MIT Technology and Policy Program
Gabe Bann

TPP Student Profile: Gabe Bann

What is the focus of your research? What sort of knowledge and disciplines does it bring together? How will it make an impact?

My current research is on disaster vulnerability. My goal is to improve the inequality in how disasters are experienced and in survivors’ ability to recover long-term. Disasters interact with forms of social inequality in ways that expose and explode inadequacies in community resilience. Several demographic distinctions such as age, race, education level, and housing status have historically corresponded with disparities in disaster vulnerability. I am now using real-world data to model the relationship between these demographic characteristics and the experience of receiving federal aid after disasters.

I started out working at the Humanitarian Aid and Disaster Relief Group at MIT Lincoln Laboratory, analyzing and mapping the survivor experience in FEMA’s Individual Assistance programs in several, recent natural disasters. My work there led me to the Humanitarian Supply Chain Lab in the MIT Center for Transportation Logistics, where I researched post-disaster housing assistance.

I’m lucky to have two advisors, Jarrod Goentzel and Justin Steil, who bring interdisciplinary perspectives to my research. Jarrod is an expert in humanitarian logistics and federal disaster aid networks, while Justin has a more sociological mindset and understands the complexity of community vulnerability.

FEMA is currently working on a new tool that will prioritize response and recovery operations in communities based on a number of factors including hazard risk and social vulnerability. I am hoping to contribute to the development of a new social vulnerability index, which has the potential to have a major impact on mitigating social inequality after disasters.

Why did you choose to come to TPP?

In my undergrad, I developed passions for math and sociology. One initial inspiration of mine for my graduate studies was a group called Data for Black Lives, which is based in Boston and works to use data to advance racial equality. Another was a book called Weapons of Math Destruction by Cathy O’ Neil, which describes some of the negative impacts of big data on society.

I originally wanted to study algorithmic fairness, but more generally I wanted to use math and data science to fight social injustice. I first heard about TPP through my older brother Seamus Bann (TPP ’17!), and the more I learned about it through him and his classmates, the more I fell in love with the program.

I saw TPP as an opportunity to combine my passions in an interdisciplinary environment, and that has absolutely become a reality! I have especially loved having the space to explore a variety of fields of research through the curriculum and the electives. For instance, last semester I took a class at the Harvard Kennedy School called Race, Inequality, and American Democracy, which expanded both my knowledge on sources of inequality and on the vast range of policy options for that inequality. Experiences like these have massively contributed to a well-rounded policy education.

What do you enjoy about living in Cambridge? What do you like about the MIT community? What do you do in your spare time?

I’m originally from Wichita, Kansas, so Cambridge has been quite the upgrade! This year I’m living up by Inman Square with some friends from TPP, and I love the area (check out Sunday brunch at Starlite Lounge!). Besides hanging out with my roommates, I like climbing at Brooklyn Boulders in Somerville or going to concerts or going shopping on Newbury Street.

Living here and being a student at MIT has given me the opportunity to explore a variety of interests. I’ve spent varying amounts of time learning to skateboard, skiing in New Hampshire, and surfing at Nantasket Beach. My roommates introduced me to the underground techno scene in Boston, and right now I’m trying to master the art of baking pies.

By far the best part about being a TPP student is the people. The people I’ve met have been so interesting and fun to be around. We learn a lot from each other, often due to the diversity of talents, backgrounds, and interests. I think what sets MIT and in particular TPP apart is the level at which people care about their work and research, and the impact they hope to have on the world.

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