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Freshmen add a spark to risk communication and resilience research

Twenty-five University of Maryland freshmen are lighting a fire beneath START’s Risk Communication and Resilience research. Part of the university’s highly competitive First-Year Innovation & Research Experience (FIRE) program, the students are working on several START projects that examine a variety of risk communication and resilience topics ranging from hospital resilience to effective risk and crisis communication messaging.

“UMD, and by extension START, are truly innovative on this type of experiential learning,” Research Educator Mike Egnoto said. “It’s nice to see a school take the risk to give students more applicable skills and opportunities that will help with their careers later in life.”

One team of students is developing case studies to include in the Training in Risk and Crisis Communication (TRACC) curriculum. TRACC is a social science-based curriculum that covers risk communication during the entire life-cycle of a crisis – preparation, response and recovery.

Tayler Schmidt is a FIRE student working on TRACC and says it is satisfying to know her work is part of a larger study. She said she feels like she’s generating tangible results that can have an effect on preventing disasters.

“Currently, I am analyzing trends between media outlets and what kinds of messages are being sent to their audience regarding the Charlie Hebdo attacks,” Schmidt said. “From there, we will create a concept map to visualize the trends we’ve identified and then write up a case study on how this can assist future TRACC trainings in helping communities deal with and recover from crises.”

Schmidt, along with classmates Noreen Duke and Katherine Furniss, attended a recent TRACC training in Easton, MD. Seeing the research in action gave them insight on why communities and crisis communicators need such training.

The students aren’t the only ones benefiting from the program.

“We aim to give our students a real feel and understanding of research – how to conduct it, questions to ask, and how to interpret results,” said Dr. Brooke Liu, associate professor of communication and director of START’s Risk Communication and Resilience program. “But we are also getting so much out of this experience. The students are fantastic to work with and have contributed in very real ways to our research portfolio.”

For the first time, TRACC trainings are being offered this summer to the public at START’s headquarters in College Park, MD. For more information, visit www.start.umd.edu/training.