Feature Stories

OCEP Grantee Elizabeth Dunn - a Ray of Sunshine in the Field of Global Emergency Management

Elizabeth Dunn is a ray of sunshine in the world of global disaster management and humanitarian relief at the USF College of Public Health (COPH), where she serves as an adjunct faculty member. With her dynamic personality and generous spirit, she touches the lives of her students who want to follow in her footsteps. Together they work on a wide variety of public health related projects while sharing a passion for helping others.


Elizabeth Dunn helping install fire alarms in homes following a tragic fire in East Tampa. Photo credit Octavia Jones, Tampa Bay Times.

Dunn received an Office of Community Engagement and Partnerships (OCEP) high-impact practice service-learning mini grant for her course Community Participation in Homeland Security and Preparedness offered through the Community Engaged Homeland Security and Emergency Management undergraduate minor in the Department of Global Health. In addition to her teaching duties, she also serves as the Assistant to the Director of the Global Disaster Management, Humanitarian Relief and Homeland Security online master's program. She is responsible for marketing the program - the only fully accredited Master of Public Health (MPH) of its kind in the nation - to students from around the world.

In her life and her work, Dunn is a model community-engaged scholar. She is involved in everything from advising the Disaster and Humanitarian Relief (DAHR) Student Collaborative to serving with the Tampa Bay Refugee Task Force, Community Emergency Response Teams (CERTs), the American Red Cross, and the Hillsborough County Local Mitigation Strategy working group. She is also a frequent participant in all of OCEP's programming, and she can be counted on to invite faculty and community partners to events to share what she has learned about best practices in community engagement.

Dunn at an OCEP Match-up Event.

Even on vacation, Dunn thrusts herself into any opportunity to help. Recently, on a trip to Iceland, she and her boyfriend were among the first on scene after a near-fatal car accident that occurred along a desolate road on their route. She put her skills in emergency response into action assisting the victims until rescuers could make their way to the rural, remote area where the accident occurred.

Dunn, on vacation at the time, was among the first on the scene following an accident in a remote area of Iceland.

Dunn has her own role model: her mother, a single parent, who earned her college degree in nursing while caring for Dunn and her brother, Michael. She recalls attending classes with her mom at eight years old thinking, "I cannot wait to go to college."

With a strong desire for lifelong learning, she said of her eleven years of higher education at USF, where she received undergraduate degrees in Economics and International Studies, as well as a Master of Public Health (MPH), "I can't get enough of it." In fact, Dunn and her mom, whom she called her "cornerstone," worked on their graduate degrees at the same time. She said they were competitive about their grades but earning their degrees together "strengthened their relationship."

Dunn said of her mom, "she's an inspiration. She didn't complete high school as a teenager, yet was at the top of her class in nursing school and throughout her [USF] graduate program." Her mom now works in home healthcare as a regional vice president of operations, and Dunn inherited her mother's desire to help others when they need it the most.

Dunn became interested in global disaster recovery and economic development when she joined the United Nations Association (UNA) Tampa Bay Chapter as an undergraduate. After graduation, she traveled to Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam where she served as a youth delegate for the UNA-USA focusing on grassroots advocacy to support UN initiatives and the Millennium Development Goals. She was then extended an offer to participate in a human rights delegation with Global Youth Connect in Bosnia-Herzegovina, where she interned with the Center for Peacebuilding. Following her graduate studies, after Super Storm Sandy, the American Red Cross deployed her to Manhattan to serve as a shelter manager, and then she coordinated the operations of all client and staff shelters in New York City.

Dunn at the UN.

She said, "I'm usually fearless." When she sees the impact of a disaster and knows she is needed, she thinks, "Let's go. Let's do this. I'm never going to have any regrets in life. I'm just going to do it, and hopefully I can inspire others to do the work I am not capable of doing on my own."

She passes along that willingness to do what is necessary to help others to her very enthusiastic students. Jordan Moberg, who took Dunn's two-week summer course Community Engagement in Public Health Preparedness, now serves as a leader in the DAHR Student Collaborative. Moberg said, "It is because of professors like Ms. Dunn who take a proactive role in their student's education and the community that more connections are able to be made. This teaching style and community engagement will ultimately lead to innovation through creativity and strategy in the field of public health."

Dunn and her Community Engagement students including Jordan Momberg (third from left in front).

During the summer course, she exposed her students to various governmental and non-governmental organizations throughout the Tampa Bay area that engage in public health, including the American Red Cross, the Tampa Bay Port Authority, the county and the city emergency operations centers, and many more. She developed the partnerships, which formed the basis of the service-learning course for which she received the OCEP grant.

Dunn's students were involved in projects ranging from surveying and mapping mental health resources for refugees to adding a public health component to the Hillsborough County Local Mitigation Strategy, which until she and her students got involved, was noticeably absent from the original plan. In all, thirty-two students were involved with eleven community-impact projects in the Tampa Bay area.

Service-learning students learning how to work with the media to respond to an emergency.

Of her involvement with OCEP through the grant, consultations, and workshops, she said, "[The grant] really helped with [purchasing] the tools to survey potential shelters to determine whether they would be safe after a disaster; the background checks and tuberculosis tests for students so that they would be permitted to work in a clinical setting, as well as emergency preparedness training tools."

She continued, "I thought it was nice to be able to talk to OCEP staff to have the support in designing these courses and to explore new ideas. I was kind of surprised at how the students embraced this opportunity to serve their community." Although juggling eleven community-based projects was challenging, Dunn and her students continued working on them long after the semester ended, including presenting the results of their research at the USF Undergraduate Research Colloquium in the spring to serving on the Disaster Action Team (DAT) of the American Red Cross responding to recent flooding in Tampa.

Service-learning students presented the results of their research at the USF Research Colloquium.

Now that she has one service-learning class under her belt, she has launched into this semester with fresh ideas and a clearer sense of what can be accomplished. "I'm more involved and have built stronger bonds with some remarkable community partners. I dug myself in deeper, where before I was hanging out on the surface."

In a year of record rainfalls and rising floodwaters, Dunn and her students stand by ready to help. In fact, it seems there is no storm Dunn and her team of students, many of whom have graduated and gone on to work with a variety of emergency management programs, cannot weather.

By Bonnie Silvestri, Director of Strategic Communications