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Student Spotlight
Student-Faculty Collaborative Grant - Robyn "Nikki" Gibson

Robyn “Nikki” Gibson – an ETSU geology student – received funding for a 2006 Student-Faculty Collaborative Research Grant for her proposal, Tsunami Warnings: Understanding in the high hazard area of Hanalei, Kauai, Hawaii. Done in collaboration with Dr. Chris Gregg, the project sought to analyze levels of understanding of hazards and warning systems in areas where tsunamis present a threat. Gibson worked with Dr. Gregg and with her fellow student Taylor Burnham on an NSF-funded project, where they collaborated with Professor Bruce F. Houghton (University of  Hawaii), as well as Professor Duane Gill (Mississippi State), Dr. Liesel Ritchie (Western Michigan), Dr. David Johnston (GNS Science and Massey University, New Zealand), Professor Douglas Paton (University of Tasmania), and Malin Klawonn, an undergraduate student from Germany.

Gibson and Gregg note that the study in question was different from studies typically conducted in the field of geology. Dr. Gregg says, “Usually, geologists in the field examine, photograph and measure rocks, then work on how those rocks formed, how they got there – but in this study we were more interested in the social-psychological aspects of what people know and understand about a geologic hazard― tsunamis! How do people who live in tsunami prone areas understand and prepare for the hazard.”

The study Gibson, Burnham, and Dr. Gregg helped to conduct in Oahu was the beginning of a two-year longitudinal study, and helped to set up seven other projects including work in Kodia, Alaska; Coronado, California, Wilmington, North Carolina; Maraquez, Puerto Rico; and Kauai, Hawaii. Two of these projects have already begun in Ocean Shores, Washington and Seaside, Oregon.

Gibson says that her interest in the subject was piqued following the tragedy of the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004. She says, “So many people perished not knowing the signs. I wanted to find some way to help and some way to understand.” Burnham, meanwhile, says that it was the more traditional aspects of geology that initially drew him to the project. “I started out more interested in the physical phenomenon. How big a wave can get, how fast it goes, and how it can overtake people, but now I am also interested in the social aspects.”

As a result of her work in Hawaii, Gibson was invited to present to the state legislature in Nashville, and got to work at the University of Hawaii, where she is considering attending graduate school. “Dr. Gregg really opened up doors for me,” she says, “and I hope that the publicity for this project will help to bring new students into the geology program.”

Dr. Gregg says that he enjoyed the experience of working on the Student-Faculty Collaborative Grant (SFCG). He says, “This kind of work gives young people a better appreciation of different sources of money to support research – that the funding is out there if you pursue it. And being able to go to places like Hawaii to work gives the students valuable multicultural experience.” Dr. Gregg also notes that he feels the project has helped to generate enthusiasm within the department. “And when you’re doing this kind of work, everything helps. The Honors College’s support has been very helpful for us― it enabled two of our students to work in the Hawaiian Islands, when they may otherwise never have had the opportunity.”

To other students interested in student-faculty collaborative research, Gibson offers some advice. She says, “Don’t be afraid to put your ideas out there. Try to work with a professor you enjoy working with, and get involved with a lot of things.”


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