Engineers Who Engage: Elaina Sutley

Published on July 31, 2020



Each month, the NHERI Monthly Recap features a researcher who successfully communicates their work in natural hazards with colleagues, industry and the general public.

In many ways, University of Kansas engineer Elaina Sutley is a typical researcher. She publishes in peer-reviewed journals and other technical periodicals, and she presents at conferences and meetings.

An active website. But for Sutley, another key to communicating her professional undertakings and achievements is the Sutley Research Group website, which she diligently keeps current. The site enables anyone — colleagues, prospective students, practicing engineers, the media — to discover her expertise. She includes the link in her email signature and features it in her LinkedIn profile.

University news. From early in her career, Sutley made it a practice to share professional accomplishments with her university’s communications team. “The engineering school shares faculty news on its Facebook and Twitter accounts, and if significant enough, in the annual magazine, Kansas Engineer,” she says. Her research made the cover of the Fall 2019 issue. To date, the University of Kansas newsletter, KU Today, has produced five articles highlighting her research — and numerous other stories about Sutley’s awards, honors and outreach work.

Working with the university news team has led to stories featuring Sutley in USA Today and the Kansas City Star — as well as to useful industry connections.

For instance, KU Today published a story about Sutley’s NSF-funded post-Hurricane Michael investigation, in which her team assessed damage to elevated buildings, including manufactured homes. “A couple of days after the article appeared online, the vice president for engineering at one of the largest manufactured-home builders in the U.S. contacted me and asked for a copy of our research findings.” she says. “He specifically referenced the KU Today article about our study.”

Open to outreach. Despite her busy schedule, Sutley frequently says “yes,” to unexpected opportunities. In 2018, she was one of the first guests to appear on NHERI’s DesignSafe Radio podcast, where she discussed her career as a disaster scholar. Then, just last month, a PBS film crew producing a series on natural hazards invited her to discuss a tornado study she’s involved with. “It turns out they had listened to my NHERI podcast interview and decided I would be a good fit for their series,” she says. “We’re scheduled to film the episode in August 2020. Fingers crossed it works out!”

Sutley continues: “Both of these experiences are exciting because — by communicating my research in accessible ways — I was given the chance to do even better community engagement. In the first case, my research was communicated directly to the industry who could use the information in their manufacturing. In the second case, I will hopefully have the opportunity of a national platform to communicate information on tornado safety. How fantastic!”