LARP Leader, ISSR Research Scholar Prepares Communities for Future Hazards

Elisabeth Hamin
Monday, March 25, 2013

By Jackie Hennessy '13

“I am quite passionate about helping communities prepare to meet the challenges of this century,” says Elisabeth Hamin, associate professor and new department head for Landscape Architecture and Regional Planning. In addition to her newly acquired administration work, Hamin focuses on land use planning, particularly as it relates to climate change adaptation. Through studios and projects, she works with regional planning agencies and communities on master plans, special projects, and climate change planning to prepare communities for what hazards may come in the future.

Beginning at Cleveland State University as a business administration major, Hamin worked to support herself throughout her schooling. “I worked my way through college by taking classes for six months, then working full time for six months, then back to classes.” Hamin’s jobs ranged from waitressing to interning with computer companies like IBM. “That was long ago when personal computers were just being developed and IBM thought they weren’t going to be much of a business, so the interns were in charge of marketing the PCs. Pretty funny in retrospect!”

After earning a master’s in management and finance at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management, Hamin worked in real estate consulting and development finance, providing financial and marketing analysis to major real estate developers. She collaborated on projects all across the country, ranging from constructing small office buildings in New York to redeveloping shopping malls in California. Soon enough Hamin realized the business might not be for her. “I wasn’t on the side I wanted to be on. Going into communities to force a big new mall onto them was not a good way to live.” After this revelation, Hamin returned to school to earn a doctorate in urban and regional planning at the University of Pennsylvania.

Since then, Hamin’s research and teaching has centered on land use. Currently, she teaches graduate courses and works on how to adapt communities for climate change so that society is better prepared to live well, even as dangers increase. “We need to start rebuilding resilient infrastructure and housing and start planning with changed climate in mind while still achieving benefits for people now. For instance, last fall I worked with five students and the Town of Marshfield, Massachusetts to write what, to the best of our knowledge, is the first Climate Adaptation Chapter ever included in Massachusetts’ municipal master plan.” The team presented this report to the Citizen Planner Training Collaborative to show other communities how to undertake similar processes.

Hamin enjoys teaching and regards her students as amazingly sophisticated, practical and interesting. “I work mostly with graduate students right now, and really enjoy helping them find research projects that intrigue them.” She is also extremely focused on helping students succeed. “It is a personal goal that all students with whom I work will graduate. Maybe because I had to work so hard for my education, I just refuse to have students waste their money and time by not graduating.”

This year Hamin also is a scholar for the Institute for Social Science Research (ISSR). Her project focuses on developing a collaborative team to investigate a new multidisciplinary approach to resilient infrastructure. “There is a pressing need for policy-relevant research to better understand the responsiveness of engineered, social and ecological coastal foundations to current hazards and the evolving effects of climate change,” she says. Using the Caribbean as the project focal point, her team is examining a wide spectrum of social, geological, and engineering situations with particular emphasis on increasing coastal pliability to hurricanes, tsunamis, sea-level rise and so on.

Hamin praises the ISSR team for their hard work and support. “Because my work is collaborative and transdisciplinary, each grant proposal is complicated. ISSR staff members Karen Mason and Sarah Vega-Liros have helped me enormously in getting grants completed, and ISSR Scholar Mentors Charli Carpenter and Mary Fechner have been terrific in keeping all of us ISSR scholars on track. It’s a great team.”

Life at home for Hamin is just as busy as life at UMass. She has two teenage daughters, Maia and Darya, who keep her up to date with the latest pop culture information. Hamin also practices Bikram ‘Hot’ Yoga, a particularly intense form of the discipline that involves working out in a 105°F room. “If you see me there, please pretend you don’t, as it is just too sweaty to be polite!”

When asked what sort of ‘sales pitch’ Hamin would offer to prospective students considering the LARP concentration at UMass, she replies, “Brilliant and caring faculty, accredited programs, diverse scholarship that leads the field, small class sizes, excellent alumni placement record, and peers with a sense of humor, all set in the beautiful Pioneer Valley. What could be better?”

Jackie Hennessy '13, who is majoring in communication, is an intern in the SBS Dean's Office and a Communication Peer Advisor.