College:College of Sciences
Degree Program:Security Studies PhD
Research Focus:Disaster preparedness and response
Security Studies PhD student Sara Belligoni has dedicated her entire academic career to the study of disasters with the goal of ensuring that societies can better prepare for, respond to, and recover from catastrophic events. Through her research, she aims to make a positive impact on people’s lives when they are experiencing the most vulnerable situations and strives to chang how policymakers conceive disaster management.
Belligoni, who was born and raised in central Italy, has a personal experience living in a disaster-prone country, subject to earthquakes, Mediterranean cyclones, and volcanic eruptions. Throughout her life, she experienced earthquakes while residing in an area very much prone to this natural hazard. “When I was in my last year of high school a tragic earthquake of Central Italy hit, especially the city of L’Aquila, and it was a trigger event for me to get into this field as I couldn’t stand to be powerless in front of people suffering and the destruction of my country’s heritage,” she says.
Now, the disaster science scholar is committed to helping communities become more resilient and better equipped to respond to disasters. As a first-generation student, Belligoni is the first person to attend college in her family and is also the first to study and live abroad. She chose to move here and pursue her graduate degree at UCF due to the unique nature of the Security Studies program, which has enabled her to continue her efforts in an interdisciplinary fashion alongside a diverse set of peers. She describes how the program is one of very few offered only in the United States and worldwide. She found the prospect of having a unique degree very appealing. She also appreciates how the curriculum does not merely focus on security in the traditional sense but encompasses a variety of fields so that someone like herself could thrive within the program.
Throughout of her academic journey, Belligoni credits the faculty and staff at UCF with helping her along the way. She commends Dr. Barbara S. Kinsey for tirelessly supporting her academic and professional endeavors while always showing empathy and humanity. “These characteristics helped me navigate the challenges of a doctoral program and motivated me in pursuing the research I wanted, in the way I wanted,” she says. Her teaching mentor, Dr. Robert Bledsoe also made a huge impact on the way she approached teaching at UCF with his long-standing teaching experience and charismatic personality.
Belligoni also became involved with the Puerto Rico Research Hub at UCF, extending her gratitude to Dr. Fernando Rivera and Karen Solla for the support they gave her while collecting metadata about and in Puerto Rico. While researching institutional structure and emergency management outcomes in the United States, she came across Casa Pueblo of Adjuntas — a community-based initiative in the southwest of Puerto Rico whose mission is protecting the environment while promoting sustainable development. When Hurricane Maria hit in 2017, almost the entire island lost power, with some outages persisting for over a year. However, this was not the case in Casa Pueblo, where the solar panels installed were dismantled before the hurricane and reassembled immediately after, leaving the community in much better standing than the rest of the island. The case of Casa Pueblo served as an inspiration for Belligoni by showing her new ways of promoting disaster resilience through renewable energy.
When the pandemic hit in 2020, Belligoni was compelled to contribute; to the understanding of such a complex momentum. She shifted her research to examine what factors make certain societies more vulnerable to COVID-19. Now, she is a Researcher and Co-founding Member of the COVID-19 Working Groups for Public Health and Social Sciences Research researching Emergency Management and Policy Analysis in a Pandemic, funded by the National Science Foundation.
Belligoni expects to graduate in 2022 and looks forward to continuing her research as a postdoctoral fellow. She advises other students to dedicate their research efforts to a topic they are passionate about, as she has, and to not be afraid of stepping out of their comfort zone.
- Office of Research and Commercialization Fellowship recipient
- Doctoral Research Support Award recipient
- Received Certificate of Excellence for participating in UCF Research Week in 2019
- Included in students' spotlight from the UCF Creed
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