UO graduate student awarded Oregon Sea Grant fellowship

Sarah Allison has been awarded the 2014-2016 Resilience and Adaptation Graduate Fellowship from Oregon Sea Grant to support her final project, “Keeping Local Economies Safe: The Role of Economic Development Plans in Natural Hazards Resilience.”

“This is a big deal. It's the biggest student award I've seen in the twenty-five years I've been here,” said Robert Parker, executive director of the UO’s Community Service Center (CSC) in the UO Department of Planning, Public Policy and Management.

A master’s student in the Community and Regional Planning program and in the Oregon Leadership in Sustainability graduate certificate program, Allison has an undergraduate degree in acting and spent 9 years working as a stage manager before enrolling at the University of Oregon. She says her stage experience was a natural segue into a career in community and regional planning.

“The common thread for me has been the development of communities,” Allison said. “I entered graduate school with an interest in strengthening the social fabric of communities and the way that different systems interact.” 

Allison’s research at the University of Oregon has focused on resilience and sustainability – helping communities prepare to withstand natural hazards and recover from them. Those hazards could include an earthquake or tsunami, but might also include annual hazards such as flooding and winter storms. The Sea Grant fellowship will expand the scope of her research and allow her to share her research with a wider audience at conferences and events. 

We checked in with Allison to learn more about the Sea Grant fellowship and her future career goals in the field of resilience and sustainability.

What attracted you to your area of focus? What do you love about the field you are training for?

My first career was in theater, where we use story to explore what makes a good life. I am attracted to planning because it uses forethought and collaboration to create structures that support a good life. Resilience and sustainability are about making sure that those structures don’t undermine themselves. My attraction to planning is that it is one of the few fields that touches every corner of our lives. There are always more connections to uncover and a more nuanced understanding to explore.

What are your career ambitions?

As resilience becomes more established in the field of planning, I hope to grow into a coordinating role, looking holistically at the resilience of communities from a range of threats, whether they are economic, environmental, or social. Positions with that focus are starting to appear in cities through programs like the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities Initiative, which is very exciting for me.

Why did you choose the University of Oregon? How do you feel the UO will prepare you for your future?

I chose the University of Oregon because the Community and Regional Planning program offered a focus on sustainability and phenomenal experiential learning opportunities, such as the Community Service Center. I also love the Pacific Northwest, and felt that attending the UO would provide the best opportunity to network in the region. UO has prepared me for my future through a great academic foundation, amazing mentors and support, and the chance to develop a professional body of work.

If you had one word of advice for an incoming graduate student what would it be?

Connect. The classes you take are one piece of the grad school opportunity. Seek out others, whether they are classes outside of your department, people to work on projects with, or non-academic activities.