MCRP Student Wins $16,000 Sea Grant Award

Oregon Sea Grant has selected Sarah Allison, CSC Research Assistant, as the recipient of the 2014-2016 Resilience and Adaptation Graduate Fellowship. The $16,000 award will support research for her final project, “Keeping Local Economies Safe: The Role of Economic Development Plans in Natural Hazards Resilience.”

Allison is interested in helping communities prepare to withstand natural hazards and recover from them. Those hazards could include an earthquake or tsunami, but also include annual hazards such as flooding and winter storms. She is pursuing a Master of Community and Regional Planning (MCRP) and the Oregon Leadership in Sustainability (OLIS) graduate certificate. The Sea Grant fellowship will support her research, travel, and conference attendance.

“This is a big deal. It’s the biggest student award I’ve seen in the twenty-five years I’ve been here,” said Robert Parker, executive director of the UO’s Community Service Center (CSC) in the UO Department of Planning, Public Policy and Management.

Allison’s first project with the CSC, was on a team that developed strategic plans for the Emergency Management Divisions of Coos and Douglas Counties, and a regional plan for collaboration. Allison’s project advisor was Josh Bruce, Director of Oregon Partnership for Disaster Resilience (OPDR), one of four successful service learning programs at the CSC.

Bruce also hired Allison as an intern to work with The Ford Family Foundation exploring opportunities to build socio-economic resilience on the Oregon South Coast. “These two projects, and mentorship from Josh Bruce, deeply guided the development of my exit project topic”, said Allison. “I was able to get experience and guidance around different approaches to resilience and challenges that face resilience professionals. Because so much of my early work was in the southern coast, it was a logical case study for my exit project.”

Building on these earlier projects with Bruce and the CSC, Allison developed a research project, focused on Oregon South Coast communities, to identify specific opportunities for increasing economic resilience to hazards through economic development plans.

“The idea is to increase the capacity of a community to set goals that serve their particular needs, and make progress towards those goals,” Allison said.

Oregon Sea Grant developed this year’s fellowship as a “one-time opportunity to support a student, or students, working on new research on resilience and adaptation with direct connections to coastal community needs in Oregon,” said Sarah Kolesar, Research and Scholars Program Leader at Oregon Sea Grant. “Allison’s project reviews were very good across the board, and our panel appreciated her intended investigations into how resiliency was incorporated into economic development plans along Oregon’s south coast. We look forward to working more with her, and seeing her results.”

Allison’s undergraduate degree in acting—and nine years subsequent work as a stage manager for drama and dance productions—segues neatly into a career in planning, she said. “The common thread for me has been the development of communities. My theater communities were much smaller than the ones I engage with through planning, but the intention is the same. I entered graduate school with an interest in strengthening the social fabric of communities and the way that different systems interact.” Allison attributes her work with the CSC to avenues that address her underlying interest through the rich context of hazards planning and economic development.

As part of her research, Allison will develop outreach materials for local communities. The materials would be “brief, accessible handouts aimed at local planners, economic development professionals, and emergency managers that identify strategies for increasing economic hazards resilience and strategies for collaboration between those three groups,” she said.

Rich Margerum, department head of Planning, Public Policy and Management and Bruce recommended Allison for the fellowship. A national panel of reviewers scored the applications.

As an Oregon Sea Grant Scholar, Allison will engage in professional development activities and present her research at conferences through June 30, 2015.


Story by Rhonda Smith and Marti Gerdes