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Resilience in the wake of disaster

An interdisciplinary team of students from the University of Utah is being recognized by the United States Department of Energy and its Building Technologies Office.

During the annual JUMP into STEM final competition hosted virtually by Oak Ridge National Laboratory in January, four winning teams were announced from the largest competition to date, with 84 ideas submitted from 251 students at 27 different schools from across the nation. Winning students received paid summer internships at a national laboratory.

With their project Advancing Resilient Communities in Remote Area, the University of Utah team developed holistic solutions to improve the resilience of the built environment and proposed a solution by strengthening the ability of communities—especially those that are underserved, marginalized, and vulnerable-, to adapt, persist, and recover in the event of natural or manmade disruptive events.

Project’s site in Red Lake, Tonalea, Arizona

“We based our project in the Navajo Nation,” said Samantha Eddy, project leader, and a third-year Diné student from the School of Architecture. “We had to choose out of different categories, and we chose resilience in the wake of a disaster because this is an important topic that demands more research and practical solutions from scholars.”

Xinyan Liu, a doctoral student in civil and environmental engineering, and Xinyang Rui and Xiang Huo, both doctoral students in electrical and computer engineering, started working with Eddy through the collaborative efforts of University of Utah professors. The team was overseen by Assistant Professors Mingxi Liu and Mostafa Sahrei-Ardakani of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering; Assistant Professor Jianli Chen of Civil Engineering; and Associate Professor Shundana Yusaf from the School of Architecture.

“We let the team be quite independent in developing the concept for their proposal,” said Yusaf. “They worked closely with one another and came up with the design solution on their own. We oversaw what they said on target; their technological solutions were sound and apt for the community. At the final presentation, we all were so prideful of how they represented the University of Utah. Their clarity and purposefulness shined through.”

A unique experience

Born in Tooele but with deep roots in Red Lake, Tonalea, Arizona, Eddy explained how this recognition empowers her to continue making meaningful things.

“I understand that this award is a huge achievement for our group,” said Eddy. “I was able to use my embodied knowledge and training in Indigenous architectural pedagogies, and I am committed to bring my education to the Navajo Nation. I will keep doing it.”

With an engineer mom as a role model, Eddy is passionate about her next academic projects and her professional career.

“This summer I’m involved in a project that received a grant for $100,000 from the Monument Lab Fellows Program, which supports independent projects that address long-term inequities in monument building. I also received an internship from an Indigenous architecture firm in Oklahoma. There are many things we can do with our knowledge and skills, and I am excited to see what’s next,” explained Eddy.

Eddy accepted an internship with the National Lab in Colorado. She will be working in sustainable architecture and building technologies for U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in remote areas across the United States. This experience and knowledge will feed into her work for Nááts’íilid Initiative, a non-profit for which she serves as a student ambassador. Nááts’íilid is building their first two sweat equity houses in Navajo Nation and her training will be most beneficial to the soundness of its design.

For the future, Eddy plans to gain real-life professional experience before pursuing her architectural master’s degree and going back to the Navajo Nation.

“Years away, I see myself going back to the Navajo Nation gathering a team together and founding the first Indigenous architecture firm there.”

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