ALMA — At the time Taylor Alexander, of Presque Isle, MI; Alexander Kingsley, of Grand Ledge, MI; and Quinton Moeggenborg, of Elwell, MI, created their project for the Emergency Management Higher Education Symposium, they did not know how much it would fit in with the theme of future events. Tragically, it did.
The three Alma College students won the Overall People’s Choice award for their project, “Equitable Disaster Relief Can be Hindered by Appearance,” at the 22nd annual symposium, sponsored by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), on June 1-4.
The students’ project — a poster illustrating how first responders in emergencies can be subject to racial and gender biases — was completed long before protests erupted throughout the United States following the death of George Floyd, a Black man, at the hands of a white police officer, on May 25. Kingsley said the project ended up fitting an unfortunate theme of prejudice that can affect everyone, regardless of profession.
“It’s terrible that biases occur in first responders, but they do, and we need to be aware of it so we can recognize it, and learn, grow and improve as a society. Growing up, I dealt with a lot of prejudice,” said Kingsley, a Latino American and sophomore at Alma College. “Unfortunately, that’s how it was. But it doesn’t always have to be.”
The symposium is normally held at the National Emergency Training Center (NETC) in Emmitsburg, Maryland, but was entirely online this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Alexander said although it was disappointing to not be able to travel and take part in the event in-person, it was still special to win the award.
“This was my first year presenting and I was incredibly nervous. I didn’t think I was prepared for the questions (judges) would ask. It turns out I was wrong for doubting my own abilities,” Alexander said. “Winning the award made me feel like I do know what I’m doing, my hard work is paying off and that I can accomplish anything I put my mind to.”
Four other Alma College students also won an award. Jarod Arendsen, of Holland, MI; Brandon McDaniel, of Midland, MI; Monroe Molesky, of Alma, MI; and Willard Rose, of Oxford, MI, won the Dr. Tom Phelan Outstanding Poster Award for their project, “Using Innovative Blockchain Technologies in Emergency Management and Disaster Response.”
In addition, James Budrick-Diaz, of Joliet, IL, presented a poster, “Creating a Functional Knowledge Base in Youth by Incentivizing Participation in Emergency Management,” as did the group of Chase Beecher, of Clio, MI; Jacob Dean, of Boyne City, MI; Christopher Dougherty, of Grand Haven, MI; and Brian Iveson, of Lansing, MI, who showcased “Mitigating Tsunami with Multiple Low Frequency Acoustic Gravity Waves.”
Dale Sanders, an associate professor and director of healthcare administration at Alma College, said the students in his classes have taken part in the symposium for roughly the past 10 years and he has facilitated workshop sessions with other emergency preparedness professionals there a few times.
Sanders said he was proud of all of his students who took part, especially considering the dire circumstances.
“I thought with all the challenges, first with COVID-19 and then with the social unrest, they really stepped up. Things are changing in this field very quickly and our students are right there prepared to answer questions that seasoned professionals are having a hard time with,” Sanders said. “They exemplify the values of Alma College and it’s an honor to work with them.”