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Rachel Dowty Beech

Rachel Dowty Beech

Co-Director, Disaster Science and Management Program
Assistant Professor - Researcher
Department of Geography and Anthropology
LSU College of Humanities & Social Sciences

What was your previous position and where?

I was a post-doc at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute through a collaborative National Science Foundation Human and Social Dynamics grant to study how organizational cultures affected the federal response to Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and how, in turn, the federal response affected organizational cultures. Before that, I was in Oxford, England, where I studied the role of crisis in cognitive neuroscience research and education. Moving backward in time, I was also a faculty member at the SUNY at Plattsburgh; Clinton Community College in Plattsburgh, N.Y.; and Southeastern Louisiana University. Iíve not only taught disaster-related courses, but also botany, general biology, zoology, environmental science, and sociological/anthropological science, technology and society courses.

What brought you to LSU?

The Stephenson Disaster Management Institute, or SDMI, originally hired me as an assistant professor-researcher to continue my work researching culture as it affects and is affected by disaster, crisis and stress. Upon my arrival, I was excited to learn more about the Disaster Science and Management, or DSM, program and wound up teaching a course in the program. As SDMIís focus shifted, I moved to the Department of Geography and Anthropology.

What is your research interest?

My primary interests are culture, disaster, crisis and stress. These cover a lot of ground though. For example, my masterís thesis was on how wetland plants under stress from oil spills affect and are affected by the ecology — in a sense, culture — of the wetland area. Iím currently researching how the Federal Emergency Management Agencyís digital flood insurance rate maps impact the culture of flood prone areas in several Louisiana parishes.

What do you hope to accomplish at LSU?

I hope to help the DSM program, its students and its student organization, DSMA, continue to grow and flourish, as I think there is neither a better home for such a program, nor a more important time in history for students to be encouraged to study the causes and effects of disasters. Although itís a topic slowly gaining attention in the literature, I also think that the role that culture plays before, during and after disasters should become a more integral part of the study of disasters. I believe LSU graduates would benefit from having some knowledge of culture and its role in disasters, whether they plan to go into a disaster-related field or are just interested in learning more about disaster dynamics. Stemming from that, I would also like to enhance the link between the academic study of disasters and crisis with the practical know-how of disaster managers and working professionals in related fields. DSMA, the programís student association, is making great strides here, welcoming any student from any department and school across campus to diversify represented interests.

What do you enjoy most about LSU?

As a native of southeast Louisiana, I appreciate LSUís natural, cultural, social and intellectual environments. I enjoy being a part of the growing DSM program, which I think has the potential to use LSUís strengths for helping both the university and the region mitigate, prepare for, respond to and recover from disasters. Iíve seen the students and faculty in most every department on campus exhibit an unquenchable enthusiasm for disaster science and management.

What are your major accomplishments?

Since coming to LSU in 2008, I think my major accomplishments have involved developing components of the DSM program, especially service-learning, online courses and redesigning the curriculum. I was a Service-Learning Faculty Scholar Award recipient in 2009 for developing service-learning as a component of the course Fundamentals of Emergency Management. Students in this course develop a disaster plan for one or more local or regional non-profit organizations. I was astonished at the number of organizations that responded to my request for partners. Many of these organizations have not been able to develop a plan that caters to their specific needs. Representatives from our community partner organizations and I have been impressed with the plans students have designed for the Womenís Community Rehabilitation Center, the Urban Restoration and Enhancement Corporation, the Baton Rouge Crisis Intervention Center, Alzheimerís Services of the Capital Area and Episcopal Community Services of Southeast Louisiana. I also developed this course to be an online course, in which each student is required to write a paper about a topic in DSM that interests him/her and talk to someone who works on such matters in his/her local community. The DSM program now offers three courses online, which helps students who work full-time to include these courses in their schedules. I also redesigned the DSM curriculum, and the changes will appear in the 2011-2012 LSU catalog. These changes reflect the categories of student interests in the field — engineering and infrastructure, business and political dimensions, social and cultural dimensions, health and psychology, environment and ecology — as well as updating the list of electives, which are drawn from across campus departments.


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