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Whitehead to Lead ODU Climate Program

Jessica Whitehead, formerly chief resilience officer for North Carolina Office of Recovery and Resiliency, is now the Joan P. Brock Endowed executive director of the Institute for Coastal Adaptation and Resilience, or ICAR, at Old Dominion University, the university announced Thursday.

No decision has been made on Whitehead’s replacement in the North Carolina Office of Recovery and Resiliency, a part of the Department of Public Safety, Bridget Munger, communications director, told Coastal Review Monday. Gov. Roy Cooper established the office after Hurricane Florence in 2018 to streamline recovery programming and assistance.

Jessica Whitehead

Launched in 2019, the institute at Old Dominion offers an interdisciplinary, research-based approach to address pressing issues for the regional coastal communities, according to the university based in Norfolk, Virginia. President John R. Broderick leads the program to study sea level rise and coastal resilience.

“The creation of the Institute for Coastal Adaptation and Resilience marked the culmination of a decade of work and the fulfillment of a vision shared with my late friend and colleague, Dr. Larry Atkinson, with whom I initiated the University’s coastal resiliency effort,” Broderick said in a statement. “The appointment of Dr. Whitehead as the Joan P. Brock Endowed executive director enables us to build upon Larry’s legacy of helping communities threatened by sea level rise by fostering research, leveraging resources, building connections and leading efforts to turn world-class science into global practice.”

The institute has partnered with the city of Norfolk, which will allow Whitehead to collaborate with city staff and leadership to use Norfolk as a testbed for resilience policies, strategies and technologies.

Whitehead explained that local and state governments all over the country are beyond asking if resilience is important. Now they want to know what to do and how to do it.

“We need innovative and collaborative partnerships between universities and governments to answer this question. I’m so excited to be leading ICAR, because ODU and the City of Norfolk are uniquely positioned to set the national standard for implementing coastal resilience and adaptation solutions,” she said in a release.

Ann Phillips, special assistant to Gov. Ralph Northam for Coastal Adaptation and Protection, said the state looks to Old Dominion University as partner to implement Virginia’s Coastal Resilience Master Planning Framework.

“The hiring of Dr. Jessica Whitehead as the founding director of ICAR is a key step to connecting research with action to build resilience for communities across the commonwealth,”  Phillips said. “In her previous role with the State of North Carolina, Dr. Whitehead was a valuable collaborator as we shared strategies between our two states. I welcome Dr. Whitehead to Virginia and look forward to continued collaborations with her and Old Dominion.”

Norfolk Mayor Kenneth C. Alexander said that Norfolk has been hard at work and leading the way in improving coastal resilience and adaptation, and the city looks forward to working with Jessica Whitehead in her new role.

“We are pushing the envelope in innovation with collaborative partnerships with Old Dominion University’s Institute for Coastal Adaptation and Resilience and we welcome Dr. Whitehead to the team,” he said.

Whitehead earned a doctorate of philosophy in geography and master’s in meteorology from The Pennsylvania State University and a bachelor’s degree in physics with a concentration in meteorology from the College of Charleston. Before joining the North Carolina Office of Resiliency and Recovery in June 2019, she was the coastal communities hazards adaptation specialist for North Carolina Sea Grant, where she assisted coastal users with integrating information about resilience to coastal weather and climate hazards into their decision-making processes.

Whitehead serves on the American Meteorological Society’s Board of Outreach and Pre-College Education and the advisory board for the North Carolina State University Climate and Society master’s program, an adjunct lecturer with the Georgetown University emergency and disaster management professional masters’ program, where she developed and teaches the climate change in emergency and disaster management course.

Until June 2020, Whitehead co-chaired the science and technical advisory committee of the Albemarle-Pamlico National Estuary Partnership. She was a member of the Independent Advisory Committee on Applied Climate and the Sustained National Climate Assessment federal advisory committee.

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Staff Report

The story was compiled by staff members of Coastal Review Online.