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Checking in With Students in Dickinson’s First Graduate Program

Benjamin Rush statue

With master's and certificate programs in managing complex disasters underway, students reflect on the experience

by Tony Moore

Building on Dickinson’s partnership with the U.S. Army War College—and Dickinson’s leadership in global education, sustainability and civic engagement—in 2019 the college launched its first graduate program, managing complex disasters.

It’s a curriculum that prepares students to tackle local, national and global issues through interdisciplinary thinking, crossing professional boundaries. Students are now graduating from the program, and they have a lot to say about it.

“I got into the program at a time of personal and global uncertainty, trying to figure out where I wanted to go in my professional life,” says Annwen Hughes-White B.A. ’19 (Italian studies), M.A. ’23. “Through this program I have gained more information and in-depth knowledge about crisis management, humanitarian aid, government systems, climate change, conservation and many other areas through the lens of emergency management. It’s been very interesting to see the potential widespread and multidimensional effects of a crisis.”

The program features faculty from Dickinson, the U.S. Army War College, Tulane University and Harvard’s Humanitarian Initiative and has two tracks: an accredited master’s degree and a certificate program. Students have three choices in the certificate track:

  • Resilience in the Face of Climate Change, Environmental Degradation & Resource Scarcity
  • Human & Social Factors in Disaster Situations
  • Coping With Public Health Emergencies

Both tracks are aimed at enhancing the careers of professionals looking to bolster their leadership skills and knowledge base to confront disasters and humanitarian challenges. They’re also both offered online, allowing students to complete all requirements without having to relocate or interrupt their careers. 

“Through the program, I've enjoyed learning about the complex underlying factors that contribute to social vulnerability, exposure to natural hazards and ultimately what we know as a disaster or emergency,” says Kirsten Walsh B.S. ’17 (environmental science; ROTC), M.A. ’23, who was transitioning from the active duty Army and working as a research analyst for the Center for Excellence in Disaster Management and Humanitarian Assistance when she discovered Dickinson's new program. “It's helped me analyze my previous experience while leading a defense support to civil authorities (DSCA) deployment to Saipan in response to Super Typhoon Yutu in 2018-19 and has enhanced my understanding of operations, logistics and leadership within the sphere of disaster management.”

Walsh says the program has allowed her to reset during her career transition and given her the perfect reason to go back to school—all while never leaving Hawaii. Getting back into academia for a new challenge has drawn more than one student to the program. And for Teagan Felknor-Edwards, it was the idea of taking a one-off graduate class that provided the flexibility she was looking for.  

“I enrolled in the Complex Disaster Leadership course because I wanted to get a high-level perspective on disaster management practices as well as an opportunity to get back into the classroom,” says Felknor-Edwards, who earned her undergraduate degree from Carlton University and was recently accepted into a fellowship program. “The class exceeded my expectations in terms of the professor’s engagement, the impressive speaker lineup and the array of experiences and exercises that were incorporated, and I’d like to think that it contributed to my acceptance to my new program.”

And like Felknor-Edwards, Hughes-White looks forward to the path the program has started to lay.

“I think that this program has helped me gain knowledge that will benefit me in my future career, which will likely be in or related to the field of humanitarian relief and crisis management,” says Hughes-White. “And if I was able to go back and do it again, I would submit my application again. I’ve learned a lot from the program, and it’s helped me find a direction in which I want to go.”

For more information or to register for classes in the managing complex disaster master’s or certificate program, explore the program’s page.

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Published July 6, 2022