NC - Rising Tides: Meet Orrin Pilkey Fellow Sarah Lipuma

Everyone from the Jersey Shore remembers the storm. In 2012, Hurricane Sandy barreled through the Mid-Atlantic region with conditions ripe for destruction.

The storm brought wind and rain with sound and fury. It made landfall in Brigantine, New Jersey, just north of Atlantic City, where it left several million residents without power, inundated communities with flooding and storm surge, and caused the state upwards of $30 billion in damage.

People dotted along the water in coastal communities live with the consequences of storms like Sandy. One of the things often overlooked in the conversation is that people most affected by these storms tend to come from lower resource backgrounds, making them more susceptible to the economic hardships that ensue from the storms’ lashings. It can take years for families to financially recover.

Still, those who live on the coast know the next big storm is always on the horizon, ready to take the landscape around them and everything they love away with the tides.

The New, New Jersey Shore

After working for several years at environmental nonprofits, Sarah Lipuma was ready to do more. She began looking into graduate school to further her career, but Duke had never crossed her mind.

Sarah Lipuma, Orrin Pilkey fellow and M.E.M. candidate

“I’m from New Jersey, so I was looking at schools in the Northeast,” says Sarah. “That’s when I saw how unique and interdisciplinary the Nicholas School of the Environment is.”

Sarah did not want to go down an academic track to teaching or hard-coded research afterward. What she aspired to do was a little more community based, working with people hand in hand to prepare for climate problems. Things seemed to be getting worse.

“I wanted to get out in the field as soon as I graduated to start working, helping communities prepare for hurricanes,” Sarah says.

Sarah applied to Duke for its collaborative approach to science, much of it focused on solving real-world problems right now. But even after being admitted, Sarah’s attendance to Duke wasn’t a given due to the financial requirements.

Then she was offered the Orrin Pilkey fellowship, opening a pathway to funding she would otherwise not have available.

“Many of the conversations happening now are a direct result of Pilkey’s work,” Sarah says. “He paved the way. I was extremely inspired by him.”

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