In times of crisis, most people typically run away from problems — but senior public administration major Rachel Reid plans to spend her future trying to solve them.

On Aug. 3 she’ll end her undergraduate career at commencement and two days later she’ll take the next step in her professional life as an emergency management preparedness specialist for Orlando Health.

“I think it’s going to be an extremely great opportunity to learn, especially in a hospital because that is such a fast-pace environment. So I’m excited to see where my future goes with Orlando Health,” Reid says.

Community Involvement

Reid has always had a strong desire to help those in her community. Starting in high school she became a lifeguard for her home city of Winter Garden. In September 2017 she was called into work one day but told she wouldn’t need her swimsuit and whistle. Instead, she’d be making sandbags and distributing them to residents who would need them to prepare for Hurricane Irma’s impact.

“It was exhausting but extremely rewarding,” Reid says. “There was so much organization, everyone knew their role and it was great to see the community coming together. I immediately became interested in how processes like this worked and wanted to learn more.”

 “It was really helpful to do things at work and come into class and learn about them.”

Shortly thereafter, she added an emergency-management minor to her studies and began looking for internships through UCF’s advising offices. She received a few offers but reached out for guidance from Claire Connolly Knox, an associate professor and director for UCF’s Emergency Management and Homeland Security Program. Reid ultimately accepted a position with Seminole County at the start of 2018.

“I don’t know what I would have done if I did another internship instead because I was able to gain so much experience with Seminole County,” Reid says. “They don’t treat you like an intern whatsoever.”

Within her first month she met with department heads and fire chiefs, organized emergency exercises and updated major operations plans. As she completed her six-month internship, her studies in the classroom reinforced her experiential learning.

“It was really helpful to do things at work and come into class and learn about it, like ‘Oh, this is why I’m doing that,’” Reid says. “It also allowed me to help a lot of my peers who didn’t have my experience. UCF really helped me tie all of the ends and figure out this is what I want to do.”

Assisting with Hurricane Michael

Since she’s completed her internship, Reid has worked as a paid employee with Seminole County and has continued to add to her background. One of her biggest learning experiences took place in Tallahassee, where she spent three weeks working in the capital’s emergency management center and with displaced citizens affected by Hurricane Michael in October 2018. She and team members spoke with people in critical need at every nearby shelter to determine how they could help the storm victims find permanent housing.

“It was then I realized emergency management specialists are the people that have to fix these major issues, and if you’re freaking out nothing is going to get fixed,” Reid says. “So you have to take a deep breath and realize that what you do here matters.”

“You have to take a deep breath and realize that what you do here matters.”

But before she was even deployed to Tallahassee, Reid had to manage a smaller, personal issue in Orlando — getting extensions on her schoolwork while she was gone. Once again she reached out to Knox, this time to see if the professor could make some adjustments for her. Knox offered her support and acknowledged this opportunity would be more influential than any classroom assignment. She even contacted Reid’s other professors and insisted they provide her extra time as well.

“I don’t think I would have been able to do it without Dr. Knox supporting me on my educational side,” Reid says.

Soon she will take her state and local government experiences to the medical field as she works with Orlando Health’s hospitals and regulatory agencies, like the Department of Health, to develop emergency plans and system-wide solutions.

“To me, emergency management is filling in those missing puzzle pieces,” Reid says. “It’s figuring out how everyone can work together in a time of crisis — when it really matters.