Date of Conferral





Health Services


Ronald P. Hudak


The roles that universities played in the response to the Fukushima nuclear disaster were significant and varied; however, there was limited study on participating graduate students. The purpose of this study was to understand the impact of disaster response on graduate students' personal and academic development. This study examined research questions about the perceived impact on academic and personal identity development. Empowerment, cognitive content engagement, general systems theory, and utilitarianism formed the theoretical foundation. This study used a transcendental phenomenological approach to examine the subjects' experiences in the context of involvement in disaster response. The primary source of data was semiopen interviews with individuals that were publicly recruited graduate students at the time of their involvement in the Fukushima nuclear disaster response; data were triangulated with interviews from faculty supervisors. Analyzing the data resulted in the themes of predisaster normality, proximal impact, stress, perception of foreignness, relationships, breakdowns in relationships, change, new relationships, and religion. Interpreting these themes, it was determined that proximity played a role in the decision to engage in the response effort. Furthermore, identification with victims increased the stress of participants. While the experience was empowering, caution is necessary. Further research is recommended into disaster recovery, the role of interpreters in disaster response, and the role of universities in disaster infrastructure. This information can promote social change by enabling graduate students and gatekeepers to better understand potential outcomes for incorporating graduate students into disaster infrastructure.