Daphne Gallegos ’19 Develops Natural Disaster Preparedness Plan for Cayambe Volcán, Ecuador while in Walla Walla, WA

Hello to all who wander and may stumble across these exciting blog posts! My name is Daphne Gallegos, and I am a rising senior (whoa!) from Pasco, WA. I am double majoring in Foreign Language and Literature: French and Biology, with a minor in Chemistry. Nine and a half out ten people ask me what I intend to do with such a medley of information and two seemingly unrelated majors and my answer adds to the medley and seemingly dysconnectivity: I hope to attend a school of public health after graduating from Whitman to learn more about how to effectively marry the art of communication to marginalized groups in the US and challenges in health that marginalized folks are disproportionately facing. It is not the most linear path, but it all makes sense in my mind, so not to worry! Also, I attend a liberal arts institution, so if this isn’t getting a bang for your buck, I am not one-hundred percent sure what is!

More on the term, relativity: I was very fortunate to land this internship for the summer because of the fact that the project has everything to do with what I plan to accomplish after Whitman. Dr. Luke Bowman was the O’Donnell Visiting Educator (in the Geology department) at Whitman from January through March of this school year. Unfortunately (but really, fortunately because I had the time of my life), I missed meeting him at Whitman as I was abroad in Nantes, France for the semester. I had not met him, or taken the geology class he was offering. In the spring when announcements for open internship positions began to flood and jam into every crevice of Whitman students’ Gmail  inbox, I ran across an email from Dr. Bowman. He was looking for an intern to take on some of the analytical and digestive work from his team’s research in Cayambe, Ecuador. Essentially, he and his team are working to understand risk perception according to residents surrounding the Cayambe Volcano in order to develop a more comprehensive and “desirable-for-the-people” safety plan/evacuation strategy/disaster preparedness plan for the next eruption.

The Cayambe volcano is beautiful, and you should check out some pictures on the web; However, just like many other beauties in the world, there is a dark side! The volcano has historically erupted around every 200 years~ish. The last recorded eruption was in 1786, so it has been well over 200 years. In 2016, the volcano experienced periods of seismic unrest which caused alarm for local/national authorities, as well as residents. After initial reports about a potential eruption were issued in June 2016, it became apparent that neither the public nor the authorities were prepared to face a volcanic hazard event. Seismic unrest was largely interpreted as evidence of an active magma system at depth in the volcano that could lead to an eruption in the future. However, past periods of unrest have not resulted in volcanic activity, which complicates the public’s understanding of volcanic hazards and aspects of risk communication aimed at reducing the impacts of hazardous events.

Drs. Luke Bowman and Julie Morin collected both quantitative and qualitative data, mostly in the form of interviews and surveys, with residents and authorities in the town of Cayambe, Ecuador. This potentially active stratovolcano would threaten the lives and livelihoods of the ~85,000 residents of Cayambe in the event of future volcanic activity. While I am not actually in Ecuador (at Whitman, in the comfort of our own library!), I am working to make sense of all the data that was collected. I have mostly focused on the transcription of interviews in the past month (there was a lot of fun, noisy, loud background noises) with a lot of note-taking to begin to qualitatively organize the data in the forms of common themes among the people being interviewed. The next steps are to come up with a system to code the data to make it digestible and usable for papers, publications, and action! The end goal is to have designated plans for cases of natural disasters for the inhabitants of Cayambe to become comfortable with and to increase understanding of the real dangers the surrounding nature can be posing. This interdisciplinary project bears so much relevance to the world of public health that I will soon delve into. Being able to take qualitative data (which is very different than the data I am accustomed to in biology) and turn it into real positive repercussions for whole populations of people- that’s exciting! Thank you, Whitman, for providing opportunities such as these, to grow, expand, and affirm our life decisions! 🙂


Experiences like Daphne’s are made possible by the Whitman Internship Grant, which provides funding for students to participate in unpaid internships at both for-profit and non-profit organizations. To learn how you could secure a Whitman Internship Grant or host a Whitman intern at your organization, click here or contact Assistant Director for Internship Programs Victoria Wolff

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