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Alumni Spotlight: Dr. Claire Connolly Knox '99 '00

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Sometimes your life is heading down one path but then changes course in a new direction. For Dr. Claire Connolly Knox, that change led her to discover one of her biggest passions. Knox ’99, ’00, is currently an associate professor at the University of Central Florida in the School of Public Administration. She also serves as the director of the Master of Emergency and Crisis Management Program at the university. She has a joint appointment with the National Center of Integrated Coastal Research.

Knox has spent most of her career in academia studying environmental policy and post-disaster planning in coastal zones. She has published academic journal articles, wrote a book, received nearly a million dollars in grants, and leads UCF’s Master of Emergency and Crisis Management Program—ranked number two in the country. Knox’s love for public policy and environmental science has led her to a career path that she never expected. Still, she did always know that her academic journey would begin at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

Originally from Lafayette, Knox chose to become a Ragin’ Cajun to be close to home and because of the number of scholarships available. “As a first-generation college student, scholarships were really important,” said Knox. Initially, Knox set out to study civil engineering. However, early on in her studies, she realized that her passion was environmental science and decided to switch her major. After looking at the number of English electives she was taking, she could also get another degree in English. Due to her hard work and persistence, Knox graduated with two full degrees and a minor in music from the University in five and a half years.

While a student, Knox was a member of several organizations, including UL Lafayette’s marching band, the Pride of Acadiana. “It was absolutely incredible,” said Knox. She was also involved with organizations in the environmental science department and heavily impacted by her professor, Dr. Eldred “Griff” Blakewood IV. “Not only did he help me understand my environmental ethic and critical thinking skills, but he also got me to start thinking about graduate school,” said Knox. As a first-generation college student, no one expected Knox to further her education past her undergraduate degree. Blakewood was there to give her the encouragement she needed to take that next step. “He’s one of those people that you will never forget,” said Knox.

After graduating from UL Lafayette, Knox decided to take some time to work in the environmental science field before attending graduate school. She became interested in how science was being implemented into public policy used by government officials. This led Knox to pack up her things and move to Florida, where she studied this relationship more in-depth in graduate school. Knox went on to obtain her master’s degree and Ph. D from Florida State University, focusing on public administration, environmental policy, and emergency management.

While in graduate school, Knox also discovered another one of her passions: teaching. “I never thought I would’ve loved teaching as much as I did,” said Knox. A career in academia was not what Knox had initially planned for her life. Still, she realized it was exactly where she was meant to be.

Now, at the University of Central Florida, Knox can continue to study disaster plans and policies while also teaching the next generation of emergency management professionals. As she continues her professional career, Knox hopes to write more books and grow her programs at UCF. Most importantly, she wants to leave a lasting impact on her students and encourage them to be open to what life has in store. “Leave yourself open to possibilities that aren’t even on your radar,” said Knox. As she continues pursuing her love of teaching and research, Knox will carry the lessons and knowledge that she learned with her at UL Lafayette.

Photo Caption: Dr. Claire Connolly Knox

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