Maxinne Rhea Leighton, Ph.D. is a 2020 graduate of the PHD Program in Leadership and Change at Antioch University.


Dr. Maxinne Leighton at her Dissertation Defense.

From L-R: Dr. Elizabeth Holloway, Committee Chair, Dr. Laurien Alexandre, Committee Member, Dr. May Joseph, Committee Member, Mr. Ronald Shiffman, Committee Member

Dissertation Committee

  • Elizabeth Holloway, Ph.D., Committee Chair
  • Laurien Alexandre, Ph.D., Committee Member
  • May Joseph, Ph.D., Committee Member
  • Ronald Schiffman, FAICP, Committee Member


Climate Adaptation, Climate Change, Post-Disaster Recovery, Disasters, Hurricane Sandy, Managed Retreat, Narrative Inquiry, Superstorm Sandy, Design-Planning Professionals, Resilience, Leadership, Vulnerable-Marginalized Communities

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Standing by my bedroom window, looking out at the ocean, a huge wave comes and swallows up my building. Everything around me is gone, including me. I wake up. I am 13 years old and living in the Coney Island Houses on Surf Avenue, Brooklyn, New York. With ongoing anthropogenic changes to the natural environment such as sea level rise and intensifying storms, coastal communities, especially ones segregated by class and culture, are particularly vulnerable in this context that challenges a way of life, and in some instances, threatens that life's survival. This dissertation focuses specifically on what one massive storm - Hurricane Sandy (Superstorm Sandy) - left behind. This research explored how these experiences impacted the design/ planning professionals (architects, planners, landscape architects, engineers) approaches to future climate-related events, as well as the impacts upon them personally, professionally, and societally. A single, embedded case study with narrative inquiry was used to gather first-person accounts and insights into the work, thoughts, and feelings of professionals whom society relies on increasingly as climate-induced crises proliferate. Data were classified into three pillars: Personal (impacts on the self/individual, psycho-social challenges, empathy/stress), Professional (impact to professional practice, reflection on strategies post-Sandy, impact on future events), and Societal (local and global impacts, leadership). Prominent themes under the personal pillar were impermanence, emotional resilience, and dignity. Professionally, Sandy left the study participants looking toward a more reflective design practice. The societal pillar described the broader social issues that emerged from the interviews. Two significant findings were lack of equal attention to marginalized communities and lack of diversity and inclusion within the design/planning profession. As more populations are being impacted by Hurricane Sandy-like events, designers/planners will need to become leaders in changing to both a reflective and proactive stance to professional practice in the context of climate, economic and social justice. This dissertation is available in open access at AURA: Antioch University Repository and Archive,, and OhioLINK ETD Center,


Maxinne Rhea Leighton, Ph.D.

ORCID Scholar ID #: #0000-0003-2619-4491

Dr. Maxinne Rhea Leighton, Associate AIA, is dedicated to fostering human rights and ecological sustainability within the built environment. She has held leadership roles in design firms (architectural, engineering and planning) for the past two decades, bridging professional practice and thought leadership with marketing/communications and business development.

Post-9/11, Ms. Leighton, a native New Yorker, became committed to the "Advancement of Peace and Security Within the Built Environment." As a member of the initial Ground Zero planning team, she served as a liaison between design/planning professionals and the families of victims. Post-Katrina, while engaged with a study focused on affordable housing, she experienced the nexus between race and socio-economics in post-disaster recovery. This revealed inequities not just in communities but the design profession itself. During post-Sandy recovery efforts, Dr. Leighton—who was raised in Coney Island, Brooklyn—utilized her skills in marketing/communications and community advocacy on the Rebuild by Design Hurricane Sandy Design competition; the NYC Special Initiative for Rebuilding and Resiliency; and the American Institute of Architects New York Chapter (AIA-NY) and the AIA-NY’s Design for Risk and Reconstruction Committee Post-Sandy Initiative report.

Furthering her work after these significant events, she has spoken and facilitated at conferences, panels, and civic roundtables including at the United Nations with International Caring Communities as part of World Habitat Day. Her published work includes: author of An Ellis Island Christmas (recipient of the Marion Vannett Ridgway award); co-author of Grand Central: Gateway to a Million Lives (recipient of The Chartered Institute of Building of the United Kingdom Silver Literary Awards); co-author of Educating for Social Justice, A Dangerous Game: Matilda Joslyn Gage Center (Journal of Museum Studies). She also co-edited The Future of Cities: An Integrated Approach to Urban Challenges (2016). As well, she has authored creative non-fiction as part of anthology collections—The Man with the Big Hands in The Other Woman and The He of She, in He Said What? Women Write About Moments When Everything Changed.

An Honorary Council Member for the Consortium for Sustainable Urbanization Global, she is also Vice President of WIIS-NY (Women in International Security), a member of the New York AIA’s Design for Risk and Reconstruction Committee, Advisory Council Member for Save Ellis Island, and an advisory board member for A Movement in Water,™ an interactive multimedia public art installation. In 2018 she was recognized with an Outstanding Women in the Building Industry award from the Women Builders' Council as well as being honored as one of New York’s Power Women.

Dr. Leighton previously earned a Bachelor of Arts from SUNY Binghamton, a Master of Arts in Urban Studies from New York University, and a Master of Arts and PhD in Leadership & Change from Antioch University.