Author Archives: Nora Schwaller

Teacher of record: PLAN 247

When I first signed up to teach PLAN 247: Solving Urban Problems it was the Fall of 2019. It was a simpler time, Covid was not yet a household name, classes occurred on campus, and, while racial tensions were brewing beneath the surface, they had yet to spill out into the streets in the form of protests through most of our major cities.

I had expected to teach in one of the familiar classrooms in our familiar department building on our familiar campus. Instead, the first class I taught was online, first from an office set up in a spare room of my parents house, and, later, in an office nook set up in my own home. While I have been training, in some sense or another, to teach a class in person through a series of TAships, I came to the online classroom with very little experience in how to make this work.

That said, I’m a millennial, and I had a few ideas up my sleeves that I wanted to trial out.

I made google slides the backbone of my course lecture style. I invited all the students to join the document and gave them permission to edit, leaving open spots where they were explicitly required to do so. I broke up my slide decks a couple of different ways.

First, I had traditional lectures. In these, I went through different concepts and then assigned them discussion questions that highlighted key takeaways and invited them to write down and later explain their positions to the class:

Second, I had case studies. In these, I presented controversial planning solutions and showed multiple sides of the argument for or against them, using 5-10 different perspectives.


Afterwards, I asked them to take opposing, argumentative positions (even if they didn’t agree with them!), and led small debates on different features of the issue at hand.


Finally, I created a range of activities. These classes began with a lecture on the issue at large, then broke out into parallel exercises that students put together live. I left blank slides for them to fill in, with directions on what sort of pictures they should include, what questions they should answer, and links to relevant resources. Each student had an assigned city that they followed throughout the class. To keep time, and to show without having to go into a overload of detail, I went through the exercise myself with my own city.

Overall, I think it ended up being very successful. The students were wonderfully engaged for such a rough time of the year, and for such a complicated shift in their learning structure. They participated in class, talked to each other, and, in the end, presented policy recommendations to solve urban problems in their case study city. It was an odd first go around of teaching, but I honestly enjoyed it more than expected, and look forward to finding new ways to engage students in the future.

ACSP 2020: Four Abstracts Accepted

I have presented the past two years at the 2018 ACSP conference in Buffalo, New York; as well as the 2019 ACSP conference in Greenville, SC, so, I am comfortable with the process by now. However, was a little surprised to reflect back on the work I’ve done the past year, on my own papers and on teams with other researchers, and realize I’ve been a partner on four different projects that are being presented on for this upcoming conference (theoretically still taking place) in Toronto.

A quick list of the paper authors and the other authors are below:

Abstract ID: 199

SCHWALLER, Nora [presenting]
NGUYEN, Mai [primary author]
CAMPBELL, Leah [co-author]


flood parcel

Abstract ID: 379
HINO, Miyuki [presenting author]
BENDOR, Todd [co-author]
BRANHAM, Jordan [co-author]
KAZA, Nikhil [co-author]
SALVESEN, Dave [co-author]
SCHWALLER, Nora [co-author]
SEBASTIAN, Antonia [co-author]
SWEENEY, Shane [co-author]


Abstract ID: 885
BRANHAM, [presenting author]
SCHWALLER, Nora [co-author]



Abstract ID: 368
CAMPBELL, Leah [presenting author]
NGUYEN, Mai [primary author]
SCHWALLER, Nora [co-author]

Article under Revise and Resubmit

I came from a very different corner of the academic universe than the social sciences – Architecture. Anecdotally, it’s the sort of field where smart, quirky people who never learned the difference between their/there and those with severe dyslexia can end up and find success through a potent mix of projected confidence and all-nighters. It takes hard work, iterative work, and just about zero publications.

As a result, this is my first round through the peer-reviewed publication process, and I am double-dipping to catch up. In the past week and a half I have received two revise and resubmits from two different journals on two different articles (on work produced from just one survey, while we’re counting).

There is a lot of discussions out there on how academic publishing, and it’s importance to the success of a career in academia, are part of a broken cycle in a deteriorating system. There’s certainly some credence to that, and people a lot smarter than me with a lot more experience have written extensively about it. But, for the time being, I’m pretty stoked on these results; I’m happy-anxious about the feedback, and excited to get it wrapped up and accepted.

Also, I got the second notice on my 30th birthday, it would have been a real bummer if that had turned out to be a flat out rejection.

Passed Comprehensive Exams

Today, I finished a new milestone in working towards my PhD: passing comprehensive exams. The way that our department structures comprehensive exams is split into two sections. In the first section, I completed five written exams over a seven day period: three four hour exams for Theory, Research Design, and Research Methods; and two six hour exams for my focus areas: Migration and Disasters.

After a brief review period and feedback from my committee members, I entered the oral exam segment. In this portion, I sit with all of my five committee members as they take turns asking me questions about the responses to my written exams, and whatever else they wanted to query me on. Once that was done, I left the room so they could deliberate, and returned to hear that I had passed my comprehensive exams!

Next step: dissertation proposal.

Blog Post on Phil Freelon

I wrote a new blog post for Carolina Angles on the the passing of local and global architect, Phil Freelon. An excerpt is included below:

Philip Goodwin Freelon, local architect and the Architect of Record for the lauded National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., died on July 9th, 2019, at the age of 66. His death was due to complications from ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease.

In addition to being a nationally prominent architect, Mr. Freelon was an important local figure. He graduated in 1975 from North Carolina State University’s College of Design. Later, he served as an adjunct professor at his Alma Mater and designed both the Partner III building and the contemporary expansion of the Gregg Museum of Art and Design, both on NC State’s campus. At 25, he became the youngest architect to ever be licensed in North Carolina.

Read more at Carolina Angles

Natural Hazards Center’s Hazards Workshop: Poster Presenter

The Natural Hazards Center is an National Science Foundation-designated organization dedicated to furthering knowledge on the social dimensions of natural dimensions and facilitating research and coordination between academics and practitioners. It is run through the University of Colorado at Boulder. For over 40 years, it has been hosting an annual conference on Natural Hazards research and Applications. For this current workshop, I am participating in a poster session to showcase some of my work of post-disaster migration.

My poster analyzes post-disaster displacement from and return to Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria, specifically focusing on the following questions:

1) Are disaster migrants displaced to areas with comparatively low-levels of vulnerability?
2) Do patterns of settlement by post-disaster migrants resemble pre-disaster migration trends?
3) Do these patterns influence individuals’ decisions to return or to remain?


At What Point Managed Retreat 2019: Presenter

Recently, the Climate Adaption Initiative at Columbia University’s Earth Institute hosted the Managed Retreat conference. I had the privilege of presenting work that I have been developing with Jordan Branham on Disaster Exposure and Migration: The Impact of Major and Minor Flood Events on Population Loss for the panel on Migration as Adaptation.

I had an absolutely fantastic experience, and met some scholars that I have been reading extensively (including Elizabeth Fussell), met with some colleagues my age that I am beginning to become familiar with through these types of events, and learned a lot. This conference had multiple panels and presentations on buyouts, on how we should even approach the term ‘managed retreat’, and conversations with local community leaders and members of indigenous groups who’s homes are threatened by sea-level rise.

Carolina Planning Journal: Published Book Review

For the most recent Carolina Planning Journal: Changing Ways, Making Change Volume 44, 2019, I wrote a review on The Poisoned City: Flint’s Water and the American Urban Tragedy, by Anna Clark. An excerpt is included below:

Possibly because the Flint water crisis does not have one true cause, The Poisoned City does not have one true narrative. Clark’s account follows multiple historic arcs that range from the founding of the city to the rise and fall of leaded gasoline to power vehicles… [Taken together] Clark’s story, and the anecdotes that fill the pages, is enough to make you want to buy a water filter and test your taps.

First Prize: ASFPM Student Paper Competition

This is an update to my earlier post on being named a semi-finalist for the ASFPM 2019 Conference Student Paper Competition.  I wrote a paper with Jordan Branham entitled “Disaster Exposure and Migration: The Impact of Major and Minor Flood Events on Population Loss.” I presented the paper on Tuesday, and, today, was awarded first place for this work.

See more about the final paper here!

Climate Change Adaptation Panel: Moderator

Today, I had the privilege of moderating a great panel, Climate Change Adaptation: Communities at a Crossroad, for the 6th annual Climate Change and Resilience Symposium hosted by UNC’s school of public health. A quick description of the panel is below:

“With the Communities at a Crossroad panel, we will hear from academics and practitioners engaged with planning for hazards and climate change in North Carolina. These panelists have diverse experience in academia, planning consultancy firms, and local governments; their work to support local communities offers valuable lessons learned for communities facing a shifting environment in the era of climate change.”