Academic Research

Human Dimensions of Natural Hazards
Image of Destiny on a motorcycle with Lake Tahoe in the background“Fighting Fire with Nature”
Ph.D. Dissertation
My dissertation is about how people develop relationships with “natural” spaces, and how those relationships affect their perception of wildfire hazard, and their mitigation behaviors. For this research, I spent two summers in the town of Truckee, near Lake Tahoe, CA, where I conducted over 80 qualitative interviews with residents, community leaders, and fire managers.

This research shows that far from a discrete space operating relatively independently from people, nature (or rather, the idea of nature) is woven into all aspects of the place and the hazard – from how it is perceived and experienced, to how it is studied and managed. I argue that a better understanding of the way the idea of nature operates can lead to more realistic and effective policies for public outreach and wildfire management.

Click here to view a Prezi talk on this topic given at the U.S. Forest Service.

I produced a 7-page, nontechnical summary of the results of this research for project stakeholders, the wildfire management community, and the public. It is available here (.pdf). The complete, 20-page final report on this research, provided to the Joint Fire Science Program, is available here (.pdf). This work was funded by fellowships from the Joint Fire Science Program and the American Association of University Women.


Brief summary of research findings (click here for full-size .pdf)

“An Examination of Mobile Homes in Rural Pennsylvania”
Research Assistant
Funded through the Center for Rural Pennsylvania, PI: Brent Yarnal
For this project I conducted an inventory of mobile homes in rural Pennsylvania using county tax assessment data. I performed statistical and spatial analyses using SPSS statistical software, Microsoft Access, Microsoft Excel and ESRI ArcMap to determine structure age, condition, quality, and presence in floodplains. I also designed and administered a mail survey of mobile home residents, analyzed survey data to determine resident housing satisfaction and hazard perception, and wrote the final report for policymakers and project funders (The Center for Rural Pennsylvania), detailing research findings and policy recommendations.


• Aman, D.D. and B. Yarnal (2010). Home Sweet Mobile Home? Benefits and challenges of mobile home ownership in rural Pennsylvania. Journal of Applied Geography 30: 84-95
• Yarnal, B. and D. Aman (2009). An Examination of Mobile Homes in Rural Pennsylvania. Report for Policymakers. Center for Rural Pennsylvania. November 2009.

Media Coverage:
Link to Penn State Live story about this research
Link to WPSU radio story about this research

Photo of a Pennsylvania mobile home park in a floodplain

This research found that many mobile home parks in rural Pennsylvania are located in floodplains – an artifact of their status as “mobile” homes.

“Rebuilding After Katrina Using Local Resources”
Collaborative Researcher
Funded through the Oak Hill Foundation, PI: Michael Rios
For this project I served as a graduate student advisor for a group of undergraduate Landscape Architecture students studying the post-Katrina planning and rebuilding efforts of Biloxi, MS. After accompanying the student group on a trip to Biloxi, I helped students conduct interviews with community leaders, government staff, and elected officials. Preliminary results were presented at a community meeting, and students’ final project resulted in the production of “A Citizen’s Guide to East Biloxi”, a design booklet distributed to local residents and community managers to assist them in making informed decisions on the future of East Biloxi, a low-lying area of Mississippi completely destroyed by the hurricane.

Penn State students display the results of their research at a community exhibit

At a community exhibit, Penn State students displayed the results of their preliminary research and solicited public feedback.

Participatory Mapping
“Community and Space in the Department of Geography, Penn State University”
For this research I worked with a team of researchers to design and implement a participatory research project studying the perception of community on the part of graduate students and faculty in the Department of Geography. I facilitated participatory mapping exercises and focus group discussion, as well as contributed to the analysis and report of findings.

Climate Change
The Center for Integrated Regional Assessment (CIRA), Penn State University
Research Assistant
Funded through the National Science Foundation, PI: Brent Yarnal
For this project I compiled available literature on organizational behavioral interventions for greenhouse gas mitigation, and arranged meetings with Penn State Office of Physical Plant representatives to begin building a behavioral intervention plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions for Penn State residence halls.

Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL)
SoTL is a movement in higher education that promotes scholarly inquiry into the processes of teaching and student learning, with the goal of advancing the practice of teaching by making research findings public. SoTL is related to the public scholarship movement, which calls for scholars of all disciplines and backgrounds to contribute insights from their scholarship to public discussions of societal issues. This work resulted in a collaborative paper.

• Baum, S., D.D. Aman, and A. Israel (2012). Public Scholarship Projects for Students in Introductory Geography Courses. Journal of Geography in Higher Education, 36(3): 403-419.
Nontechnical summary available here.