Morgan Taylor, BS ’16, MPH ’19, PhD ’23
My first exposure to the Institute for Disaster Management (IDM) occurred in those five minutes of small talk before a meeting begins. I was working in strategic planning during my gap year after finishing my undergraduate degree, still unsure of what I wanted to do with my career. As a freshman in undergrad, I was adamant that I wanted to be a pediatric cardiologist. I started working as an Advanced EMT (AEMT) simply to gain experience for medical school. Little did I know that I would fall in love with the chaos of prehospital medicine. I thrived in doing something different every day and cherished every opportunity to make a difference for my patients and their families during moments of vulnerability and crisis. I was particularly fascinated with complex incidents that overwhelmed our ability to respond. I wanted to understand how we improve our responses to such events, but I had no idea how to transform that passion into a career.
Enter my coworker, who off-handedly said, “You know, you should look at UGA. When I was an undergrad there, I was a patient in an exercise for their disaster management program. I think you’d like it.” Despite my previous four years immersed in the world of healthcare and prehospital medicine, I never knew emergency management could be a career. I went home that night to look into the program, and I learned that UGA is one of just three programs in the country that offer an MPH in Disaster Management. I applied before I went back to work the next day.
From the moment I set foot in the state-of-the-art facilities on Accepted Students Day, I knew IDM was my new home. I was instantly welcomed by students, staff, and faculty who shared and encouraged my exhilaration. It was abundantly clear from the first class of the introductory course that this would be no ordinary educational experience. For the first time in my life, I was excited to sit still in a classroom. Our instructors gave lectures based on their research and real-world experience, and we had numerous hands-on learning activities and certifications to apply the concepts we learned during lectures. The IDM faculty and staff were not merely teachers but passionate mentors who genuinely wanted all of us to succeed in our educational and professional careers. They fostered an environment of curiosity, critical thinking, and inclusivity, where every question was welcomed and every opinion was respected.
Beyond the classroom, there were countless ways to become involved and give back to our surrounding communities. Between my internship and volunteer organizations such as the UGA Medical Reserve Corps (UGA MRC) and Piedmont First Aid Dawgs, I was able to directly apply my growing education to support the emergency management and public health needs of the Athens-Clarke County (ACC) and UGA communities. Having such opportunities continually reminded me of the importance of my education and kept me motivated throughout my entire time as a student.
As I was entering the last semester in the MPH program, I knew I wasn’t finished with formal education. Earning my MPH prepared me to be a practitioner, but I still had an insatiable curiosity about the field. Throughout my coursework, internship, and work at the Institute as a graduate assistant, I saw an opportunity to apply a stronger analytics focus to the field of disaster management. When the Director of IDM, Dr. Curt Harris, asked what I wanted to do post-graduation, I told him my dream was to earn a PhD but that I also knew IDM didn’t have a PhD program. He simply said, “Let me work on that.” Within three weeks, all of the graduate coordinators for the existing doctorate programs at the College of Public Health (CPH) had worked with Dr. Harris to outline ways for me to pursue a PhD, and I had the privilege of creating my own path for an entirely unique, interdisciplinary doctorate. I believe this experience truly illustrates the extraordinary nature of IDM that countless other students have also encountered: no matter your dream or passion, the faculty and staff of IDM will go above and beyond to help you realize your dreams.
Unequivocally, IDM has changed my life. What started as a five-minute conversation blossomed into profound impacts on both my professional and personal growth. IDM has given me the knowledge, skills, and confidence to pursue my passions and make a difference. The IDM family is unified by a singular belief: education is among the most powerful tools to affect change in the world. The instructors at IDM are not simply satisfied with imparting their knowledge or requiring students to memorize facts. They are not interested in perpetuating any sort of dogma. They inspire every single student to challenge their views and bring innovative ideas to our field. Each student that walks through the front doors transforms into a holistically trained, interdisciplinary professional, ready to make a difference across the globe.