and our country can better adapt to climate change and associated hazards by becoming more resilient.”

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