The Center for Disaster and Risk Analysis: Undergraduate Research Assistant Experiences

By Samantha Lafever

This fall semester, I seized the opportunity to become an undergraduate research assistant (RA) at the Center for Disaster and Risk Analysis (CDRA) at Colorado State University. Although I have only been with the center for a few months, it has become the best part of my undergraduate experience. Including myself, the Center—which is co-directed by Lori Peek, an Associate Professor of Sociology—currently hosts eight undergrad RA’s. Nine former undergraduates count themselves among the growing pool of CDRA alums. These students have participated in both paid positions supported by the National Science Foundation, and in an unpaid internship program where we receive academic credit for our work.

One of the driving goals behind CDRA is to “train a future generation of hazards and disaster researchers and professionals” (see disaster.colostate.edu for more information). As part of this goal, Dr. Peek and the other faculty and graduate students at the Center work closely with the undergraduate RA’s to involve us in data collection, data analysis, literature reviews, and other research-related tasks. Many of us have expressed a deep appreciation for this involvement, which will undoubtedly help us if we decide to go on to graduate school or move into the professional world upon graduation.

Alyssa Dawson, who graduated with her B.A. in sociology in 2011, explains that “the experience helped me develop professional skills in my field” and it “prepared me for the work I would be doing for my own research project as I work towards earning my M.A.” Meagan Templeton-Lynch, who is presently an undergrad RA, exclaims that “the fact that I get to combine sociology with journalism at CDRA has been great!” She has also been able to think more about what she “might be able to do as a journalist to help the general population understand or prepare for potential hazards.” Emily Doerr, also a current RA, notes how she now has “a far greater understanding of the human effects of natural disasters” after having been a part of several studies.

Echoing the sentiments above, I too have grown personally, academically, and professionally from engaging in projects as I assist with different research components. The Center for Disaster and Risk Analysis offers extraordinary opportunities to learn and flourish.

From the Department of Sociology newsletter, Fall 2012, Volume 1, Issue 1.


Feature: Center for Disaster & Risk Analysis (CDRA) Research on Children & Disasters


The Center for Disaster and Risk Analysis (CDRA) at Colorado State University, is engaged in interdisciplinary research, education, and outreach activities for the primary purpose of reducing human vulnerability to disasters and increasing individual and community capacity to prepare for and recover from hazard events. CDRA faculty and students conduct interdisciplinary research on natural hazards risk and disaster impacts; help prepare the disaster professionals of the future by teaching and mentoring undergraduate and graduate students; and engage in outreach efforts geared to government, non-profit organizations, and private entities to improve disaster planning and response and to promote individual and community resilience.

The center is co-directed by section member Lori Peek and has 14 national and international, cross-disciplinary faculty affiliates, 7 graduate research assistants, and 6 undergraduate research assistants. The CDRA team has recently worked on a number of projects relevant to the section including evaluating disability preparedness in disasters for children and adults; assessing the physical and mental health impacts of the BP oil spill on children; measuring levels of toxic chemicals in the soil in New Orleans playgrounds; surveying Colorado childcare providers regarding disaster planning and preparedness; and studying displaced children’s long-term recovery in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

From the American Sociological Association, Child & Youth News, Spring 2012.