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Hurricane Preparedness Week: Spotlight on Texas Sea Grant Extension Agent Heather Wade

Hurricane Preparedness Week: Spotlight on Texas Sea Grant Extension Agent Heather Wade

Texas Sea Grant’s Coastal Planning Specialist

Credit: Sea Grant

As Texas Sea Grant’s Coastal Planning Specialist, Heather Wade helps communities on the Texas coast plan for the future. With a toolkit that includes the Coastal Resilience Index, weTable and Community Health and Resources Management (CHARM) model, she leads community leaders through workshops that help them determine their readiness and plan for future needs with respect to coastal hazards, green infrastructure, water quality impairment and other issues related to sustainable development.

She is active in the Gulf of Mexico Climate Outreach Community of Practice, is a partner of the Mission-Aransas National Estuarine Research Reserve at The University of Texas Marine Science Institute, and also is working with faculty at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi. Heather is coordinating the creation of Texas Sea Grant’s new coastal access website and is updating a database of public beach and bay access points all along the Texas coast that will be released soon as a user-friendly website. Last year, she held a series of workshops in South Texas communities about the implementation of the RESTORE Act, which dedicates funds from Deepwater Horizon oil spill penalties to restore and protect the Gulf Coast region.

Heather holds a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Studies with an emphasis on Earth Science and Geography and a Master of Urban and Regional Planning with an emphasis on Land Use and Environmental Planning, both from Texas A&M University. She also received a graduate certificate in Environmental Hazards Management. She is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Coastal and Marine Systems Science at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi with an emphasis on Coastal Planning and Policy.

It’s Hurricane Preparedness Week, what is one thing everyone needs to know about preparing for a hurricane?

The one thing that everyone should know is that even if you haven’t seen a hurricane in 40 years or in your lifetime, it doesn’t mean you should not prepare! Prep a “go bag” and update it every year before hurricane season starts! When the big storm comes, you’ll be glad you did it ahead of time.

What is something cool you learned while working on coastal hazards outreach?

All communities are different and unique in how they cope and respond to coastal hazards. Each community has strengths and weaknesses that differ from all others, which determines how you work with and help them as an outreach agent/specialist. This makes for unique projects every time.

Coastal Planning Specialist Heather Wade, right, leads Texas officials through a resilience workshop using the weTable. Pictured are, from left, David Vyoral, Aransas County Road and Bridge Engineer; Mike Henry, Director of Building and Development for the City of Rockport; and Rockport Mayor Charles “C.J.” Wax. Credit: Texas Sea Grant

What drove you to work on coastal hazards outreach?

While in graduate school, I got to work on a Hurricane Ike disaster recovery project led by Texas A&M University’s Hazard Reduction and Recovery Center. There was something about sitting with coastal residents in their FEMA trailers that really touched me. From there on, I knew I wanted to help coastal communities become resilient to coastal hazards and sustainable in face of inevitable changes.

How did you get involved with Sea Grant? When did you join Sea Grant?

I learned about Sea Grant while I was in my master’s program. A job opening came available for a Coastal Community Development Agent to work in the Texas Coastal Bend on coastal hazards and environmental planning issues. I applied for the job, got a phone interview, and then was asked to present my graduate school work in Port Aransas, Texas. That day I accepted my first job offer out of graduate school. I started with Texas Sea Grant in June of 2011 and have been here ever since!

What is your favorite part about being a Sea Grant Extension specialist?

My favorite part of working for Texas Sea Grant Extension is the satisfaction I feel from doing what I love. I get to use my expertise to help coastal communities become better places. It doesn’t get much better than that.

What is the biggest challenge you face at your job?

I think the biggest challenge I face at my job is the ever-looming need to say “No.” When I first came on board at Sea Grant, a coworker warned me that the hardest thing I would learn in my job was how to say no to people. The amount of time we spend in extension helping others makes it very difficult to say no to an individual, business, or community. However, while this is a huge challenge, it is also necessary. As extension agents and specialists, we are spread very thin over large areas, and to make the most and best differences we can make, we have to manage our time very carefully.

A participant uses a light pen to interact with the weTable and see the impact of various types of community development. Credit: Texas Sea Grant

When did you know you wanted to pursue a career in science?

I knew when I was a high school junior. I took Pre-AP Chemistry with Mrs. Dixon and I was hooked. That led me to take AP Chemistry. From there, I decided to major in Chemistry at Texas A&M, where I was quickly introduced to environmental chemistry and the idea of the Earth’s climate and our impact on it. I decided to change my major to environmental science with a commitment to reducing negative human impacts on the environment and fostering stewardship of this great place we call home.

What part of your job did you least expect to be doing?

I think the part I expected least was the amount of collaboration among other programs. I quickly learned that collaboration and partnerships were key to success. These types of partnerships and collaborations take place at the local, state, and regional level. I'm fortunate to work with many partners, ranging from conservation organizations to other Gulf Sea Grant programs.

What’s at the top of your recommended reading list for someone wanting to explore a career in science?

This is probably one of the hardest questions to answer! I was able to narrow it down to two: Making Collaboration Work: Lessons from Innovation in Natural Resource Management by Julia M. Wondolleck and Steven L. Yaffee, and Exploitation, Conservation, Preservation: A Geographic Perspective on Natural Resource Use by Susan Cutter.  Both of these books are more focused on environmental science and how our social systems impact them, which I think is often overlooked in the field of science.

And how about a personal favorite book?

The Miracle of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hanh and The Stranger by Albert Camus.

Do you have an outside hobby?

I love to go camping and canoeing with my husband. I look forward to the day when we can take our 18-month-old son with us!

What surprised you most about working at Sea Grant?

I think what surprised me most was the amount of freedom I was given to pursue what I was passionate about. I was given the opportunity to take my expertise and passions and make a program out of them. I’m not sure many people can say that for their work.

 

Meet other people in the Sea Grant Network that help communities prepare for severe coastal storms like hurricanes:

Hawaii Sea Grant Extension Agent Dennis Hwang
National Severe Storm Laboratory Sea Grant Extension Agent: Kodi Monroe
New York Sea Grant Communication Specialist: Paul Focazio
Maine Sea Grant Extension Agent: Kristen Grant
MIT Sea Grant funded researchers: Robert Beardsley and Changsheng Chen 
South Carolina Sea Grant funded Researcher: Scott Schiff

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