Virginia Tech will offer graduate students training in risk management and disaster resilience with new funding from the National Science Foundation.

The $3 million grant will significantly expand the existing interdisciplinary graduate education program in disaster resilience administered through the Virginia Tech Graduate School.

Open to masters and doctoral-level students from all departments, the curriculum synthesizes coursework and training in science, engineering, planning, and business to better address the complexity of decision-making related to natural disasters, such as hurricanes, tsunamis, and sea-level rise, but also includes population growth, environmental change and terrorism.

“Disasters are what we call ‘wicked problems,’” said Robert Weiss, an associate professor of natural hazards in the College of Science and director of the new education program. “Like an avalanche of cascading effects, natural or man-made hazards can quickly evolve into full-blown disasters. But proactive policy, thoughtful planning, and community engagement can prevent these cascades or limit their impact. The new funding will allow us to address the complexities of how disasters emerge, how we can prevent them, and how interdisciplinary education for the next generation of leaders in academia, government, and industry can help shape our response.”

Virginia Tech was one of 17 recipients of NSF Research Traineeship program awards that aim to give students the training needed to confront complex problems at the intersection of different scientific disciplines.

“Integration of research and education through interdisciplinary training will prepare a workforce that undertakes scientific challenges in innovative ways,” said Dean Evasius, director of the NSF Division of Graduate Education. “The NSF Research Traineeship award will ensure that today’s graduate students are prepared to pursue cutting-edge research and solve the complex problems of tomorrow.”

Other Virginia Tech faculty members who serve as advisors in the program include Jennifer Irish, a professor of civil and environmental engineering in the College of Engineering; Marie Paretti, a professor of engineering education in the College of Engineering; Yang Zhang, an associate professor of urban affairs and planning in the school of public and international affairs; and Christopher Zobel, R.B. Pamplin Professor of Business Information Technology in the Pamplin College of Business.

The Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Sciences at Virginia Tech will provide programmatic space and support.


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