A multidisciplinary team of 12 students won the 2019 CenTex ASPA James McGrew Research Award.
A 7.6-magnitude earthquake and multiple aftershocks devastated the Kathmandu Valley of Nepal in April 2015. The earthquake, also known as the Gorkha earthquake, killed nearly 9,000 people, injured nearly 22,000 and left many others homeless.
A group of 12 students from the LBJ School and the Institute for Innovation, Creativity and Capital (IC2) at The University of Texas at Austin investigated the challenges involved in reconstructing homes in rural areas damaged by the earthquake. Students produced a report, Post-Earthquake Home Reconstruction in the Surrounding Hills of Kathmandu Valley, Nepal, in which they identified several areas where the government could improve its processes for reconstruction assistance and made recommendations on suitable building technologies for use in earthquake reconstruction.
"We visited rural Nepal in March 2017 and interviewed residents to identify barriers to home reconstruction, studied alternative building technologies implemented by local nongovernmental organizations and met with local governmental officials," said Levi Methvin (MGPS ’18). "Our report describes the field investigation we conducted in Nepal, our background research on alternative building technologies for home reconstruction, and the recommendations we developed in consultation with stakeholders and technical advisers."
On Monday, June 3, 2019, the American Society for Public Administration (ASPA) awarded the student team the 2019 CenTex ASPA James McGrew Research Award to recognize outstanding student research in the field of public administration and public policy. This is the fifth time in five years that students from an LBJ School policy research project (PRP) have won the award.
"It is an honor to know that others read our research and found it valuable and insightful," said Christine Ngan, who worked on the project as a master's student in the Environmental and Water Resources Engineering program. "As a young professional now, I feel encouraged to use the lessons I've learned while working on the PRP to influence my career as an engineer in our globalized world."
at the Nepali Holi Festival (Photo courtesy of Levi Methvin)
Methvin said the interdisciplinary nature of the project was key to its success. The project’s faculty lead, Dr. David Eaton of the LBJ School, has a background in environmental engineering and teaches courses in natural resource policy studies.
"Our group thrived because of our diverse engineers and our savvy policy wonks," Methvin said.
"This experience showed me firsthand that successful disaster recovery directly results from a robust and well-designed policy solution." —Leah Havens (MGPS '18)
"This experience showed me firsthand that successful disaster recovery directly results from a robust and well-designed policy solution," said Leah Havens (MGPS ’18). "We had the opportunity to interview residents who were navigating the existing reconstruction policy to receive assistance and were able to gain a unique insight as to how this policy was working in a real-life situation.
"Listening to our interviewees speak about the barriers people living in the hills outside Kathmandu face when attempting to obtain government assistance was eye-opening," Havens continued. “For example, some residents would have to walk for days to the nearest bank to open an account in order to receive government assistance, and those who were unable to make a journey like this were unable to ever receive help from the government."
Ngan’s experience is similar to that of Havens.
"When we started asking the right questions, we found the more compelling answers." —Christine Ngan, UT civil engineering student
"When the project started, we thought that communities still living in temporary housing was due to the lack of affordable and/or accessible building materials," Ngan said. "When we dug deeper and continued to listen, the study morphed. It became more than a study of building materials, but a study of supply chains, dissemination of information, cultural traditions and socioeconomic conditions. Before we could even begin to assess the different technologies, we had to establish what was realistic for each of the affected regions economically, socially and geographically. What were the hidden barriers preventing them thus far from making full use of the Housing Reconstruction Program (HRP) to rebuild their homes and move forward with their lives? When we started asking the right questions, we found the more compelling answers."
Team members included Christina Ngan, Drake Daniel Hernandez, Hina Acharya, Jennifer Walls, Katherine Whitton, Kimberly Bernsen, Leah Havens, Levi Methvin, Michael Link, Rachel Schutte, Richard Niedbala, Samantha Martinez and Walter Ellison.
Previous LBJ School winners of the James McGrew Research Award
- 2017 — A Better Life for Low-Income Elders in Austin (Full report)
- 2018 — Young Hip Austin is Getting Old: A New Experiment in Confronting the Challenge (Full report)