Researching up a Storm

Students gain skills while researching hurricane issues of preparation and recovery this summer.


By Barbara Melendez

USF News


TAMPA, Fla. (June 4, 2012) – USF is hosting a group of student hurricane researchers and will hold a Hurricane Research Symposium July 26 on the USF Tampa campus. 


There are twelve students studying in the nine-week Hurricane Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program, focusing on the social aspects of hurricanes.  Among the issues being covered are how individuals, communities and institutions prepare for, experience and recover from this natural disaster. 


The Hurricane REU offers students a substantive mentored research experience, along with research methods training, ethics training, and American Red Cross Certification in disaster response and management skills. 


As a capstone experience, students will showcase their research projects at a university-community symposium held at the end of the nine-week session on July 26, and they will be supported in submitting their work to a state, regional or national research conference. The Hurricane Research Symposium is open to all those interested in attending. Contact Associate Professor Robin Ersing, principal investigator and coordinator of the Hurricane REU, at or (813) 974-6572 for details.   


The program, funded through a grant awarded by the National Science Foundation, selectively recruits undergraduate students from geographic locations across the country with a particular emphasis on areas threatened by hurricanes or other natural disasters. 


Ersing, who teaches in the College of Behavioral & Community SciencesSchool of Social Work, says the centerpiece of the program is an intensive, interdisciplinary research experience where each student will actively engage in a faculty-mentored research project focused on hurricane hazards and social vulnerabilities of individuals and communities. 


“Students learn to apply qualitative and quantitative research methods, including the use of GIS mapping technology, to examine the geo-social dynamics of hurricanes and their impact on communities,” she said.


The program features an interdisciplinary research approach with faculty mentors from anthropology, geography, public health, sociology, social work, and aging studies. The students have already taken their first field trip to MacDill Air Force Base where they toured the P3 Hurricane Hunter airplane. In addition, they will go to a county Emergency Operations Center where they will engage in a disaster table top exercise with local police, fire, and rescue first-responder experts. 


The American Red Cross will train and certify students in disaster response and management skills including mass care and sheltering. 


Other features of the Hurricane REU include a seminar session on research ethics along with guest faculty lectures from a variety of disciplines focused on research and applications pertaining to hurricane hazards, risk and social vulnerability. 


Ersing said a central goal of the program is to stimulate interest in the scientific study of the social dynamics of hurricane vulnerability by integrating knowledge, skills, and humanitarian outreach.   


“Our aim is to prepare a cohort of new researchers well-equipped to understand and confront these challenges,” she said. Accordingly, the REU provides guidance on preparation for graduate and professional school to enhance participants' prospects for pursuing advanced study and careers in science, particularly for those participants who do not have comparable opportunities at their home institutions. 


For additional information about the program or the symposium, contact Ersing at or (813) 974-6572.   


Barbara Melendez can be reached at 813-974-4563.