By Keri Stephens, Class of 2005 & Professor

The Lower Rio Grande Valley (LRGV) has a rich history, and flooding is a part of that history. Our team came to LRGV for a Community Learning Exchange event hosted by Francisco Guajardo, the CEO of the Museum of South Texas History. I began the three-day trip not knowing much of the history of the area, but I left with a deep appreciation of the people and their community spirit.

I brought a group of five undergraduate students, Mariana Arevalo, Daniel Guerra, Andrea Martinez, Jennifer Torres, and José Manuel Vazquez together at the Museum, and a graduate student, Nancy H. Carlson joined us. Our goals were to get to know one another, connect by better understanding ourselves and our communities, and learn how to conduct research that can make a difference in people’s lives. We also had several faculty members associated with The University of Texas Planet 2050 initiative join us, and Suzanne Pierce allowed use to interview her to show the students what a research interview looks like.

I’m a native Texan, grew up in a small community that flooded when I was young, and now I do research on disaster communication. I’m one of the three faculty members including Sharon Strover (Journalism) and Kasey Faust (Civil Engineering) involved in a meaningful project supported by IC2, a research institute at UT Austin.

We call our project Disaster Strength because we want to better understand how people are successfully resilient and able to succeed in spite of having disasters affect their communities. In preparation for the project, we created a series of webpages that contain resources for small businesses and we hope that in the next year we will better understand which of these resources are most  helpful and how we can design disaster preparedness materials to meet the needs of these communities.

In addition to learning a lot about the LRGV, I got to spend time getting to know the students who are working on our team this summer.  They are part of the Home to Texas Program, an internship program where UT Austin students return home for the summer and do an internship. The internship for these students is the Disaster Strength research project.  I got to travel with Andrea Martinez in her hometown, Brownsville, and she took me to her favorite coffee shop, 7th & Park.  In addition to serving wonderful coffee, the store also rent bicycles. Andrea and I visited the Office of Emergency Management in Cameron County, and learned about the incredible efforts the county makes in helping their residents prepare for and recover from disasters.