Coping when Disaster Strikes

UNC Team of Researchers to Visit Italy to Study Resiliency

UNC graduate student Tara Spencer stands in the doorway of a building destroyed by the earthquake that hit Vina Vieja, Peru. Spencer was part of a 2010 visit by UNC researchers working on how to help survivors of natural disasters cope.

Photo courtesy of Nancy Karlin

UNC faculty will travel to Italy this summer as part of an ongoing research project that aims to document how victims of natural disasters cope with the psychological trauma afterward.

Professors Sherilyn Marrow (Communication Studies), Nancy Karlin, (Psychological Sciences) and Joyce Weil (Gerontology) are investigating psychosocial factors (self-confidence, mood, perceived social support and the extent to which individuals believe that they can control events) that affect natural-disaster survivors' resilience - their ability to bounce back mentally in the wake of a hurricane, earthquake or similar event.

The team and 12 students' in Karlin's Community Psychology course will be in Italy May 25-June 5 to interview and collect data from survivors of a 2009 earthquake in the city of L'Aquila. They'll also talk to elderly citizens in Rome, where a rumor of an impending cataclysmic earthquake incorrectly created city-wide panic earlier this month.

The study started in 2005 when the researchers decided to collect data from a group of 38 elderly survivors after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans.

"My initial inspiration for the research came from a lecture on the topic of resilience in my Family Communication course in fall 2005," Marrow said, explaining that the class was watching TV coverage of families that were affected by the disaster. "We wondered how these families would ever have a chance to rebound."

The second opportunity for research and data collection came in 2010, following the earthquake that affected residents of Vina Vieja, Peru.

Survivors from both Hurricane Katrina and the earthquake in Peru provided the team an opportunity to observe and better understand what victims experience during times of crisis. The different cultures that the survivors came from were also taken into consideration when added to the model of resilience being developed.

Data collected from the Katrina survivors suggested a relationship between resiliency and overall positive mood states after a natural disaster. However, the Peruvian earthquake survivors, who came from a lower socioeconomic status, demonstrated a greater level of mood disturbance and weaker feelings of being able to bounce back.

"The most important variable in resilience is that of emotional support," Marrow said. "The next phase of our data analyses from both (Italian) sites will be to consider the overall findings and create a system for classifying resilience."

Ultimately, the team's published research and presentations will include development of a pamphlet to facilitate the coping process for natural-disaster survivors and aging populations experiencing adversity.

- Fiza Johari

Examples of Other Faculty Endeavors this Summer

  • Barb Hawthorne (Cultural Anthropology) will spend her summer in New Mexico researching, interviewing and photographing women artists who reside there. "We often see books about male artists or male and female artists, however, hardly any are dedicated to women," Hawthorne said. Her research will look at both well-known artists and up-and-comers. She hopes to include women from all walks of life.
  • Bob Brunswig, professor of Anthropology, is coordinating an archaeology field school with community volunteers participating in excavations at Dearfield, the once-flourishing Black agricultural community east of Greeley. The multidisciplinary research program will conduct new field, laboratory, archival and historical document and photographic studies to generate new knowledge and assemble a master archival database on Dearfield's social, economic, political and environmental history.
  • Bill Hoyt, professor of Oceanography, is continuing work with the Poudre Learning Center. He's part of a study using ground-penetrating radar to survey subsurface layers on 45 acres at the Greeley site. "We want to know the variability of depth to bedrock and the nature of the materials so that we can intelligently site about three wells that we plan to dig for educational purposes and research on the site," Hoyt said.
  • Stephen Mackessy, professor of Biological Sciences, will continue investigating snake venoms as a source of anti-cancer compounds. Several graduate and undergraduate students will participate on his research team over the summer. More information
  • Kevin Pugh, associate professor of Educational Psychology, will research how to make learning transformative by using teaching methods that help students see and experience the world in new and exciting ways. He'll examine the research on the effect a subject matter has on a student's everyday experience outside the classroom.
  • Flo Guido, associate professor of Higher Education and Student Affairs Leadership, will participate as an artist-in-residence (photographer) at a three-day conference in Luxembourg for student affairs professionals from Europe and the United States. She will be living in medieval abbey for a week and is considering turning her photography into an exhibit upon her return.
  • James Gall, professor of Educational Technology, will be in Taiwan conducting the research project, "Examining the relationships of videogame preference/experience, personality trait, and attitude toward educational technologies in Taiwanese college students." The project is funded by the Cultural Division of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office.
  • Mary Sean O'Halloran, professor of Counseling Psychology, will travel to Thailand in August to conduct two workshops for mental health professionals on eating disorders. One workshop will be for counselors at the International School of Bangkok and the other one at Assumption University will be for area psychologists.
  • Russell Guyver (Music), Director of UNC's Orchestras will return to work with the Orquestra de Cordas da Grota in Niteroi, as well as other orchestral groups in Tatui and Barra Mansa, Brazil. Guyver has been a visiting performing guest artist since the last decade, at a large music festival in Rio de Janeiro.

- Compiled by Brittany Sarconi