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Incoming doctoral student Ruitian Yan wants to help vulnerable communities safely manage their risks, including financial.

Ruitian Yan stands outside near the water.
Incoming doctoral student Ruitian Yan looks forward to opportunities to work with climate-vulnerable North Carolina communities. “That’s something important for me to be a part of,” she said. (Submitted photo)

When Ruitian Yan left her first undergraduate climate science class, she remembers feeling deeply concerned.

“Oh, my God,” she recalled thinking, “Global warming is happening so fast, I’ve got to do something.”

Aside from her concerns about the urgency of climate actions, Yan wanted to study environmental science because it combines natural sciences, social sciences and economics.

After graduating from Brown University in 2020 with a bachelor’s degree in environmental science, she started a career in finance and began reviewing investment projects and portfolios from environmental, social and governance angles. The work showed her the possibilities of leveraging the influence of the financial sector for climate actions through a more comprehensive understanding of climate risk.

In the course of her work, Yan came across a research paper on climate risk and property values authored by Miyuki Hino, an assistant professor in the city and regional planning department and an adjunct assistant professor in the Environment, Ecology & Energy program. Yan immediately knew she wanted to study the subject further and reached out to Hino, who encouraged her to apply for her doctoral program. Yan will begin her doctoral studies in the Environment, Ecology and Energy program this fall.

Hino will serve as Yan’s primary academic adviser. Yan will also be working with the research group led by Antonia Sebastian, an assistant professor in the College of Arts and Sciences’ earth, marine and environmental sciences department. Yan said she was impressed by the guidance other students offered her during her initial visit to Carolina.

“Another reason I chose to come to UNC is because of the community,” she said. “The Ph.D. program is going to be hard, so I think having great people with me who share my values and who I can learn from is a great part of what UNC can provide.”

Yan will work with her peers and advisers on the Carolinas Collaborative on Climate, Health and Equity, a research project funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Adaptation Partnerships program. It is a community-based research project that aims to combine social and physical sciences as well as regional knowledge to address communities’ vulnerabilities to climate threats.

The focus on communities is important to Yan. She hopes to help communities that are vulnerable to climate risks have their voices heard and safely manage their risk, specifically in North Carolina.

“In North Carolina, especially in the coastal areas, there’s a lot of climate vulnerability,” Yan said. “So part of my research will be locally based, and that’s something I’m eager to participate in, especially living in the area and feeling the impact of that research. That’s something important for me to be a part of.”

By Ethan Quinn, University Communications

Read more stories about new Tar Heels.

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