Network unites students in disaster resiliency efforts

Paul Mayne//Western NewsCivil and Environmental Engineering professor Clare Robinson is the principal investigator on the Scholars Network for Building Disaster Resilient Communities project, a recently funded partnership between Western and Cuban institutions on physical and social resiliency around natural disaster management.

Western students and their Cuban peers will be at the forefront of understanding how communities can better withstand the worst Mother Nature has to offer thanks to a new scholars network designed to offer on-the-ground opportunities for young researchers.

What they discover, according to organizers, could saves countless lives and insure the safety of infrastructure in areas around the world vulnerable to flooding, earthquakes, and hurricanes.

“Western has a lot of top researchers in the area of physical resiliency; Cuba is recognized as a world expert in social resiliency with really strong disaster preparedness response and recovery approaches,” explained Clare Robinson, a Civil and Environmental Engineering professor. “This project is trying to couple their expertise with ours and bring all partners together.”

Themed around student mobility and exchange, Western’s Scholars Network for Building Disaster Resilient Communities will support 20 undergraduate and 10 graduate students from Western over the next four years to participate in internships with government institutions in Cuba.

In turn, eight Cuban graduate students from varied disciplines participating in short- (three months) and long-term (two years) stays at Western. The Cuban partner institutions are include the Technical University of Havana and University of Holguín.

“It’s about developing globally minded students through offering them leadership opportunities and community-based skills,” said Robinson, who serves as principal investigator. “This project will provide great opportunities for that.”

The Scholars Network recently received nearly $300,000 through the Canadian Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Scholarships program, part of $1.8 million shared by six universities.

“In areas vulnerable to flooding, earthquakes, hurricanes our wind engineers, for example, can help design infrastructure and housing so it’s more resilient to hurricane winds,” Robinson said.

“There’s a lot of momentum at the moment around campus around hazards, risk and resiliency. This is building on that momentum by adding this international exchange. It’s a great knowledge exchange, and students learns a lot more than they impart.”

Robinson said the project reaches beyond Engineering, and includes co-investigators Katsuichiro Goda, Earth Sciences and Statistical and Actuarial Sciences; Isaac Luginaah, Geography; Darren Meister, Ivey Business School; Elysee Nouvet, Health Studies; along with Ashraf El Damatty, Han-Ping Hong, Gregory Kopp, Mohammad Reza Najafi and Tim Newson, all of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

Launched in 2014, the Canadian Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Scholarships was created to improve global talent exchange between Canada and other nations. This year, the program is supporting projects in Latin America and the Caribbean focus on education, social services and health.

The bi-directional nature of the program, which sends Canadian scholars abroad and brings international scholars to Canada, means the network includes more than 2,000 people from diverse backgrounds, ranging from senior undergraduates to early-career researchers. To date, the QES program has funded 95 projects administered by 44 Canadian universities.