A Younger Perspective: Islander Grad Students Interview Rockport Youth on Hurricane Harvey Recovery

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – “Youth should be part of planning for the future since they will inherit it,” said Richard Schreiber, Master of Public Administration (MPA) student.

How does a city best recover after a natural disaster like 2017’s Hurricane Harvey? Schreiber and other members of the spring 2019 graduating class of MPA students at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi not only dedicated their time and resources this semester to discovering the answer to this question but also targeted an often-overlooked population: youth.

“Tapping into perspectives which are often underrepresented in civic engagement,” Schreiber said, “can give more data and be more useful when building a comprehensive plan for recovery after a disaster.”

The City of Rockport was at the epicenter of the storm as Harvey came ashore. The hurricane devastated the community, causing more than $125 billion in damages across Texas, according to a Texas Tribune report. After the storm, local students were displaced from their schools and were forced to either attend classes in neighboring districts or move away. Rockport is still rebuilding two years later.

While Rockport city leaders have diligently gathered input from adult community members on their recommendations for improving their city and building a master resiliency plan, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi students focused on 16- to 18-year-old students from Rockport-Fulton High School to learn what concerns and visions they had for the future.

“We found these students valued a lot of the same things as the older generations,” said Brittany Houlihan, MPA student. “They were worried about their futures and wanted to see their city thrive with increased infrastructure, affordable housing, and jobs.”

As part of their qualitative study, MPA students built a six-part questionnaire based on what had been asked of other focus groups in the community. The group then visited the high school students and gathered responses that were then analyzed for commonalities. The results from the study were provided to Rockport city planners.

The students were guided by Dr. Beth Rauhaus, Assistant Professor of Public Administration and MPA Coordinator, who could not be more proud of the work her students have done.

“This applied research project enabled our MPA students to master the importance of listening, engaging, and responding to the public, particularly underrepresented groups of society, and include public perceptions in public policy and planning decisions,” said Rauhaus. “These students are prepared to lead resilient communities in a truly democratic approach, where they value those they serve and collaborate effectively with numerous stakeholders.”

Katherine Comeaux, MPA student, specifically gained something even greater that applied experience; she gained a clear path for her future.

“I have decided to take a job in Aransas County – in this community,” she said. “The survey results were indicative of community potential that is very hard to find. For me, everything culminated perfectly.”

While conducting interviews at Rockport-Fulton High School, Island University students said they were impressed by the depth and maturity of the responses – something that taught them a lot about the youth of Rockport.

“At the end of the day,” Houlihan said, “the most valuable lesson we learned is these students want to be heard and are vividly aware of what’s going on in their communities.”

MPA students will present their findings and recommendations for Rockport’s comprehensive plan on Monday, April 29, in Bay Hall 104 at 7 p.m. All are welcome to attend.

Additional Information

This study was conducted as part of the Texas A&M University System’s Texas Target Communities (TTC) program, which is dedicated to providing support to improve Texas communities. The Island University students who took part in the study are:

  • Jenna Kaya Charles
  • Katherine Comeaux
  • Gabriel Cuellar
  • Shida Dusman
  • Justin Guajardo
  • James Hills
  • Brittany Houlihan
  • Lee Pradia
  • Cynthia Ramos
  • Liz Romo
  • Marina Saenz
  • Claire Snyder
  • Robert Tepera
  • Richard Schreiber
  • Huang Zhang