10 Qs with
Dr. Carol Cwiak
Associate Professor at North Dakota State University's Emergency Management and Disaster Science Program
5. WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO SOMEONE GETTING THEIR START IN THE FIELD?
1. HOW DID YOU GET STARTED IN THE INDUSTRY?
When I went to NDSU in 2002 to pursue my doctoral studies in Criminal Justice I was assigned as a graduate assistant to a Sociology professor named Dr. George Youngs. Dr. Youngs was trying to start a full complement of emergency management degrees at NDSU. He cautioned me that the effort would take years to bring to fruition. I quickly connected with key partners, to include the State Director of the North Dakota Department of Emergency Management, and we got the ball rolling. As a part of those initial efforts, I had the privilege of meeting most of North Dakota’s local EMs. I listened to their challenges and frustrations and witnessed their dogged dedication to their communities. I knew in that moment that I wanted to help this amazing group of people. I often say, that is where my love affair with emergency management began.
By my second semester in the Criminal Justice program, we had stood up a minor, major, master’s, and doctoral program. I switched programs then and there and became the first person in the first doctoral program offering a Ph.D. in Emergency Management. I was also the first person to receive a Ph.D. in Emergency Management in the world. Alas, that sounds far more amazing (and aging) than it is. Emergency management is still a fairly new offering in higher education, and I just happened to be in the place where the first doctoral degree program was established.
My top three suggestions are: 1) engage; 2) get a mentor and be a mentor; and 3) keep learning.
Connection and collaboration are the most essential aspects of emergency management practice. You have to engage - get out to conferences, trainings, events, meetings, etc. and build a network of friends and colleagues. Every successful EM has their own community within the larger EM community. Mentors are able to answer questions, bridge connections, provide support, and give advice. At any given time, you may be mentoring someone newer to the field than you (e.g., an aspiring EM), while being mentored by someone more seasoned than you. This is an essential part of growth in the field.
EMs work in a volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA) environment. Learning is a career-long commitment. Commit to participating in trainings, seminars, conferences, the Emergency Management Professional Program academies, higher education offerings, book clubs, discussion groups, etc. - every place you can learn more about topics relevant to your EM interests and advance your skill and ability development.
6. HAVE YOU READ A RECENT ARTICLE OR BOOK THAT INSPIRED YOU?
Disasterology: Dispatches from the Frontlines of the Climate Crisis by Samantha Montano (https://www.amazon.com/Disasterology-Dispatches-Frontlines-Climate-Crisis/dp/0778311031) is a passionate call to action conveyed from Samantha’s first person evolution in the area of disaster studies and their inextricable connection to climate, inequity, and governmental failure. This book captures both a clear analysis of failures and unwavering demands for change. Samantha Montano is a force to be reckoned with and seeing the world through her eyes is time well-spent for any reader but is especially relevant for folks in EM. And of note, NDSU is particularly proud of Samantha because she is a member of our alumni.
That is tough, because I have worked (and continue to work) on many projects. I think my biggest source of ongoing pride emerges from my decision to teach and spend my days engaging with students. Over my almost two decades teaching at NDSU, I have had the opportunity to engage with thousands of students. Some are majors, some are minors, and some are just topically curious, but all of them bring to my classes their intellectual curiosity, different experiences, and a sincere desire to help and serve others. I have met so many incredible new professionals at the outset of their journey in emergency management or business continuity and I have been honored to have time with them. It is exciting and gratifying to see them grow into the leaders they become. There is something powerful to be said about being “in the room where it happened.”
So much of my time and energy is devoted to the EM community. I am typically involved in multiple projects at a time that keep me in constant engagement with my EM community. Currently, I am working with a group of practitioners, academics, and a few ethicists on the Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct for Emergency Management Professionals. This project is a heavy lift, but is critical to EM’s professionalization efforts, so the group works tirelessly at advancing it. I also go to every conference and professional engagement I can get to (virtually or in-person) because when members of the EM community are together, magic happens.
3. WHAT DO YOU CONSIDER TO BE A ROADBLOCK FOR WOMEN IN THE INDUSTRY?
Unfortunately, it is too often women not reaching back to lift other women as they themselves climb. We cannot bemoan diversity if we don’t make focused efforts to increase that diversity when we are in the position to do so. The group Climb & Lift (https://www.linkedin.com/groups/12576099/) was created in October 2021 to create a place where women and their allies could increase communication and efforts to support women’s advancement in emergency management and business continuity. I am a proud member of that group and I encourage other women in our field to join and support each other’s career advancement.
I am writing a Broadway musical which I hope to complete when I retire. And no, it isn’t specifically about emergency management, but I will definitely find a way to work it into the script.
4. SHARE A HOT TOPIC OR TREND IN YOUR FIELD!
9. ANY TIPS FOR WORK/LIFE BALANCE?
EMs manage a highly complex, diverse risk portfolio and seek to protect lives, livelihoods, and quality of life; yet they are not afforded the power or characteristics (autonomy, monopoly, or authority) of a profession. This must change. Our community’s work is too important, and failure too consequential, to continue to operate without the control over practice expectations being in the hands of the EM community. Hence, professionalization efforts are the single most important discussion topic in EM - the field needs the requisite power and control to ensure the level of effort and resources required to produce quality outcomes.
Remember the three 56-hour buckets Neil Pasricha talks about in his book The Happiness Equation. One is for sleep, one is for work, and one is for other items. There is a lot packed into that last bucket, everything from personal hygiene to house chores, but what shouldn’t be in there is work. My rule of thumb is to try and use half my other bucket for me time, whether that is going somewhere, talking to friends, playing with my puppy, enjoying a hobby, reading a book, working on a passion project, or binge-watching a favorite show.
10. SHARE YOUR BEST CAREER ADVICE.
Find your ikigai (life’s purpose) and do that. If your ikigai is helping others, emergency management is a great place to be.