Disaster Resilience
Interdisciplinary Graduate Education Program


Building resilience

Interdisciplinary efforts to build resilience to disasters have not succeeded as desired. Although we now have better models, better technology and better communication, our vulnerability to disaster and risks continues to grow.

Concentrations Increase Vulnerability

One of the key reasons our risk continues to grow is the way we live. Concentrations of people, power, technology, education, and knowledge lower resilience. Dependency is another risk factor: every time we add a link, it generates a node that can fail.

Virginia Tech's Interdisciplinary Graduate Education Program in Disaster Resilience is working to improve sustainability by changing the interdisciplinary paradigm.

Reframing Risk Management

Interdisciplinary approach

Experts from each discipline collaborate to develop models, solutions, and background information on the symptoms of disasters (i.e. flooding). Resilience information flows from the disciplines to create a shared body of knowledge. However, this model keeps the resilience solutions to a small, concentrated core.

When knowledge and its accompanying solutions are owned by a small core, the natural model of disaster reaction is top down, from a central authority that reacts to disasters. Unfortunately, this approach can result in needlessly high long-term damage and low survival rates.

Trans-disciplinary approach

Instead of feeding information and experience into a core of knowledge, the Disaster Resilience-IGEP's goal is to have the disaster perspective inform the disciplines. We are tapping the power of scenarios to create a shared experience among many disciplines. This experience helps shape a perspective of resilience that informs everyday decisions in widely distributed activities.

The scenario approach results in more people in all walks of life who proactively work to boost the survivability of their communities and interests. An organic structure with many brains is more resilient than a single-headed model.

Tackling vulnerability

This trans-disciplinary approach tackles the three main drivers of vulnerability:

  1. Perspectives that lack understanding of the full complexity of risk and resilience
  2. Disregard for the uniqueness of each community and culture
  3. Preoccupation with symptoms rather than the root causes of risk

IGEP Goals

  • The primary goal of our collaborative effort is to prepare graduate students to become thought leaders in promoting resilience concerns in a wide variety of disciplines.
  • Focusing on the trans-disciplinary paradigm, our effort leverages the strengths of several world-class academic units at Virginia Tech to produce a well-rounded understanding of the full complexity of disaster risk, resilience, and mitigation.
  • Our approach concentrates on investigating the main drivers of vulnerabilities, recognizing their complex interactions, and generating informed risk minimization strategies.
Environmental drivers and impacts
Natural disasters, climate change, and critical infrastructure. - Led by geosciences, engineering, and natural resources faculty

Social and policy drivers and impacts
Social responses, policy implications, urbanization, terrorism, and cultural impacts. - Led by urban planning and political science faculty

Economic drivers and impacts
Economic impacts, globalization, supply chain logistics, impacts of technology interdependence, and decision-making and IT. - Led by business faculty

Graduate Certificate program

The initial offering of the Disaster Resilience IGEP will be a graduate certificate program, focused on providing future leaders in disaster resilience and risk management with a trans-disciplinary education in the environmental, social, and economic aspects of disasters, along with basic risk management principles.

Completion of the program will require a minimum of 12 hours of graduate coursework, including a capstone course. We will encourage students to gain further experience by connecting them to internships with DHS/FEMA, ThinkSwiss, the World Bank, and the UN. Students will also have the opportunity to participate in a hands-on "living lab" experience on our Blacksburg or National Capital Region campuses.


Program Development Team

  • Margaret Cowell - Urban Affairs and Planning (College of Architecture and Urban Studies)
  • Jennifer Irish - Civil and Environmental Engineering (College of Engineering)
  • C. Guney Olgun - Civil and Environmental Engineering
  • Robert Weiss - Geosciences (College of Science)
  • Yang Zhang - Urban Affairs and Planning (College of Architecture and Urban Studies)
  • Christopher Zobel - Business Information Technology (College of Business)
  • Mohsen Ghafory-Ashtiany - Affiliated Faculty Member - Global Forum on Urban and Regional Resilience

DR-IGEP Student Participants

  • Aksha, Sanam (Geography)
  • Baghersad, Milad (Business Information Technology)
  • Biddle, Robert (Industrial & Systems Engineering)
  • Chacko, Josey (Business Information Technology)
  • Dodson, Laura (Agricultural & Applied Economics)
  • Drake, Will (Planning, Governance & Globalization)
  • Fialkoff, Marc (Planning, Governance & Globalization)
  • Fox, David (Geography)
  • Gagnon, Alexandria (Environmental Engineering)
  • Hart, Natalie (Planning, Governance & Globalization)
  • Judd, Johnn (Civil Engineering)
  • Kwaramba, Chris (Business Information Technology)
  • Masri, Hassan (Food Science and Technology)
  • Moeller, Julia (Urban Planning)
  • Nieves-Melendez, Maria (Civil Engineering)
  • Rossi, Chris (Office of Emergency Management)
  • Smirnova, Vera (Planning, Governance & Globalization)
  • Suggs, Jessica (Geography)
  • Wang, Yan (Civil Engineering)
  • West, Janet (Urban Planning)
  • Zwetchkenbaum, Joe (Civil Engineering)

Associated Faculty

  • Allen, Barbara (Science and Technology in Society)
  • Bukvic, Anamaria (Urban Affairs and Planning)
  • Chapman, Martin (Geosciences)
  • Dixit, Priya (Political Science)
  • Ellis, Drew (Geography)
  • Hancock, Kitty (Civil and Environmental Engineering)
  • Heaslip, Kevin (Civil and Environmental Engineering)
  • Irish, Jennifer (Civil and Environmental Engineering)
  • Rees, Loren (Business Information Technology)
  • Rodriguez-Marek, Adrian (Geotechnical Engineering)
  • Russell, Robin (Business Information Technology)
  • Schmid, Sonja (Science and Technology in Society)
  • Stephenson, Jr., Max (School of Public and International Affairs)
  • Widmer, Jocelyn (Urban Affairs and Planning)

Visiting Scholars

  • Wiens, Marcus (Karlsruhe Institute of Technology) - June-Sept, 2015; July-August, 2017
  • Sharpanskykh, Alexei (Delft University of Technology) - July, 2016


For more information about the graduate certificate program and future DR-IGEP initiatives, please contact:

Mailing Address:
Disaster Resilience-IGEP
c/o Dr. Christopher W. Zobel, Co-Director
Pamplin Hall, Room 1007, Virginia Tech
880 West Campus Drive
Blacksburg, VA 24061-0235

Phone: (540) 231-1856
Fax: (540) 231-3752

Email: drrm@vt.edu

Interdisciplinary Graduate Education Program
of the
Virginia Tech Graduate School
In collaboration with the

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