Student Success Profile: Jordan Davis

Catie Middleton

San Juan Island, located in Wash., is a place unlike any other. With clean, cool Pacific Northwest air, and the potential for whale sightings whenever the coastline is in view, the island is, in a word, stunning.

For Jordan Davis, however, San Juan Island was a place to explore a critical issue facing the world.

Davis, a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s (UWM) Masters of Sustainable Peacebuilding Master’s program, was selected to participate in the Cultural Resources Diversity Internship Program (CRDIP), which landed him on San Juan Island.

CRDIP is co-sponsored by the American Conservation Experience and the U.S. National Park Service.

While so many others were taking in the island’s sights and sounds, Davis was busy conducting geospatial surveys that would allow park staff to inventory and monitor cultural heritage sites and environmental change over time.

Work of this caliber is not new for Davis, who has always been interested in cultural resource management.

Cultural Resource Management (CRM) is the action of managing cultural resources, which can include the arts, as well as heritage, according to Davis.

“In the United States, the term is most clearly associated with archaeological and historic resources,” said Davis.

Davis, who was born in Hammond, La., but raised in Milwaukee, Wis., has been pursuing a career in CRM for some time. He graduated from Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich., in 2013 with a B.A. in History with a minor in Archaeology.

Following his graduation, Davis spent two years working in the nonprofit sector, where he served with AmeriCorps.

“During this time, I found that my interests were expanding beyond History and Archaeology, and more specifically into the realms of sustainable development, Geographic Information Systems (GIS), disaster relief and emergency management,” said Davis.

GIS gathers, manages, and analyzes geospatial data, allowing the user to create spatial maps, as well as other map visualizations and 3D scenes.

While serving with AmeriCorps, Davis worked with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), where his interest in GIS peaked after meeting with archaeologists and historians who were working outside of academia.

It became clear to Davis through his work with FEMA that he was not limited to academia in order to pursue a career in this field, but that a willingness to work across and beyond disciplines was essential.

“The experience, and my colleagues, also encouraged me to explore GIS more intentionally, and perhaps even more specifically, the dynamic intersections between cultural resources and emergency and disaster management,” said Davis.

It was then that Davis found the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Masters of Sustainable Peacebuilding (MSP) Master’s program, where he began graduate classes in 2015.

UWM’s MSP program aims to cultivate the next generation of change-makers at the personal, local, and global level. The program offers a transdisciplinary study experience for Masters students, with the underlying goal of providing students with practical skills to engage in complex problems with methods of peace building.

“The MSP program is truly what you make of it,” said Davis, who graduated from the program in August 2017.

“Sometimes, the level of uncertainty involved in the program can be daunting – but it is a challenge that forces one to engage with complexity.”

Davis’ focus during his studies in the MSP program centered on cultural resource conservation and management, with a particular interest in archaeological resources and cultural heritage landscapes threatened by the impacts of anthropogenic climate change, including, but not limited to, natural disasters.

It was during his studies in the MSP program that Davis worked on San Juan Island.

Following his graduation from the MSP program, Davis works as a Graduate Project Assistant in the Center for Community-Based Learning, Leadership, and Research (CCLBLLR) at UWM. He is also pursuing a graduate certificate in GIS, and intends to continue his graduate education in Archaeology and Anthropology.

Davis is also responsible for the development of the Panther Response Team (PRT), which is a volunteer and university-based emergency and disaster response team comprised of students, faculty, and staff at UWM.

The PRT is partnered with the American Red Cross, Team Rubicon, and Habitat for Humanity, all of whom are responding to a hurricane season that has already begun with Hurricane Florence, as well as still dealing with the aftermath of past natural disasters.

“Hurricane disasters are a major area of interest for the volunteers who have demonstrated interest in [PRT],” Davis said.

Although never deployed to an active hurricane-related disaster, Davis has supported GIS-based geospatial analysis efforts aimed at assessing hurricane and flood-related hazards and risks along the United States Gulf Coast during his time in AmeriCorps working with FEMA.

“All too often, public attention is paid only to large-scale response efforts which occur in the immediate aftermath of hurricanes,” said Davis.

“Significantly less is paid to the preparedness and mitigation activities occurring beyond that limited time frame, and even less to the long-term challenges facing communities in the periods preceding and in the wake of disasters.”

Davis encourages involvement in PRT, as well as local emergency preparedness, mitigation, response, and recovery efforts that impact Milwaukee and the surrounding region.

“I hope that people begin to understand that our responsibilities to the communities most impacted by these ‘natural disasters’ must begin well before, and must extend long after our media and public consciousness pays attention to the devastation.”

For Davis, one of the most shocking pieces of disaster relief is the lack of concern for cultural resources.

“I fondly remember one disaster relief worker telling me that it was irresponsible to devote resources to the protection of cultural resources when shelters, hospitals, and other sectors were dealing with the ‘real’ impacts of disaster,” said Davis.

Despite that lack of concern for cultural resources, Davis truly enjoys his field of study and practice.

“I am most excited about where I will find myself in the next two to five years, especially as it relates to the safeguarding of cultural resources,” said Davis.

“There are so many interesting, community-based, and transdisciplinary projects currently addressing the dynamic and complex intersection of cultural resource management and disaster relief.”