Skip to main content

Deb Crowley | Ellis Kalaidjian | Sarah Haynes | Megan Rauch Griffard | Fern Hickey | Xuanyu Chen | Mansur Ali Jisan | Landon Powell

Bryan Acevedo Marrero | Irenia Ball | Matthew Bilskie | Joshua Brown | Jason Burke | Meredith Burns | William Case

Kevin Cueto-AlvaradoDiego Delgado-Tamariz | Trung DoColleen Durfee | Sara Edwards | Jaida Ellis | Rowshon Jadid

Christian KamrathMatthew Malecha | Amanda Martin | Tia Maxwell | Matrix McDanielDevon McGhee | Ashton Rohmer | Taralynn Rowell

 Carter Rucker | Lea Sabbag | Reinaldo Santiago | Felix Santiago-CollazoJorge Santiago HernándezJessamin Straub

Mireille Tchuisseu | Courtney ThomasTori TomiczekAmanda Tritinger | Tenesha Washington | Sabrina WelchDarien Williams | Siyu Yu




Deb CrowleyDeb Crowley is a graduate research assistant at the University of Rhode Island, pursuing a Ph.D. in Oceanography. She focuses on numerical models that replicate coastal processes, such as coastal flooding from storms, and works for the Hurricane Research Lab under Dr. Isaac Ginis. The lab provides Crowley with an opportunity to set up and run model simulations of different storms, validate model predictions, and synthesize the modeling results.

Crowley enjoys working with and interpreting models. The project she supports uses ADCIRC and the Simulating Waves in the Nearshore (SWAN) to simulate tropical storms and extra-tropical storms, or nor’easters, in the New England region. She likes that her project helps the public understand their vulnerabilities to natural disasters, and she hopes that emergency response managers, land managers, and the public will benefit from her storm modeling. This research has provided Crowley with an opportunity to learn about both ADCIRC and SWAN as well as run simulations using high-performance computing (HPC). She presented her work at the Coastal and Estuarine Research Federation conference as well as the Ocean Sciences Meeting.

Upon graduation, Crowley hopes to continue working with models and studying coastal processes.




Ellis KalaidjianEllis Kalaidjian is an Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) Research Participant appointed with the Risk and Decision Science branch of the US Army Engineering Research and Development Center (ERDC). Here, he is engaged in several research projects involving the use of nature-based solutions for numerous social and environmental benefits. Kalaidjian hails from Newport, Rhode Island, where he resides today. He holds a B.S. in Oceanography from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington and he recently obtained his M.A. in Marine Affairs from the University of Rhode Island in May 2021. Broadly, his undergraduate and graduate research explored coastal processes and how entities (cities, agencies, etc.) plan for and manage them in the face of uncertain futures brought about by climate change.

Kalaidjian worked as a graduate research assistant under CRC principal investigator, Austin Becker, at URI. His thesis, entitled “Institutionalizing resilience: Insights from initiatives at 10 U.S. seaports,” explored how U.S. seaports, the backbone of the nation’s maritime economy, plan for and manage their organizations’ resilience to coastal hazards associated with climate change, to which many seaports are highly exposed. Kalaidjian conducted focus-group interviews with seaport staff, administered and analyzed surveys, and ultimately contributed a section in the “Resilience Assessment Guide for Ports and the Marine Transportation System, a resilience guidebook for maritime industry professionals from the DHS and USACE.

“The opportunity to work with personnel in the federal government was really special. It gave me insights into that realm that I definitely would not have otherwise had.”

Kalaidjian is currently working with ERDC on projects under the USACE Engineering With Nature program, an initiative to integrate natural systems in military and civil works, such as barrier island restoration. After his fellowship, he is interested in continuing research that helps communities manage climate change hazards.



Sarah HaynesSarah Haynes is a public policy and sociology major at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She worked with CRC investigator Dr. Cassandra R. Davis to examine the relationship between natural disaster recurrence and low-performing school districts. They researched planning and recovery discrepancies between marginalized communities and more affluent ones. This exploration of systemic inequity sparked Haynes’ interest in the project.

The team led a comprehensive study of how natural disasters disproportionately impact marginalized groups and under-resourced neighborhoods. To this end, they analyzed the way federal aid moved differently through these communities. They found that past societal factors contributed to the present problem of inequalities in natural disaster preparedness and recovery. The team urged stakeholders to address past inequalities in marginalized groups and under-resourced neighborhoods and create future policies that focus on building equity, among several recommendations. 

Haynes helped conduct a literature review on the topic and contributed to the team’s report. She focused on the use of social vulnerability indicators and indexes to learn if they provided an effective measurement of vulnerability. She also highlighted cities that have implemented equitable planning systems.

Haynes hopes her project represents the beginning of a push for better natural disaster planning and mitigation for the communities that need it most. She enjoyed developing recommendations and learning from what others around the globe are doing effectively. She would like to see greater recognition for the historical context that created circumstances where marginalized communities require greater resilience efforts. For Haynes, acknowledgment of this past is the first step in planning for an equitable future.

The project helped Haynes secure an internship at the NC State Board of Education, where she examined the aid North Carolina provided teachers in natural disaster planning and resiliency. She worked closely with teachers and presented a policy memo on how to better help educators during coastal storms.

She will graduate in May 2022, then pursue a career in public policy. She hopes to one day return to graduate school and continue her research.



Megan Rauch GriffardMegan Rauch Griffard hails from Davidson, NC, and is pursuing a master’s in education at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is a graduate research assistant under CRC investigator Dr. Cassandra R. Davis. Together, they are investigating how historically underserved populations receive support and resources from non-profits, academics, and local governments following a natural disaster.

Griffard was drawn to the project by her interest in studying natural disasters and working with Davis.  She hopes that her research will illuminate the disparities in services that impact a given population’s recovery and resilience in the wake of natural disasters. These insights will help non-profits, academics, and local governments better support marginalized populations so that these communities face fewer challenges during recovery.

Griffard has enjoyed building a relationship with stakeholders the most during her project. Upon graduation, she plans to work in academia.

Back to Top



Fern HickeyFern Hickey is pursuing her master’s in city and regional planning with a concentration in land use and environmental planning at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She works with CRC investigators Dr. Cassandra Davis, Dr. Miyuki Hino, and Dr. Phil Berke, exploring the use of data in hazard mitigation and disaster recovery planning.

Hickey’s current research seeks to answer the question, “how can available data be better leveraged in disaster management planning to advance more equitable outcomes for marginalized communities?” The answer will help effectively channel funding to maximize the impact of disaster recovery plans and programs. Hickey initially conducted a literature review to understand how the concept of vulnerability to hazards has evolved over time to what it is today. She is currently assisting in the development and application of a plan review protocol to evaluate land use and hazard mitigation plans for the presence of social vulnerability data, policies, and metrics that support equitable outcomes in disaster recovery. Hickey joined the project because she wanted to understand the data and systems needed for equitable hazard mitigation and disaster recovery planning. 

“I enjoy knowing that my research could pay off in real-life improvements in disaster planning and response and better outcomes for communities and I feel lucky to work as part of such a talented research team bringing so many different layers of expertise and insight to the project.”

Hickey will graduate this spring, at which time, she plans to work in climate change adaption and resilience planning with a focus on community-based and equity-driven planning processes and outcomes. Hickey hopes that her work will inform future disaster mitigation and recovery efforts, so marginalized communities receive the resources necessary to remain resilient in the face of natural disasters.

Back to Top



LinkedIn | Email 

Xuanyu ChenXuanyu Chen is a postdoctoral associate at the University of Colorado Boulder. She came to the United States from Dongguan, Guangdong, China, and worked as a research assistant under CRC investigator Dr. Isaac Ginis at the University of Rhode Island. Their team studied the impacts of ocean surface waves on storm surges. She explored the connection between surface conditions near the shoreline and the severity of storm surges, or the abnormal rises of sea level caused by hurricanes when they make landfall.

Chen worked primarily on the science and technical side of the project, adding new pieces to the project’s existing models, performing idealized model experiments, and analyzing experiment results. She said she felt connected to the work and found meaning in the research because it helped inform and protect people from storm surge hazards. The project provided Chen with an opportunity to work with experts in hurricanes, wave, and storm surge modeling, get rigorous research training in the US and get exposed to advanced visualization tools for delivering and communicating scientific results.  

Back to Top



LinkedIn | ORCiD

Mansur Ali JisanMansur Ali Jisan is pursuing his Ph.D. in Physical Oceanography at the University of Rhode Island’s Graduate School of Oceanography. He is a graduate research assistant for Dr. Isaac Ginis’s Hurricane Research Lab, where researchers are conducting a broad analysis of the conditions that contribute to coastal hazards.

In his research, Jisan is improving the surface wind forecast during the landfall of hurricanes. He is overcoming the challenge of simulating hurricane wind fields over land, balancing equations that juggle the complex geometry of the coast with the variability of different land cover types, such as forest, agricultural lands, and urban areas. He is working towards a simulation of the wind field over land that considers the effects of land-surface frictions.

Jisan hopes that this research will improve our understanding and prediction of hurricane wind speed and structure during landfall. By understanding the wind, forecasters can better predict storm surges and waves. More accurate forecasts can help coastal communities and emergency managers prepare for future hurricanes.

This project has provided Jisan with the opportunity to attend the American Meteorological Society’s conference on Hurricanes and Tropical Meteorology. He also participated in workshops including the Coastal Resilience Center’s Annual Meeting, which provided feedback that Jisan said significantly benefitted his research.

Back to Top



LinkedIn | Email

Landon PowellLandon Powell graduated in 2021 with a degree in economics and public policy from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Originally from Kinston, NC, Powell joined Dr. Cassandra R. Davis’ team to gain research experience and prepare for his career postgraduation.

The team identified organizations that provide relief to marginalized communities affected by natural disasters. Powell helped manage the team’s data and explained their methodology.

“I hope this project will play an instrumental role in unveiling how best to help communities affected by a natural disaster, and that the marginalized communities most severely affected are better served in the event of a disaster.”

The most rewarding aspect of the research for Powell was working with other students who were passionate about the project — the potential for real-world impact motivated the team to collaborate and work hard. 

Back to Top



Bryan Acevedo MarreroMy name is Bryan Acevedo Marrero, and I am a fifth-year senior majoring in Civil Engineering at the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez. As part of SUMREX at Oregon State University in 2018, I assisted graduated students, technicians and professors in the documentation and construction process of a prototype house on a 1:6 scale, which emulated the structural response of a real house under hurricane wave loads. I also helped with the quality check of obtained data (the structural response of prototype house under hurricane wave loads) and initial plotting of the data to compare hurricane wave conditions to the expected load and structural response of a real house. Finally, I developed a full-scale house model in the computer program Sap2000 in order to study its structural response under wave forces.

For this project I applied many engineering classes that I took along my university path such as statics, dynamic, structural analysis and my knowledge in Sap2000.  This research was aligned to my interest in understanding structural behavior to eventually design and build resilient infrastructures. This internship helped me to explore more about grad school and how this can expand my opportunities in civil engineering area to improve my personal and professional aspirations.

Within engineering, the most interesting, exciting and intellectual field for me is Civil Engineering. During these past four years I have worked diligently to increase my understanding and mastery in this field, and I have greatly enjoyed the process of the structural analysis. I chose this area of study because I want to be able to contribute to society in the process of planning, designing and building resilient infrastructures in countries around the world to save lives and mitigate structural damages. (2.12.19)

Back to Top



Irenia BallMy name is Irenia Ball, and I am a graduating senior at Tougaloo College in Jackson, Miss. My major is Sociology, with a minor in Disaster and Coastal Studies. I was born and raised in New Orleans, and I am a survivor of Hurricane Katrina. Going through this unforgettable moment in my life has pushed me to help others, specifically to learn more about natural disasters and how to help people prepare for them. I plan on pursuing a Master’s degree in Disaster and Coastal Management and a doctorate in Sociology. My career goal is to become a professor in the Social Science department at my soon-to-be alma mater.

In the summer of 2016 I had the opportunity to be a part of the Coastal Resilience Center (CRC) summer research experience (SUMREX) at the University of Delaware. I got the chance to analyze how the government, insurance companies, and homeowners make decisions related to hurricane mitigation and insurance. In addition to this program, I participated in several trips with the School of Public Policy to a local Emergency Management Agency in Dover, Del., and the Community Services Center in Wilmington, Del. I went to several panels on hurricane mitigation, but this panel really stood out about non-profit organizations and how they impacted the community of Wilmington.

This was such a wonderful opportunity for me. I was able to learn more about all the aspects of a natural disaster event, from preparedness to recovery. Also, it was interesting to learn about the difference and similarities of East Coast and Gulf Coast hurricanes. For example, in the South people are much more mobile and able to evacuate than in the East, where city structures and reliance on publican transportation make evacuation challenging. I also had the chance to see how graduate school would be for me. I am an undergrad and the majority of the students I was with were graduate students. It really helped to hear how they processed information and allowed me to work side-by-side in an elevated academic setting. This experience has affirmed my educational and career goals. Now, more than ever, I am ready for what the future holds. (3.29.17)

Graduated: 2017

Back to Top



Matthew BilskieMy name is Dr. Matthew V. Bilskie and I am a research scientist at Louisiana State University. I graduated from LSU with a Ph.D. in Civil Engineering in August 2016. I also have a bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Civil Engineering from the University of Central Florida. Growing up in Florida, I was aware of the damage and disruption that hurricanes can cause across large scales. My curiosity was sparked after Hurricane Katrina and I wanted to learn more about how hurricanes cause coastal flooding and its related effects on coastal communities.

My research focus is computational modeling of hurricane storm surge, unstructured finite element mesh development, real-time forecasting and prediction of coastal flooding, coastal flooding in a changing climate, compound flood events from rainfall and surge, and translating modeling results for use by coastal stakeholders and decision-makers. My work with the CRC involves developing computationally efficient and accurate unstructured finite elements meshes for real-time hurricane storm surge forecasting and prediction. The models I have developed were successfully used to provide forecast guidance during hurricanes Irma (2017) and Michael (2018). (2.4.19)

Graduated: 2016 | Currently: Louisiana State University

Back to Top



Joshua BrownMy name is Joshua Brown, and I am a civil engineer with the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) in Vicksburg, Miss. I specialize in river engineering and bank stabilization for the Mississippi and Red rivers. I earned a bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering in 2015 and a master’s in Civil Engineering in 2017, both at Jackson State University. I was born and raised in Crystal Springs, Miss.

I became interested in coastal flooding after doing several papers on the flooding of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. After reading about the destruction and the effects that this storm had caused, I wanted to be more involved in studying and preventing such disasters. After obtaining my bachelor’s degree, I wanted to further my studies in civil and coastal engineering. To better understand how coastal structures operate and function, I decided to get my master’s in Coastal Engineering.

As a river engineer, I am responsible for making sure the river banks and navigation channel of the mighty Mississippi are protected against flooding. Flooding, which causes millions of dollars in damage to inland communities and farmland, can be very devastating. Though coastal and inland flooding happen on different spectrums, we use the same structures in both applications to protect coastal shores and inland bank stabilization. While my career has led me down a different path, learning about coastal structures has greatly helped me understand my current position. This working knowledge has greatly helped me to understand my job and the importance of protecting our coastal as well as inland banks.

Under the advisement of Dr. Robert Whalin, the experiences that I received through the Coastal Resilience Center of Excellence (CRC) at Jackson State University were nothing less than exceptional. Before becoming involved with CRC I had no idea that structures such as breakwaters and dikes existed to protect our coastal shores. Learning about how and why coastal structures are designed and needed to protect our shores has greatly influenced how I see the world. I am very appreciative for all the exposure and the knowledge I have obtained during my studies through this program. (7.9.19)

Graduated: 2017 | Currently: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Back to Top



Jason BurkeMy name is Jason Burke, and I am a master’s student in Civil Engineering with a concentration in Coastal and Ocean Engineering at Oregon State University. I chose this area of study for two reasons. The first is that I am a Navy Civil Engineer Corps (CEC) Officer and applied to a smaller subset within the CEC called the Ocean Facilities Program (OFP). Part of joining the OFP is attending graduate school with an emphasis in Coastal and Ocean Engineering studies in order to bring current knowledge and practices back to the Navy. The second reason I chose this area of study, and partly why I decided to join the OFP, is the trend in climate change we’ve observed over the past few decades and are predicting in decades to come. Whether you’re a scientist, policymaker or engineer, it’s an exciting area of study in need of more attention than it’s currently receiving.

My education and career goals, for the time being, revolve around my Naval career. My first goal is to continue my service until I am able/ready to retire from the Navy. One benefit of the OFP is that I will be changing jobs every few years, learning from each position and creating new goals along the way. Post-Navy, my goal is to work in the field of infrastructure resiliency. As part of the CEC and OFP I’ll be working primarily with Navy facilities and infrastructure. I’d like to continue that work in the private sector either directly or with continued research.

As part of the CRC I was invited to attend the DHS Centers of Excellence Summit 2018 in Washington, D.C. While at the summit I was able to represent previous research done at my institution for the CRC as well as discuss my project planned for later that year. For my project, we built five physical models of residential coastal structures at a 1:6 scale. We then performed various structural and hydrodynamic tests on the physical models in an effort to characterize their behavior and, eventually, further our ability to predict structural damage resulting from natural disasters.

My work with the CRC has helped with my career goals a great deal in that I was able to perform research in a pertinent area of study with direct value to the Navy. The vast majority of Navy assets are on the coast. The resiliency of those assets and an ability to predict/plan for an expected level of damage from an impending natural disaster could be of great value. More for me personally, I was able to gain a lot of knowledge and hands-on experience both in attending the COE Summit and from my research with the CRC; both of these will help me as I continue to my career in and beyond the Navy. (2.27.19)

Back to Top



Meredith BurnsMy name is Meredith Burns and I graduated with a master’s degree in City and Regional Planning from UNC-Chapel Hill in 2018. I concentrated in land use and environmental planning, and earned a Natural Hazards Resilience Certificate.

I became interested in planning while working as a newspaper reporter in south Louisiana. My job involved covering the devastating effects of coastal land loss on individuals and families, as well as the policymakers trying to intervene. I wanted to learn more about how coastal communities facing threats from sea level rise, land subsidence, wetland degradation and hurricanes grapple with a rapidly changing landscape. I figured graduate school was a good place to start.

I was fortunate to work with the Coastal Resilience Center in a few different capacities throughout graduate school. As part of the Hurricane Matthew Recovery and Resilience Initiative (HMDRRI) team, I worked with local leaders from six eastern North Carolina communities to develop long-term recovery plans and was able to witness a state recovery process in action. I also worked as a communications assistant with CRC, which gave me an opportunity to learn about the fascinating hazards research taking place across the country. Through these experiences I was exposed to the language and interdisciplinary thinking of leading coastal scientists and policymakers, and I feel more prepared to participate in productive conversations about climate change and hazards resilience in affected communities.

After graduating in 2018 I started working as a regional planner in South Carolina’s lowcountry. My job covers a variety of topics, ranging from public transit to affordable housing, and the region’s willingness to integrate sea level rise, hurricanes and other hazards into these planning processes has been encouraging. My overall career goal is to continue serving people living in coastal communities in the American south, particularly residents who are often overlooked and underserved. I’m not sure if that will involve documenting stories, recommending policies to improve services or some combination of both, but I do not anticipate a shortage of opportunities to help communities navigate their changing landscapes anytime soon. (3.5.19)

Graduated: 2018 | Currently: Recovery Planner, South Carolina Emergency Management Division

Back to Top




William Case
William Case

My name is William Case, and I am an undergraduate student at Johnson C. Smith University (JCSU) in Charlotte, North Carolina, majoring in Computer Science. Before JCSU, I earned an associate’s degree in arts focusing on business administration at Central Piedmont Community College (CPCC). While at CPCC, I served as the Student Government Association President and helped to start a peer mentorship program for the college’s First-Year Experience department.

While at JCSU, I have had the opportunity to work with the Coastal Resilience Center under the direction of Dr. Awatif Amin, participating in several research initiatives that centered around coastal resiliency and preparedness. One, in particular, Building Tornado Resilient Communities (2019), our team had a chance to synthesize readily available atmospheric conditions from coastal communities, past tornado data and then apply Data Mining techniques.

I also participated in the Centers of Excellence 2019 Summit Grand Challenge, where teams of students developed innovative solutions in response to an emerging DHS challenge. Our team of myself, Ha Le, Jin Lee, Danielle Dobbs, and Annette Mariel Colon Mercado, won second place for the project “Drone-based MIR Laser Induced Thermal Imaging for Identification of Chemical Substances.”

The most rewarding part of participating in the 2019 COE Summit was working on a multidisciplinary team. We all had very academically diverse backgrounds, and in the end, our proposal reflected the multifariousness of those fields.

My brief but fulfilling experiences with utilizing data for real-world solutions inspired me to continue my work. In the future, I will pursue a career in data science focused on finding and answering the critical questions of our time. (10.14.20)

Graduated: 2021 | Currently: Customer Engineer, Microsoft

Back to Top




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. (10.4.16)

Back to Top



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. (10.4.16)

Graduated: 2018 | Currently: University of Cantabria (Spain)

Back to Top



Trung DoMy name is Dr. Trung Do. I earned my bachelor’s degree in Bridge and Road Engineering from Danang University of Science and Technology (Vietnam) in 2005, and a master’s degree in Bridge and Tunnel Engineering from National University of Civil Engineering (Vietnam). I came to the U.S. in 2011 and received a Ph.D. in Structural Engineering from Colorado State University in 2016. Currently I am a postdoctoral research fellow at Colorado State University working with the Coastal Resilience Center (CRC), and will be joining the University of Louisiana at Lafayette as a visiting assistant professor in the Department of Civil Engineering beginning in Fall 2019.

Climate change resulting in sea level rise and increased frequency of hurricanes with severe storm surge is one of the main threats to the resilience of coastal communities of our time. As a structural engineer, I focus on improving the design and resiliency of coastal structures such as buildings and transportation systems against extreme weather conditions. This area of study is helping to ensure that the damage arising from these events is mitigated using both laboratory tests and computational models. My educational and career goals are to establish a curriculum for teaching and researching the resilience of coastal infrastructure such as buildings, utilities and transportation systems.

I have been working on the CRC project “Experimental and Numerical Study to Improve Damage and Loss Estimation Due to Overland Wave and Surge Hazards on Near-Coast Structures” since 2015 as a collaborative research project between Oregon State University and Colorado State University.  My role has been to develop the fragility methodology for elevated coastal structures subjected to combined hurricane wave and surge. My work involves fluid-structure interaction modeling using ABAQUS and ANSYS Fluent, participating in the large-scale model for laboratory wave flume testing and then calibrating the full-scale model for fragility analysis. These experiences are the foundation for my educational and career goals in developing resilient coastal communities. (7.2.19)

Graduated: 2016 | Currently: University of Louisiana at Lafayette (Fall 2019)

Back to Top



Colleen Durfee
Colleen Durfee

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. (8.23.16)

Graduated: 2018 | Currently: Lochmueller Group

Back to Top



Sara EdwardsMy name is Sara Edwards and I am a student in the Environment and Science Communication dual degree program at UNC-Chapel Hill. Through this program, I earned my bachelor’s degree in environmental studies in 2018 and will earn a master’s degree in mass communication within the next year.

As an undergraduate environmental studies major, I studied the relationship between ecology and society and earned a minor in marine sciences. I grew up in North Carolina and have always especially loved the coast, and I was able to fully realize the importance of coastal environments while studying at the UNC Institute of Marine Sciences. There, I took specialized classes in coastal ecology and conducted research of my own for a whole semester on the Crystal Coast. After this experience, I knew I wanted to spend my time learning as much as I could about environmental science and sharing it with others. This passion has led me to pursue writing for a campus science magazine, canvassing to raise money for environmental protection, organizing a sustainability campaign for a local food company, teaching children at a science summer camp, and working at the Coastal Resilience Center.

For the past two years, I have been a communications and research assistant for the CRC. Through this opportunity, I can contribute to the communications and outreach efforts that promote the center’s expertise in coastal hazards and resilience. The work I do through this internship has given me practice producing media about scientific research, which I hope will help me start my career as a science communicator and advocate for the environment. My next step is completing my master’s thesis project, where I will be working on messaging strategies with a North Carolina nonprofit group that focuses on coastal habitat restoration. Eventually, I hope to relocate to Washington, D.C., and work in communications for an environmental or science advocacy group. (2.15.19)

Back to Top



My name is Jaida Ellis, and I am a senior at Elizabeth City State University majoring in psychology. For as long as I can remember I have wanted to be a scientist and have always had an interest in human behavior and observation. When I was 10 years old, I found a field for my interests – psychology. In more recent years, I have wanted to apply my education to the realm of social justice and find ways to help improve the world. After transferring from community college to ECSU in Fall 2018, I have fully immersed myself in my institution’s psychology program, with plans of pursuing a master’s degree in Environmental psychology focused on cross-cultural research.

In the summer of 2019, my research team and I were selected to participate in the DHS Summer Research Team Program for Minority Serving Institutions through the CRC at Old Dominion University. Our team examined the mental health effects of past and recent hurricanes on eastern North Carolina residents. We collected important foundational information for a needs assessment to begin addressing gaps in the provision of necessary mental health services to vulnerable populations in this area.

My summer experience was truly unforgettable, and I feel like it was an essential step in my professional career. Through this program, I was able to be mentored by my research advisors on matters that they are passionate about and have dedicated their careers to providing solutions for. In addition, I was able to learn more about research procedures and data analysis software such as SPSS and Qualtrics. I was also able to gain a stronger connection to my college town and the surrounding areas in North Carolina.

This research experience has broadened my horizons when considering how I can apply my degree to real-world scenarios. By participating in this experience, I feel like it has helped me continue exploring my interest in environmental psychology, showing me how I can apply my education to topics such as coastal resiliency and how culture influences how we perceive our environment.

Back to Top



Rowshon JadidMy name is Rowshon Jadid, and I am a second-year Ph.D. student in the Department of Civil, Construction, and Environmental Engineering at North Carolina State University. I received my Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Civil Engineering from Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology. I was born and raised in Bangladesh, which is one of the most flood-prone regions in the world. Eighty percent of Bangladesh is a floodplain, and it has an extensive sea coastline and many tributaries flowing into the Bay of Bengal. Due to these unique topographic features, major floods occurred every decade. Many flood levees were constructed as a flood defense structure across the country. I have seen how a society could suffer from a massive loss of lives and properties due to failure of infrastructure. Therefore, I chose to be a civil engineer to devote myself to improve homeland security. My educational goal is to get my Ph.D. degree in civil engineering. Career-wise, I would like to work on disaster defense infrastructure.

As a part of the Coastal Resilience Center (CRC)-funded project, I got the opportunity to work with Dr. Mo Gabr and Dr. Brina Montoya from North Carolina State University. We tried to characterize the damage level resulting from hurricanes Floyd (1999) and Matthew (2016) on the stability of Princeville, N.C., levee. We simulated those hurricanes in a computer program and observed how those hurricanes progressively damage the stability of the embankment. We showed the limitations of the existing techniques of measuring the levee’s stability and proposed an improved approach which can be utilized as part of a risk assessment study and development of a rehabilitation program. Our proposed method can be employed in conjunction with a remote-sensing program to monitor the health of levee systems nationwide.

Working on this project has opened the door to expand my knowledge in flood defense infrastructure.  I was able to learn Plaxis, which is a sophisticated, finite-element computer program. Using that program, I am capable of assessing any geotechnical problem regarding the stability of a levee. The knowledge that I learned from this project will help me in my Ph.D. research work, and the experience gained will assist me in pursuing my career goals as a civil engineer. (5.4.18)

Back to Top



Christian Kamrath
Christian Kamrath

My name is Christian Kamrath and I graduated with a master’s degree in City and Regional Planning from UNC-Chapel Hill in 2018. I concentrated in land use and environmental planning, and earned a Natural Hazards Resilience Certificate. I am currently a Resilience Coordinator – Adaptation at the Miami-Dade County Office of Resilience.

My interest in the climate adaptation and resilience planning field began with a fascination with physical geography and natural hazards, in particular, extreme meteorological and climate events. Over the last several years, I have gained experience with climate change communications, broadcast meteorology, emergency management and water utility resilience. I began learning and asking about how society at different scales prepares for, responds to, recovers from and mitigates against natural hazards, including those exacerbated by climate change. I discovered that so many of the key decisions get made at the local government or community-level and are greatly influenced and facilitated by professionals in the planning world. After witnessing billion-dollar disaster after disaster in the U.S. and around the world and coming to terms with the exponential rate at which risks were growing and expected to grow, I committed myself to a career of climate adaptation and community resilience planning.

In the long run, I want to gain a deep and nuanced understanding of the root causes of these growing natural hazard risks, practice developing and implementing policies and programs that center on justice and equitable outcomes, and become an expert dot-connector between people of various backgrounds, education, training, culture and experience who care about their communities’ future. I hope to focus my career on climate adaptation, in particular issues related to flood risk and sea level rise, as well as disaster recovery and the transformational opportunities that are found at the intersection of the two.

Fortunately, my work through the CRC and experience with Dr. Gavin Smith as an advisor has directly contributed to my enhanced learning and professional experience in these areas. Through the in-depth courses and weekly speaker series as part of the Certificate courses, I was exposed to new modes of thinking, analytical approaches and internationally-recognized community resilience leaders and best practices. Additionally, the opportunity to support work done by the Hurricane Matthew Disaster Recovery and Resilience Initiative offered a one-of-a-kind graduate school experience. I got to work directly with hazard planning and disaster recovery professionals and researchers as well as local community leaders and residents as they navigate the challenging path of long-term recovery. My work to create a land suitability analysis for post-disaster housing relocation became the basis of my Master’s Project and a key component of the community’s long-term recovery plans. Finally, the CRC supported the work being done by a new student group, the Carolina Hazards and Resilience Planners, with which I took an active role in as we organized community events, fundraisers and joint research symposiums. These experiences helped me foster new professional connections, provide relevant job-related experience that made me a competitive job-seeker and broadened my understanding of the issues and needs in an emerging field of research and practice.

Graduated: 2018 | Currently: Miami-Dade County Office of Resilience




Matthew MalechaMy 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. (1.24.17)

Back to Top



Amanda MartinMy name is Amanda Martin, and I am Deputy Chief Resilience Officer for the North Carolina Office of Recovery and Resilience.

Formerly, I was director of the Southeast Disaster Resilience Partnership (SDRP), and worked on a housing recovery project as part of the CRC-led Hurricane Matthew Disaster Recovery and Resilience Initiative (HMDRRI) while pursuing my Ph.D. in the Department of City and Regional Planning at UNC-Chapel Hill. In the summer of 2017, I worked with UNC professor Dr. Mai Nguyen to develop recommendations for a report on the recovery of affordable housing in Eastern North Carolina.

While working on my Ph.D., I also enrolled in a speakers series course taught by Dr. Gavin Smith. This course was pivotal in introducing me to some important themes and figures in coastal resilience. Having a cohort of students working on hazards helped develop my critical thinking about disaster recovery, especially those students working on HMDRRI.

With SDRP, I made sure we had everything we needed to continue supporting disaster recovery capacity in the region. This work included setting strategic direction, hosting workshops and writing white papers and policy briefs. Through leading SDRP and conducting my Ph.D. research, I have learned how to speak a language that can span multiple disciplinary frameworks in the context of disaster resilience.

My Ph.D. research focuses on how federal buyouts of homes in flood-prone areas after flooding events are intended as a hazard mitigation strategy but have other impacts as well. Buyouts affect residential mobility, wealth-building for low-income households, neighborhood conditions, and historic preservation. From my work with SDRP, I know that emergency management is very mission-oriented, so the objective of hazard mitigation naturally drives the buyout program. From my background as a planner, however, I approach issues from a holistic, multifaceted perspective that allows me to observe the effects of buyouts across land use, hazards and community development. Both approaches are essential, and the key to creating change is through fostering genuine connections between the two. This is one of the main goals of my work with the North Carolina Office of Recovery and Resilience. (7.8.19)

Currently: North Carolina Office of Recovery and Resilience

Back to Top



I am Tia Maxwell, a 2019 graduate of Florida A&M’s sociology program with a minor in African American studies. Sociology has always spoken to me, as it combines technical skills like writing and analysis with the comprehensive study of communities and society. My personal academic mission was to explore the breadth of subject areas that sociology offered, so I could better appreciate my focus area during my graduate studies. After opportunities to perform research, dissect theory, and explore a variety of subject areas, I am now pursuing further education in the master’s program in the Department of Urban & Regional Planning at Florida State University, with a specialization in Environmental Planning.

Living in Florida for most of my life, I am no stranger to the dangers that coastal living poses; hurricanes, flooding, and sea level rise were, and still are, present threats growing in power. However, I am forever connected to the land and spaces my ancestors have occupied for generations, even as the changing climate alters the same lands. The desire to protect vulnerable communities from the threat of climate change and environmental injustices was a direct result of my 2019 summer research experience with the CRC, as I began to see the value in protecting and preserving places deemed environmentally pregnable due to their cultural and historical significance to the people who inhabit them.

Under the direction of Dr. Michelle Dovil, Tenesha Washington and I collaborated on a research project entitled The place we call home: the risk perceptions and place attachments of coastal communities at risk for sea level rise in North Carolina for the Department of Homeland Security Summer Research Team Program for Minority Serving Institutions. In this study, we examined sea level rise through the lens of place attachment, a theoretical framework that suggests bonding to specific locations, which results in a commitment to place. During our ten-week stay, we worked alongside the Coastal Resilience Center to gather data in Wilmington, NC and Elizabeth City, NC; two cities identified to be chronically inundated by 2050.

Having the opportunity to conduct research from concept to presentation was an enlightening experience. The most challenging aspect was data collection, as we set out to acquire survey participants on foot in both of our sample cities; the difficulties I faced, though, improved my research abilities and aided my ability to relate abstract and theoretical topics back to the lived experiences of the residents affected by sea level rise. The Coastal Resilience Center was instrumental to the success of our project, by providing resources that allowed us to expound upon the original research question and generally supporting the expansion of my research skill set. Most importantly, the CRC summer research program also gave me the chance to meld my understanding of the social and physical sciences to create a more comprehensive understanding of our ever-changing environment.

After continued education, I look forward to a career in public service, as I strive towards becoming a regional planner in communities that face significant environmental challenges, and one day hope to return to academia as an instructor. I plan to devise projects and policies that mitigate the threat of rising sea-level and other coastal concerns, while fostering and maintaining a community culture dedicated to sustainability and resiliency. (5.12.20)

Back to Top



Matrix McDanielMy name is Matrix McDaniel, and I am a graduate student at Jackson State University, where I also received my bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering. I was born and raised in the Mississippi Delta, which made me conscious of the different elements that were a part of my daily life. This consciousness sparked during the year of 2005 when my hometown, Belzoni, Miss., received some backlash from Hurricane Katrina. I became interested in knowing the processes of water and wastewater treatment along with many other human health factors related to infrastructure. I made sure that my educational choices were to either be a Doctor of Medicine, or a doctor of Earth. I chose to study Civil Engineering.

Educationally, I plan to continue my search for more efficient processes in cleaning water and reducing the effects of natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina while becoming a Ph.D. candidate.  It is my hope to be a life-long researcher for the sustainability of all life on Earth.

The experiences I have received while working with the Coastal Resilience Center of Excellence (CRC) have been anything but phenomenal. Under the advisement of Dr. Robert Whalin, I have been able to learn more in-depth about coastal structures and their necessity for the continuation of keeping populations along coastal borders safe. I have also picked up a better understanding of finite element software. In the program, we are being taught ways to simulate a hurricane storm surge using meshes through finite element software to properly predict the impact of any specific hurricane.

This knowledge has assisted me greatly because I had the opportunity to deploy on a disaster relief mission with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Memphis District. During the disaster relief mission, we assisted both Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands restore temporary power to the islands. Without power, the island was not able to have access to clean water. I had the opportunity to go around the entire island stopping at hospitals, local government buildings and mostly wastewater treatment plants to ensure that there was a power source for the health and safety of the public.

Being a developing civil engineer, these experiences have taken great affect on my management and critical thinking abilities. It is a humbling experience when you witness such chaos and the processes that a government goes through to get things back up and running. The research that the CRC does is very necessary. (2.27.19)

Back to Top



Devon McGheeMy name is Devon McGhee and I am a recent graduate of the Coastal Environmental Management program at Duke University. I grew up on Long Island, N.Y., and have always been interested in the intimate relationship between coastal communities and the surrounding environment. As an undergraduate, I studied ecology at Boston University and developed a technical understanding of coastal ecosystems. In my graduate studies, I have worked to complement my technical knowledge of the coastal environment with a robust understanding of relevant policies and social dynamics.

During my first semester at Duke, a classmate mentioned some of the work being done by the Coastal Resilience Center and I was immediately intrigued. I did a little bit of research and discovered that the Center offered the Natural Hazards Resilience Certificate Program. Through the certificate, I took several classes with UNC’s Department of City and Regional Planning and quickly realized how well the program complemented my coursework at Duke.

My work with the certificate exposed me to the realities of post-disaster resilience-building and challenged me to incorporate my technical background in creative, not-so-traditional ways. My master’s project, which studied the efficacy of post-disaster buyouts in Staten Island, N.Y., was the culmination of my coursework at Duke but the final product was heavily dependent on all that I learned while pursuing the certificate.

In the few months since graduation, I’ve found my interdisciplinary understanding of coastal policy, planning and science to be indispensable. I’m inspired by the challenge that the issue of coastal resilience presents and I’m looking forward to putting my interdisciplinary skillset to work. This summer, I’ll be starting my career in the field of coastal resilience as a Coastal Policy and Communications Specialist with Michael Baker, a consulting company. Though the work will undoubtedly be challenging, I’m confident that my graduate studies have set me up to succeed. (8.2.17)

Graduated: 2017 | Currently: Michael Baker International

Back to Top



Ashton RohmerMy 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 (8.18.16)

Graduated: 2017 | Currently: AECOM

Back to Top



Taralyn RoswellI am Taralyn Rowell, a first-year graduate student at Alabama Agricultural & Mechanical University, earning my Master of Social Work degree.  I received my Bachelor’s degree from Tougaloo College in Psychology with a minor in Disaster and Coastal Studies (DCS). Social Science was my area of study because I enjoy helping and interacting with others, especially those in need. This is the perfect field to be able to do so. After earning my Master of Social Work, I plan to become a Licensed Graduate Social Worker and either work as a medical social worker or work with natural disasters as a social worker.

During my undergraduate career, I took the required coursework that was needed to obtain the DCS minor, led by Dr. Meherun Laiju. I also interned at the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) for a semester.  There I learned about the different offices the Agency is divided into, the various phases of disaster preparedness and projects that were being proposed to raise natural disaster awareness. Next, I interned at the American Red Cross. There I was exposed to hands-on experience of the intake process of victims that the Red Cross helps. I was able to see the paperwork that needed to be completed and how to each document was filled out. I also got the chance to go on-site to a disaster where a resident’s home burned down. When arriving at the scene, we had to complete the appropriate paperwork and connect the victim to the proper resources so that he would have shelter until he could get a new home.

Additionally, I was granted the opportunity to spend the summer at the University of Delaware’s Disaster Research Center as part of the SUMREX program. I worked with a staff member on a project exploring how government, insurance companies and homeowners make decisions related to hurricane mitigation and insurance. I conducted literature reviews, data analysis and report writing.

The wonderful experience I have gained while taking various classes and interning with organizations has opened a new career path for me. Before becoming involved with DCS, I was unaware how broad the field of natural disasters was. I am now interested in working with natural disasters and am very appreciative for the various types of exposure I’ve been able to gain through the program. (3.31.17)

Graduated: 2016 | Currently: Alabama A&M University

Back to Top



My name is Carter Rucker and I am a master’s student majoring in Civil Engineering with a focus in Coastal Engineering at North Carolina State University (NCSU). I first learned about Coastal Engineering as an undergraduate student at NCSU while pursuing my undergraduate degree in Civil Engineering, and became instantly fascinated. As a Raleigh, N.C., native, I grew up going to the North Carolina beaches and have always had an interest in barrier island dynamics, coastal hazards and forecasting the effects of major storm systems. After completing my master’s degree, I hope to focus my career on these interests and help make educated decisions that will allow coastal communities to become more resilient.

My research for both my master’s thesis and the Coastal Resilience Center (CRC) is focused on creating a model that refines output from a coarse-resolution model. The model I am working on takes storm surge output from the ADCIRC (ADvanced CIRCulation) model and downscales these results to a finer resolution using simple physics. My hope is that my model, once finished, will be used by coastal residents and property owners to monitor storm surge and take necessary precautions, and by authorities to take disaster protection measures and order mandatory evacuations when appropriate.

This experience working with the CRC has helped me work toward improving forecasts for the effects of major storm systems and has further instilled my determination to build resiliency among coastal communities. (11.15.19)

Back to Top



Lea SabbagMy 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. (8.18.16)

Graduated: 2016 | Currently: Case Consultants International

Back to Top



Reinaldo Santiago

My 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. (8.22.16)

Graduated: 2017

Back to Top



Jorge SantiagoMy name is Jorge Santiago Hernández, and I am a Ph.D student under the supervision of Dr. Forrest Masters, working at the Boundary Layer Wind Tunnel, one of Natural Hazards Engineering Research Infrastructure facilities.

My current area of study is structural engineering. I chose it because I have learned and experienced that structural integrity is of vital importance to our society, and it is my intention to learn the techniques to protect my homeland from natural hazards like the recent Hurricane María.

As a senior Civil Engineering major at the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez, I took part in SUMREX in 2018 at Oregon State University. Our task was to help build a house on a 1:6 scale, similar to the typical construction on houses on the coast. The biggest challenge was to scale it geometrically, but to also scale the structural behavior. The scope of this work helped us understand wave load conditions, allowing us to get better equations for designing coastal structures, resulting in resilient coastal communities. It was exciting to see how courses like structural analysis and structure dynamics became the core of my research.

This experience definitively encourages me to pursue graduate studies in the field of coastal engineering, because coming from an island you know how this field can really make a positive impact on people. My goal is to contribute knowledge through my Ph.D. project and ultimately apply all of what I have learned back at my homeland. (3.5.19)

Graduated: 2018 | Currently: University of Florida

Back to Top



Felix Santiago-CollazoI 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. (10.4.16)

Graduated: 2018 | Currently: Lousiana State University

Back to Top



Jessamin StraubMy name is Jessamin Straub and I am a graduate student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in the Department of Marine Sciences. I am currently located at the UNC Institute of Marine Sciences in Morehead City, N.C., where my master’s thesis research focuses on contributing to our understanding of hazards faced by coastal communities through predicting dune-erosion along the coast of North Carolina. I chose marine sciences as my area of study because I developed a passion for marine science and applied research as an undergraduate at Coastal Carolina University. I specialize in coastal geology because I understand that coastal communities will be impacted by increases in hurricane intensity, coastal erosion and sea-level rise. I am motivated to create science-based policy that will help communities better prepare for coastal hazards and mitigate against impacts. It’s important for coastal communities to be able to predict and understand dune erosion in order to help prepare resources and restrict building in highly vulnerable areas.

My educational goals are to explore the interactions between coastal morphology and nearshore waves to enhance understanding of natural hazards and to help develop strategies for resilient communities. I am interested in helping develop tools for coastal communities to enhance understanding of dune erosion and coastal hazards. Career-wise I am interested in working in the coastal hazards and coastal resilience field at the intersection of science and policy. I am interested in helping communities create policy and management strategies using the most up-to-date, scientifically accurate research in order to prepare for and mitigate against future impacts.

I am currently an Education and Workforce Development Fellow through the Coastal Resilience Center. In addition to my Marine Sciences degree, I am pursuing the Natural Hazards and Resilience Certificate Program, which I think is a unique opportunity. The certificate program has allowed me to pursue scientific research in coastal geology while gaining a solid foundation in management strategies and how communities prepare and recover from natural disasters. In addition, for my master’s research I have been working with Dr. Rick Luettich and the ADCIRC (ADvanced CIRCulation) model through the CRC and Department of Marine Sciences.

The CRC and the certificate program drew me to UNC-Chapel Hill to purse my master’s in Marine Sciences. I feel extremely fortunate to be a part of the CRC, which has been an integral part of my time as a graduate student and has shaped my educational and career goals. Gaining a background in applied marine sciences research while being able to incorporate understanding about the human dimension, management strategies, and policy through the CRC continues to guide my interests and career goals. (2.1.19)

Graduated: 2019

Back to Top



Mireille TchuisseuMy name is Mireille Tchuisseu and I am a Ph.D. student at Jackson State University, where I also received my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Civil and Coastal Engineering. I was born and raised in Cameroon.

I have always been fascinated with theories behind wave climate, hurricanes and breakwaters. After completing my master’s degree I decided to continue with my doctorate with an emphasis in tidal waves. I desire to complete my studies and obtain a doctoral degree in Coastal Engineering. My pursuit of a doctoral degree is directly linked to my aspiration of entering the field of academia within the next 10 years.

The experiences I have received while studying with the Coastal Resilience Center of Excellence (CRC) have been wonderful. Under the advisement of Dr. Robert Whalin, I have been able to learn more in-depth about wave climate, linear wave theories and breakwater structures. With this knowledge, I had the opportunity to be deployed on a disaster relief mission with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Fort Worth District. During the disaster relief mission, we helped the state of Florida restore temporary power, restored and clean debris at different beaches, and assisted the elderly move out of an affected area. This experience has helped me realize the importance of coastal hazard mitigation and beach nourishment, preservation and restoration. (6.27.19)

Back to Top



Courtney ThomasI am Courtney J. Thomas, a 2020 graduate of Tougaloo College where I majored in Sociology and received certification in Disaster and Coastal Studies (DCS). In the fall of 2020, I will begin working on a master’s degree in Population Health at the University of Alabama. I then plan to obtain a doctorate in Sociology to become a professor. I chose this area of study because of my interest in how social problems affect the people in my community. As I matriculated through undergrad, I decided to focus on the ways social problems influence disaster preparedness and response, and investigate ways to combat disparities in this area of study.

During the summer of 2019, I was given the opportunity to participate in the Coastal Resilience Center (CRC) summer research experience (SUMREX) at Old Dominion University (ODU). During that time, I was a part of two different projects. The first was a collaborative research team of faculty and students from ODU and Virginia Tech, which studied individual and household preparedness and resilience for flooding. I had the chance to conduct door-to-door surveys in Hampton, Va., and learn about GIS mapping. I was also part of an ODU team working on efforts also focused on flood preparedness and resilience in Virginia Beach. I helped with a series of public meetings that were designed to educate and engage residents in the city’s response and planning for sea level rise and flooding.

This opportunity was very beneficial for me. Aside from the projects, I was able to connect with doctoral candidates and sit in on their dissertation defenses, which gave me confidence in the pursuit of my own education and career goals. I learned that I will face challenges with peers and coworkers, but that should not stop me from achieving my goals. This experience allowed me to explore different areas of disaster research, as well as get a sense of the different topics, methods and tools used for research in this area. Overall, SUMREX was a learning experience I will continue to carry with me.

Back to Top



Tori TomiczekMy name is Tori Tomiczek, and I am an Assistant Professor at the United States Naval Academy (USNA). I earned a bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering at the University of Florida in 2011 and a Ph.D. in Civil and Environmental Engineering and Earth Sciences at the University of Notre Dame in 2016. My dissertation investigated the wave and surge vulnerability of coastal structures through field observations of damage and laboratory measurements of wave-induced pressures on idealized structures.

As a part of my Ph.D. research, I had the opportunity to travel to Ortley Beach, N.J., to perform damage reconnaissance following Hurricane Sandy, which emphasized to me the importance of understanding wave-structure interaction and the need for effective design and construction techniques that can mitigate structural damage during extreme events. I enjoyed working on a large-scale experiment measuring wave-induced pressures on idealized arrays of buildings at Kyoto University’s Hybrid Tsunami Flume in Ujigawa.

After graduating from the University of Notre Dame, I worked as a post-doctoral fellow, where I had a chance to work on experiments at Oregon State University’s Hinsdale Wave Research Laboratory (OSU HWRL) with CRC researcher Dr. Dan Cox. We constructed a large-scale physical model in OSU’s Large Wave Flume to measure wave-induced forces and pressures on elevated structures. I really enjoyed working as a part of the team at OSU.

I joined the Naval Architecture and Ocean Engineering Department at USNA in August, 2017. In addition to teaching I am interested in hurricane impacts on coastal communities. I recently led a team investigating damage in the Florida Keys following Hurricane Irma. I have also enjoyed working on physical model experiments in USNA’s Hydromechanics Lab and continued collaborations with OSU’s HWRL. I am interested in better understanding wave-induced forces on coastal structures to inform design guidance as well as finding sustainable, resilient solutions, including nature-based features and hybrid systems, to mitigate damage during coastal hazards. (6.20.19)

Graduated: 2017 | Currently: United States Naval Academy

Back to Top



Amanda Tritinger

My name is Amanda Tritinger, and I am a doctoral candidate at the University of North Florida in Coastal Engineering. I have always enjoyed the art of math; how numbers can represent objects, trends and physics. It was always important to me that I do something with my career that would have a positive impact on the world around me. Because of that, I started my educational career in Environmental Engineering. During this degree, I found that I was more interested in my courses that involved hydrodynamics than the others. In my second year, I began research with the Center for Hydroscience Analysis, Modeling, and Predictive Simulations (CHAMPS) lab at the University of Central Florida. Working in the CHAMPS lab got me involved with various field work events, exposed me to the world of computational modeling, and gave me the opportunity to teach the Hydraulics and Hydrology labs on campus. Then I learned I could continue my education in the field of hydrodynamic modeling, and I knew I had found my calling. I have since received my master’s degree in civil engineering with a focus in coastal modeling, and now my work is strictly focused on coastal engineering.

Currently I am working to increase the accuracy and efficiency of three-dimensional effects on surges for coupling with stream flow and precipitation. Dr. Don Resio at the University of North Florida (UNF) is my advisor for this work. Our research is being funded by the Coastal Resilience Center. My hope is that this research will add to the understanding we have of storm surge prediction, and will ultimately help us to more accurately forecast the catastrophic events that effect so many lives. In 2016 the Coastal Resilience Center also sent me to the Consumer Electronics Showcase in an effort to find newly developed technology that could be applicable to the field of coastal engineering. After the showcase, research was done on how to this technology could be integrated into our field, and then presented in Washington D.C. to the Under Secretary of Homeland Security for Science and Technology. This experience forced me to be innovative and see research problems from different perspectives. The field of coastal engineering is still young, and it is important to ask questions and be creative when choosing an approach to an issue.

After I receive my PhD, I plan to work at a research facility and gain experience outside of my current research bubble. I would like to gain perspective on what researchers are doing elsewhere, and bring it back to academia. During this time, however, if I have the opportunity, I plan to also work as an adjunct professor. I currently teach Introduction to Environmental Engineering at UNF, and find it very rewarding. (4.7.17)

Graduated: 2019 |  Currently:  Hydraulics Research Engineer, Coastal & Hydraulics Laboratory, U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center

Back to Top



I am Tenesha Washington, a Spring 2020 graduate of Florida A&M University with a bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice and an emphasis in International Relations. I chose to study Criminal Justice because I was attracted to the research and writing-based curriculum and the opportunity to develop my critical thinking and technical skills. Although I was exposed to information on professional degrees in the legal field and higher education, I am taking a hiatus from academia to explore different business industries, but I plan to pursue a higher degree to help with the trajectory of my career.

I thoroughly enjoyed working with members of the Coastal Resilience Center and gained many skills through our summer research project. Our project was centered on the environmental effects of sea level rise on coastal communities in North Carolina. With the help of Dr. Gavin Smith and other members of the Coastal Resilience Center, we determined which cities in North Carolina would be most impactful for our research and how to reach each community in a short period of time. Over a two-week period, our team surveyed 300 residents from Wilmington and Elizabeth City. I learned to use SPSS and Qualtrics to create a survey, input data, code data, and interpret results. We also created a research poster and presented our results at the North Carolina Coastal Conference and the Department of Homeland Security’s Centers of Excellence Summit.

My main goal in participating in this program was to find clarity in my professional aspirations and grow my network. Throughout the program, I was exposed to so much new information, learning about everything from graduate studies to the importance of networking. This program was an astounding learning experience and our research opened my eyes to the different aspects of climate science.
My immediate career goal is to enter the corporate sector to enhance my skills in team development, project management, and presentation delivery. In the future, I plan to explore Environmental Justice to better understand how climate change disproportionately affects marginalized communities. My overall career goal is to work in the green industry, to help mitigate climate change and its effects on the criminal justice field, particularly in the incarceration system. (5.5.20)

Back to Top



Sabrina WelchMy name is Sabrina Welch, and I am a PhD student at Jackson State University. I was born and raised on the Caribbean island of Barbados, where I lived walking distance from the beach. From a young age, I was very fond of the beach and spent a significant amount of my childhood there, and I made many observations about the ocean such as tides, littoral drift and even severe beach erosion. It was this love for the ocean and my desire to protect coastal cities like my hometown that piqued my interest and was a major determining factor that lead me to pursue a graduate degree in Coastal Engineering.

I desire to complete my studies and obtain a doctoral degree in Coastal Engineering. This pursuit of a doctoral degree is directly linked to my aspiration of entering the field of academia; however, I would like to spend at least 10 years working as a practicing coastal engineer before doing so.

I had an enjoyable and highly productive summer as a participant in the 2017 SUMREX program. During the University of Central Florida (UCF) portion of my summer experience I covered the fundamentals associated with ADCIRC – this included the completion of a mathematical methods pre-test in addition to the SMS + ADCIRC Bootcamp tutorial. Two field days were also included; the first covered the basics of RTK surveying and the second 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 my SUMREX experience was spent at Louisiana State University (LSU), where I utilized the knowledge gained at UCF. There I was introduced to the HPC (High Performance Computing) environment and the Linux command line. We also covered the generation of ADCIRC-required input files, executed storm surge simulations and analyzed output data.

The 2017 UCF/LSU SUMREX research program was a great experience for me as a rising ADCIRC user. 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. (9.8.17)

Back to Top



Darien WilliamsMy 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. (9.6.16)

Graduated: 2018 |  Currently: Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Back to Top



Siyu YuMy 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. (1.23.17)

Graduated: 2019

Back to Top