I entered the field of civil engineering for various reasons – the prevailing being that I desired a profession and a career that would allow me to use my skills and abilities to improve the lives of others. To accomplish this, I imagined being either a doctor or a builder, and because I have a pretty weak stomach, being a doctor didn’t seem like a great idea. So, I turned my thoughts to being a builder. Many members of my family were in construction, I enjoyed building new things, and I had a knack for science and math…thus, civil engineering.

When I began my academic career at Virginia Tech, I was fortunate enough to stumble across a group of like-minded individuals – people (mostly civil engineers) who wanted their education to extend beyond the classroom – in Bridges to Prosperity. Being a part of B2P@VT has been a true highlight of my life and led me to parts of the world I hadn’t previously imagined. In these places I was witness to different cultures and lifestyles and many wonderful and some heartbreaking stories.

Particularly, I was touched by the stories of those who experienced the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. This led me to a path of reading and reflecting on what caused the incredible damage of the earthquake and what happened afterward. While hazards are natural, disasters are not. When natural hazards act upon weakened infrastructure, risky locations, and social & economic vulnerabilities, then we have a disaster. Therefore, if we can address these vulnerabilities, we can start to mitigate risk and limit the destruction from natural hazards.

Now, doing so is certainly no easy task as infrastructure is wrapped up in politics and economics and history and culture. And there are many issues in coordination and participation and training and building codes. But I believe that together, with communities and governments, we can start to solve this complex problem.

This is why I went to graduate school. This was the focus of my PhD.


In the wake of a disaster, the housing sector typically experiences the greatest amount of damage. The loss of a house not only has physical but also social, economic, and psychological effects. Therefore, there is great attention and emphasis given to rebuilding and repairing houses after a disaster. Thus, this project examined how communities perceive these houses, how these rebuilt houses are expected to perform, and misalignments between perceptions and assessments.

You can find a copy of my complete doctoral dissertation here.

This project was funded by an Innovative Seed Grant from the University of Colorado, a Graduate Assistantship in Areas of National Need (GAANN) from the Department of Education, a research grant from the National Science Foundation’s Humans, Disasters, and the Built Environment (HDBE) program, and a USAID/OFDA Humanitarian Shelter and Settlements Fellowship.