Witnessing the effects of significant earthquakes and its effects on communities in her home country of Turkey left a lasting impression on Duygu Pamukcu. Seeing the destruction and hardship firsthand, she knew that she wanted to have a valuable and positive impact on people around the world. 

After earning both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in industrial engineering at the Middle East Technical University in Turkey, Pamukcu had her focus on a doctoral degree in the United States. 

“I wanted to build my connections and network in the United States, with the mindset of how can I bring my knowledge back to Turkey,” said Pamukcu, potentially working with governmental and non-governmental organizations.

But she had not landed on an institution. While attending a conference, Pamukcu met Chris Zobel, a professor in business information technology in the Pamplin College of Business

Pamukcu had heard of Virginia Tech’s strong reputation in the disaster operations field–of which Zobel specializes. Not only did Zobel recommend Virginia Tech as Pamukcu’s academic home, he invited her to be the first student to enroll in the Disaster Resilience and Risk Management (DRRM) Interdisciplinary Graduate Education Program that was being launched in 2018. 

“I like to think that first I chose my advisor and then I applied to Virginia Tech to work with him,” said Pamukcu, who enrolled in the business of information technology doctorate program.

Duygu Pamukcu along with her advisor, Dr. Chris Zobel
Duygu Pamukcu along with her advisor, Dr. Chris Zobel, professor in business information technology, in graduation regalia. Photo courtesy of Duygu Pamukcu.

Sponsored by the National Science Foundation, the program provides a doctoral program and certificate through the Center for Coastal Studies. This transdisciplinary experience was created to change the way people think and talk about disaster resilience–inviting all disciplines to lead the change. 

This includes bringing together faculty and students from across the university–including civil and environmental engineering, urban affairs and planning, public and international affairs, geosciences, business information technology, and other disciplines– to develop modes of thinking and problem solving that move beyond outdated approaches based exclusively on the perspective of a single discipline. 

For example, studying topics like disaster planning within the School of Public and International Affairs, disaster mitigation or prevention within the College of Engineering, or disaster operations management within the College of Business.

Guided by resiliency, equity, and vulnerability

“Programs like DRRM allow graduate students to better understand the broader context of their research efforts, and to see how they fit into other disciplines that are looking at similar problems from different perspectives,” said Zobel. “This leads not only to a deeper understanding of the problems but also it supports the development of innovative problem-solving approaches that go beyond disciplinary boundaries.”

Pamukcu echoes the same sentiment.

“The DRRM certificate gave me the opportunity to look at my research from an interdisciplinary perspective and to see how other disciplines are approaching the same questions,” she said. “It illustrated how we can be resilient to a disaster as a person and organization.”

Taking all of these perspectives into account, Pamukcu is guided by the principles of resiliency, equity, and vulnerability as a lens to view her research. She said it provides her the framework to come up with better-developed research questions.

She recently earned an Outstanding Social Sciences, Business, Education, and Humanities Dissertation Awards, “Supporting the operational performance management of public service systems during slow-onset disasters,” conferred by the Graduate School during Graduate Education Week in April.

The 2023 Graduate School award winners. Several honorees could not attend the reception, and College of Natural Resources and Environment Master's Student of the Year Darby McPhail attended via the phone being held by Marcella Kelly (at bottom right). Virginia Tech photo.
Celebrating graduate student and faculty excellence with all the 2023 Graduate School award winners. Virginia Tech photo

She has found a new academic home once again. This time as a postdoctoral research fellow in the Department of Logistics and Operations Management at HEC Montréal. Pamukcu is excited to be a part of an humanitarian project by optimizing food banks for the province of Quebec, where she will help identify solutions to reallocate the province’s resources more effectively.