Preparing for natural disasters was not at the top of Gus Fuguitt’s priority list, but as a participant in a sociology Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program at the University of South Florida (USF) this past summer, he learned a great deal about how individuals and communities prepare for, experience, and recover from such calamities as Hurricanes Isaac and Katrina.
A senior sociology major at The College of Wooster and a resident of Madison, Wis., Fuguitt first learned about the program last fall while studying abroad in Copenhagen. It was there that a friend mentioned the opportunity, and Fuguitt decided to follow up. With recommendations from Raymond Gunn, assistant professor of sociology and anthropology, and Heather Fitz Gibbon, dean for faculty development and professor of sociology and anthropology, Fuguitt was accepted almost immediately.
The program is designed to stimulate interest in the scientific study of the social dynamics of hurricane vulnerability by integrating knowledge, skills, and humanitarian outreach, according to the USF website. “My specific project focused on disaster preparedness plans, one for the Tampa Bay area and one for the University of South Florida,” said Fuguitt. “My research evaluated the two plans on how effectively they integrated environmental health, based upon measures I discovered from both a literature review and in-depth interviews with emergency preparation professionals.”
Funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), the program incorporated trips to MacDill Air Force Base, where students toured planes that NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) scientists take into hurricanes to study them. They also visited the Emergency Operations Center for Hillsborough County and went through a tabletop exercise. In addition, they received Red Cross certification so that members could volunteer in mass care and sheltering.
Going into the program, Fuguitt already knew how to design and draft a research paper, including how to write important components, such as literature reviews, because of Wooster’s research methods class and its emphasis on undergraduate research. In return, the summer REU offered him a new perspective on what to expect from research outside of a classroom setting. “Research doesn’t always move smoothly in real life, and you really need to budget your time to prepare for setbacks… you aren’t in a lab where variables are easily controlled,” he said. “Everything is fluid. You’re dealing with people, and there are a lot of issues you have to address.”
Indeed, Fuguitt did experience setbacks during his summer experience, including challenges in getting approval for interview questions from the Institutional Review Board and then actually locating and scheduling people to interview.
The REU program also focused on the ins and outs of applying to graduate schools, how to write a resumé or curriculum vitae (CV), and how to succeed in a job interview. Professional development meetings on these topics were held once a week, and Fuguitt said that the interviews he conducted for his research topic provided him with a number of professional contacts. In addition, his experience with the program opened his eyes to the possibility of pursuing disaster research as a career.
At the end of the program, students presented their individual research projects at a poster and PowerPoint symposium, and to top it off, their work was actually published through the NSF grant — not bad for an undergraduate.
- Written by Libby Fackler ‘13
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