Forever True, For Iowa State

Taking the world by storm

After Hurricane Maria ravaged Puerto Rico in 2017, Jessica Talbot, an Iowa State graduate student in civil engineering, traveled to the storm’s aftermath. She wanted to learn how survivors responded to the storm and rebuilt housing, both temporary and permanent. 

“My undergraduate training was in the technical side of engineering. But in disaster recovery, you can’t just build a house, you need to understand the personal and emotional aspects,” Jessica says. “People have gone through trauma, so a lot of it is supporting and interacting with people.”

Jessica, who earned her doctorate in 2021, was part of a research group focused on international and humanitarian engineering. Students and faculty explored fundamental questions about infrastructure – health systems, water systems, power and electricity – and what could potentially be done to make communities more resilient.

“Through the Hazard Mitigation and Community Resilience program, we’re looking to directly apply our research to help communities anticipate vulnerabilities – and be better prepared to bounce back from natural disasters,” says Sri Sritharan, interim assistant dean and Wilkinson Chair Professor in civil, construction and environmental engineering.

Discoveries gleaned from this and related projects are more important than ever as the number of natural disasters increases world-wide. Thankfully, fueling projects that address complex global challenges was a top priority of the Forever True, For Iowa State campaign.

“Thanks to donor support, our work at Iowa State is having an immediate, positive impact on the social good,” Sritharan says.

It’s also having a positive impact on students’ futures. Jessica has gone on to work for FEMA – the Federal Emergency Management Agency – as a construction analyst. Her job is to help state, tribal and local governments rebuild infrastructure after disasters.

“Iowa State instilled in me the values of integrity and being passionate about what you do. I’ll continue that and inspire it in others throughout my career,” she says.