New hires at Texas Sea Grant support Community Resilience Collaborative

April 30, 2018

By Alex Hood

The Texas Sea Grant College Program at Texas A&M University has recently hired four new planning and research specialists to bolster its outreach team.

Steven C. Washington and Ashley Bennis, the two Community Resilience Collaborative (CRC) Planning Specialists who joined the program earlier this year, are located in Houston and on the Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi campus, respectively. Kate de Gennaro, the program’s new Planning Research Associate, and Drew Casey, the new Extension Program Assistant, are both located at Texas Sea Grant’s headquarters on the Texas A&M University (TAMU) campus in College Station.

“Texas Sea Grant is excited to bring on four accomplished professionals who will strengthen the Community Resilience Collaborative and the Texas Sea Grant Extension Program,” said Heather Wade, Texas Sea Grant’s Senior Associate Director for Planning and Extension and Co-Director of the CRC. “These new positions will be invaluable in helping communities and economies become more resilient and expanding Texas Sea Grant partnerships into the world of transdisciplinary research, extension and community engagement.”

The CRC is a partnership between Texas Sea Grant and the College of Architecture’s Texas Target Communities. It is designed to help coastal communities create science-based plans for sustainable development, increase their resilience to natural and technological hazards, and enhance or restore their habitats and ecosystems. It was initially scheduled to launch at the beginning of 2018, but Hurricane Harvey’s devastation of the Texas coast prompted an early commencement in September of last year with the help of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration rapid response funding.

The primary responsibility of the CRC Planning Specialists is to provide assistance to their communities in land use planning and hazard mitigation. This includes educating and training local community planners and extension agents, providing hands-on technical assistance to coastal areas, and translating research to help communities in reaching their sustainable planning goals. Washington will support Harris County, and Bennis will support Nueces County, both areas recovering after sustaining massive damage from Harvey. Washington and Bennis join Walter Peacock, the program’s other Houston-based Planning Specialist, who has been with Texas Sea Grant since 2016.

Washington holds a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and a master’s degree in urban planning and environmental policy, both from Texas Southern University. Prior to joining the CRC, Washington was an Environmental Defense Fund Fellow, where he worked to estimate the energy savings and emissions reductions from the adoption of an alternative supply chain strategy at Port Freeport in Freeport, Texas. His research interests are land use planning, environmental justice, port sustainability, community engagement and capacity building.

Bennis has a bachelor’s degree in anthropology from Wayne State University and a master’s degree in urban design and planning with a specialty in environmental planning from the University of Washington. While at the University of Washington, Bennis was a Research Assistant with the Institute for Hazard Mitigation, Planning and Research, where she worked to improve visual representations of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)’s revised floodplain maps to help with their usefulness and effectiveness for residents in flood prone areas. Her research interests are resilience planning, public risk interpretation, community engagement and coastal hazard planning.

De Gennaro, the program’s new Planning Research Associate, was hired at the CRC’s inception in September 2017. Her primary responsibility is to conduct research activities related to coastal communities affected by Hurricane Harvey, including interviewing households and decision makers and documenting a needs assessment on topics such as hazard risk, preparedness, evacuation and disaster recovery. She holds a bachelor’s degree in fine/studio arts and psychology from Susquehanna University and a master’s degree in urban planning from TAMU, where she worked with communities in Aransas County to contribute to the development of their floodplain management plan under an assistantship with Texas Sea Grant.

Providing support for the CRC and Texas Sea Grant’s Extension team is Drew Casey, the program’s new Extension Program Assistant. Casey began in the position in late 2017 and assists with event planning and implementation, analyzing and reporting data on department activities and initiatives, and supporting the CRC’s long term Hurricane Harvey recovery efforts through data collection and analysis. He holds a bachelor’s degree in technical and scientific communication from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and a master’s degree in Asian studies from Florida State University.

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Texas Sea Grant is a unique partnership that unites the resources of the federal government, the State of Texas and universities across the state to create knowledge, tools, products and services that benefit the economy, the environment and the citizens of Texas. It is administered through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and is one of 33 university-based Sea Grant Programs around the country. Texas Sea Grant is a non-academic research center in the College of Geosciences at Texas A&M University. The program’s mission is to improve the understanding, wise use and stewardship of Texas coastal and marine resources.