A team of Virginia Tech research faculty is one of 17 interdisciplinary research groups to share $51 million awarded as part of the National Science Foundation Research Traineeship (NRT) program.  NRT is an NSF-wide effort to build new models for graduate education, while preparing the next generation of STEM graduate students to pursue a range of careers.

The title of the Virginia Tech project is: Disaster Resilience and Risk Management (DRRM) - Creating quantitative decision making frameworks for multi-dimensional and multi-scale analysis of hazard impact.  On this team of researchers is engineering education professor, Dr. Marie Paretti.  She will be working on this project as the education and recruitment coordinator.  

The principal investigator of this $2.9 M, five-year award is Dr. Robert Weiss, associate professor for the Department of Geosciences.  The co-principal investigators are Dr. Yang Zhang, associate professor in the School of International Affairs; Dr. Marie Paretti, professor in the Department of Engineering Education; Dr. Jennifer Irish, professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering; and Dr. Christopher Zobel, professor in the Department of Business Information Technology.

Project Abstract:

Every human being can be impacted by a disaster, especially in coastal areas. At present, six out of ten people live near the coast and are susceptible to hurricanes, tsunamis, and other hazards. Coastal and other hazards also threaten economic and geopolitical stability, and national security. Hurricanes Sandy (2012) and Katrina (2005) and the Tohoku tsunami (2011) and Typhoon Haiyan (2013) are reminders of the immense long-term impacts such hazards pose. Despite the accelerating risk of such events, resource allocations and coping strategies are often complicated and by varying stakeholder interests. This National Science Foundation Research Traineeship (NRT) award to Virginia Tech will synthesize expertise in science, engineering, planning, and business to address the critical issue of growing disaster losses attributed to both natural and man made hazards. The program will train a new community of multi-disciplinary researchers, practitioners, and leaders at the master's and doctoral levels. Over five years, the project will support 26 trainees on NSF stipends, and an estimated 150 additional students will participate in at least one element of the program. Each trainee will pursue a degree through existing academic entities at Virginia Tech or through the university's new Individualized Interdisciplinary PhD program. 

The project will develop new transdisciplinary approaches critical for advancing knowledge and understanding of disaster-resilience and risk management across different STEM and non-STEM disciplines. The involved faculty are not only experts in their own disciplines, but also have a shared history of transdisciplinary disaster-resilience and risk management research and education. Trainees will work with faculty and each other to develop innovative, comprehensive, inclusive, and sustainable methods and practices that seek to mitigate disasters emanating from natural and manmade hazards. Trainees will also learn about and lead stakeholder engagement exercises that explore how people and institutions respond to disasters and risk. Integration of student research with stakeholder interaction and engagement provides a novel and potentially transformative educational component that could be replicated in other transdisciplinary graduate programs. Intentional training in the societal context in which disasters unfold has the potential to deepen communications among disaster-resilience and risk management professionals and researchers and the communities they serve. Educational innovations include i) integrating research and education through a unique approach to stakeholder engagement, ii) emphasizing intentional development of transdisciplinary thinking, and iii) integrating faculty and graduate students into a community of practice that fosters diversity and inclusion. The result will be diverse, globally competitive scholars who understand the fundamental aspects of disaster resilience and its broader implications outside traditional STEM fields.

The NSF Research Traineeship (NRT) Program is designed to encourage the development and implementation of bold, new potentially transformative models for STEM graduate education training. The Traineeship Track is dedicated to effective training of STEM graduate students in high priority interdisciplinary research areas, through comprehensive traineeship models that are innovative, evidence-based, and aligned with changing workforce and research needs.