Liesel Ritchie joined Virginia Tech this fall as a professor in the Department of Sociology in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences and as an affiliated faculty member of the Center for Coastal Studies, housed within the Fralin Life Sciences Institute

“The Department of Sociology is extremely excited to welcome Dr. Ritchie. Not only will she help us expand our expertise in the sociology of disasters and community resilience, she will also help us deepen our connections with the Integrated Security Destination Area, the Center for Coastal Studies, and new transdisciplinary initiatives in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences around environmental justice,” said James Hawdon, interim chair of the Department of Sociology.

Approximately 40 percent of the world’s population lives within 60 miles of the coast. And as sea levels rise, coastal storms intensify, and oceans acidify, coastal communities are facing a rise in natural and anthropogenic disasters.

As a disaster resilience expert, Ritchie takes a sociological approach to study the social impacts of disasters. Throughout her career, she has studied devastating events, such as the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, Hurricane Katrina, and various earthquakes across the globe. By examining such events through the lens of sociology, she takes a close look at the societal dimensions of disasters and community resilience.

“What made me want to come to Virginia Tech was the critical mass of people interested in doing research on disasters, hazards, and community resilience. As an affiliate with the Center for Coastal Studies, I have colleagues in geosciences, engineering, and other disciplines who are looking into the same kinds of topics I am, but from a different, multidisciplinary perspective,” said Ritchie.

Ritchie became involved in disaster resilience research in the early 2000s while doing her Ph.D. dissertation at Mississippi State University. After that, she became a disaster resilience fellow with the National Institute of Standards and Technology to represent the social sciences on a team of mostly engineers and physical scientists. She later became involved with the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine as a member of the Gulf Coast Research Program’s consensus study to measure community resilience in the wake of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

“Coastal-related centers often lack the integration of social sciences,” said Robert Weiss, director of the Center for Coastal Studies. “In collaboration with the Institute for Society, Culture, and Environment; the Fralin Life Sciences Institute; and the Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science, the Center for Coastal Studies is building an interdisciplinary community to understand and find innovative solutions for current and emerging coastal-zone issues. Dr. Ritchie’s research area and her proven ability to work in interdisciplinary teams make her a perfect fit for what we would like to achieve with the center.”

Prior to joining Hokie Nation, Ritchie spent two-and-a-half years in the Department of Sociology at Oklahoma State University, where she also served as the associate director for the Center for the Study of Disasters and Extreme Events. Before that, she spent nearly 11 years at the Natural Hazards Center at the University of Colorado in Boulder.

“Given Dr. Ritchie’s scientific and leadership credentials, I expect that she will be leading one of our signature research groups very soon,” Weiss said. “My personal hope is that she will be part of the leadership team that will create the Center for Coastal Studies Version 2.0.”

Written by Rasha Aridi