Tornado research by emergency management Undergraduate Research Fellows earns awards at UNT Scholars Day

The two graduated from UNT on May 11.

DENTON (UNT), Texas – Stephanie Ray and Graham Huether, both recent graduates of the University of North Texas College of Health and Public Service Department of Emergency Management and Disaster Science (EMDS), earned third place at UNT Scholars Day for tornado research. They were both 2018-19 UNT Undergraduate Research Fellows.

Stephanie Ray’s research focused on the role of commemoration in the long-term recovery following the Joplin, Missouri, 2011 EF-5 tornado. She interviewed participants in the annual Joplin Memorial Run.

“I asked them about their motivation for participating in the race and learned that commemoration following disasters plays a large part in the overall recovery,” Ray said.

Ray’s mentor was Dr. Elyse Zavar, assistant professor in EMDS.

She was amazingly patient with me and always supportive,” Ray said. “Because of the experience I’ve had, I've decided to build upon my research in the grad program.”

Graham Huether’s study examined the role of social capital with tornado resilience among international students at a university located in Tornado Alley. He recruited international students to participate in semi-standardized interviews to gain an in-depth understanding of their knowledge and experience with tornadoes, as well as the forms of social capital they depend on for tornado information and warnings.

“The results of this study illustrate the importance of social capital for international students and its role with tornado resilience,” Huether said. “They suggest that while international students may lack tornado knowledge or experience, the bonding, bridging and linking social capital afforded to them contributes directly to their risk perception and resilience. This study addresses a gap in the current research on tornado resilience at universities and may support these institutions in developing a culture of tornado resilience among international students.”

Huether’s mentor was Dr. Gary Webb, chair and professor of EMDS.

“Working with such a well-respected and well-published mentor like Dr. Webb has not only shown me how to conduct meaningful and thorough research, but also that disaster research is a passion of mine that I plan to pursue for a long time,” Huether said. “Although Dr. Webb is my primary research mentor, every faculty and staff member of the EMDS department helped me at some point over the past year.”

Huether added that his success has been a collaborative effort.

“Academic research is not an individual endeavor. Throughout the past year, Stephanie and I have not only relied on each other, but the encouragement of the college of HPS and the EMDS department. Between Corey Olszewski winning first place last year, and our Scholars Day success in 2019, it really shows the level of support that is given to students in the EMDS program. I firmly believe that we have the best and fastest growing college at UNT, and the Emergency Administration and Disaster Planning program is not only the first of kind, but also the best nationwide.”

Dr. Neale Chumbler, dean of the college, echoes Huether’s sentiments.

“I’m incredibly proud of these students and am always impressed, but not surprised, to see the quality of research that comes from our scholars,” Dr. Chumbler said. “These Undergraduate Research Fellows have exceptional mentors and I want to continue to see our college expand research opportunities for our students because they are imperative to their success, as well as our commitment to excellence in higher education.”