Two Old Dominion University doctoral students are blazing a trail in a field that has faced challenges through a lack of representation of diverse groups.

African American and other minority groups have long been underrepresented in the fields of emergency management and disaster mitigation. That's something Bill Anderson, a longtime scholar in the field, noticed right away. He was frequently the only African American researcher at gatherings of experts in the discipline.

Anderson died in 2013. In his memory, his widow, Norma, created the nonprofit Bill Anderson Fund in 2014. For the past five years, that fund has supported the selection of Bill Anderson Fellows, a yearlong program that provides funding for networking and professional development for aspiring emergency management scholars. Saige Hill and Tihara Richardson, second-year doctoral students in ODU's Public Administration and Policy program, have been selected as Bill Anderson Fellows for this year.

"Like a lot of fields, lack of diversity in disaster and emergency management has challenged moving forward in terms of research and practice that are responsive to the needs of underrepresented groups," said Wie Yusuf, professor of public service in the Strome College of Business. "It's a lot harder for people, whether students or community members, who are different than everyone else to be heard or be part of the process."

The Bill Anderson Fellows program seeks to open those doorways for emerging scholars. Hill and Richardson will be funded for a trip to the National Hazards Center research workshop in Colorado. The funding also supports professional development classes and opportunities to network with established scholars in the discipline.

The importance of diversity in the field is not only to better reflect society at large. Members of minority groups are generally at greater risk to disasters and have fewer resources with which to respond to and recover from them.

In a 1996 talk at the Aspen Global Change Workshop, Anderson stressed why minority representation in disaster mitigation is so important. "The poor and people of color, especially minority women, are underserved when it comes to society's ability to make resources available for mitigating, preparing for and recovering from hurricanes, earthquakes and other natural disasters," he said.

It is that fact that inspires Hill and Richardson to succeed in the field.

Richardson, who is examining long-term care facility response to natural disasters in her doctoral research, is excited for the opportunity to work with mentors on hazard and disaster research.

"I am excited about this opportunity with the Bill Anderson Fund," she said. "Bill Anderson's desire to incorporate both women and people of color is vitally important to the hazard and disaster professions, and emergency management in general."

Hill has enjoyed networking among participants in the Fund fellows program.

"I've participated in a virtual movie night and orientation, and I look forward to the numerous workshops and webinars to come," she said.

To Hill, who aspires to an emergency management-oriented career in either government or academia, the opportunity to plug further into this network will enhance her doctoral experience.

Yusuf said the two doctoral students have already been involved in collaborative research projects this past summer through ODU's Institute for Coastal Adaptation and Resilience (ICAR), facilitating workshops and helping with data collection for a multidisciplinary research study looking at hurricane preparedness during the pandemic.

"They bring a unique perspective to this research through their own experience," Yusuf said. "They are already making a valuable contribution. I look forward to seeing where they can go."

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