PEER Education Program: First Year in Review

The PEER Education Program, now in its second year, emphasizes the integration of undergraduate and graduate students into the PEER community of research and education. Additional educational foci such as K-12 teacher and student training as well as continuing education for the professional community are coordinated with PEER's Outreach Program.

The principal educational opportunities for PEER's undergraduate and graduate students during Year 1 included programs for 20 Summer Interns, 6 Academic Year Interns, 27 Undergraduate Scholars and 13 Graduate Fellows. These education programs are continuing in Year 2 with some modification and augmentation.

Summer Internship Program

According to PEER's strategic plan, the Summer Internship Program is intended "to interest, attract, train and retain undergraduates who have expressed an interest in earthquake engineering and earthquake-related fields." If the Summer '98 Internship Program was a benchmark, the program's goals were more than met. The select group of undergraduates chosen to work with faculty mentors on PEER-related projects proved to be inspired and energized by this unique educational opportunity.

Summer Intern Melissa Cutter (UCI) in field for vibration testing of a ceramic bushing

Based upon the success of the '98 experience, Year 2 will include more research and practical training opportunities for the next group of interns. It is anticipated that 30 Summer Interns will be mentored by PEER faculty, and 20 by PEER-coordinated industry mentors during summer of '99. The application process for all Summer Interns is being coordinated through PEER's website from March 1 to April 15. Internships for this program will be announced in May.

The Summer Internship Program sponsored 20 upper division undergraduates from PEER-core, PEER-affiliated, and non-PEER institutions (Columbia University; University of Puerto Rico). Each intern received a stipend to fund a specific research project of choice based on close collaboration with the respective PEER faculty mentor. The interns performed and evaluated the research in conjunction with PEER faculty mentors at 13 PEER-core and affiliated campuses. Research projects focused mainly on documenting the effects of seismic activity upon both natural and man-made structures so that earthquakes can be better understood and extensive damage prevented. The benefit to the students was twofold: they experienced hands-on, individualized learning in laboratory and field settings, and they increased their competitive value in their academic careers and eventual searches for employment.

After submitting detailed reports of summer research projects to the PEER Education Office, the interns, hosted by PEER, participated in the Annual Meeting of the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute (EERI), February 5-6 in San Diego. Friday evening's Poster Session allowed the interns to present their research projects in an informal setting while interacting with world-renowned specialists in earthquake engineering. In addition to attending Friday evening's banquet, the interns took advantage of EERI's Saturday program by visiting the UCSD laboratories.

Academic Year Internship Program

Based upon the success of the Summer '98 Intern Program, PEER's Education Committee decided to offer six Academic Year Internships for the '98-'99 term. Under-represented student groups were encouraged to apply to this program. Each applicant developed a research proposal with a faculty mentor and submitted the proposal via PEER's web page. The topics of the Academic Year Interns's research include

Earthquake Engineering Scholars Course (EESC)

As conceived by PEER's Education Committee, the Earthquake Engineering Scholar's Course (EESC) is a multi-campus program that provides instruction to engineering seniors who have demonstrated a sincere interest in earthquake engineering or an earthquake-related field and have achieved a high level of scholarship.

PEER Undergraduate Scholars

The general course curricula was defined by the entire Education Committee, the specific details by the EESC subcommittee. During the fall '98 term, 27 handpicked seniors from 12 PEER universities were hosted to four weekend retreats at Caltech, UCSD, UCD, and UCB from late September until mid-November. Each of the four host schools presented a base level of course content in its given topic area as follows:

  1. Seismology (Caltech)
  2. Structural Dynamics/Engineering (UCSD)
  3. Geotechnical Earthquake Engineering (UC Davis)
  4. Public Policy (UC Berkeley)

An additional objective of the course was to recruit new talent to the field of earthquake engineering as well as to the respective core university. Complementing this objective, the schools conducted tours to "show off" laboratories and other facilities. Judging by enthusiastic student response, it is anticipated that a very high percentage of these seniors will pursue graduate degrees at PEER institutions in fall '99.

"I loved the program, and am honored that I was chosen to participate," said Casey Bradford, a UC Berkeley senior. Mr. Bradford added that as a result of the weekend courses, he is applying to graduate school at all four of the schools visited. Another scholar, Lianne Bell, wrote, "In general, I think this is a very valuable program, and it gave me some glimpses into what research in earthquake engineering is about. We saw a whole range of projects, and had a chance to ask the professors and graduate students questions about them."

Evaluations from the students also included suggestions on how to improve the course further for the fall '99 academic term.

The Undergraduate Scholars were not the only ones to benefit from the retreats. Anecdotal returns from participating faculty at all four campuses have praised the quality and enthusiasm of the scholars, and, despite all the preparation needed for hosting an entourage of 27, all faculty have expressed that it was well worth the effort. One faculty host has already seen "a slew" of applications to his school's graduate program.

PEER Graduate Fellows

Two traditional approaches during Year 1 enabled graduate students to participate in PEER's research program. First, many graduate student researchers worked on specific PEER-funded projects under the direction of a faculty investigator. Second, 13 first-year Ph.D. students were awarded PEER Graduate Fellowships to work on PEER-related projects. Eleven of the Ph.D students are attending PEER's core universities; two are attending affiliated universities. The emphasis on graduate student participation in Year 2 activities will include two changes: (1) graduate student researchers will augment their interaction with their home campus principal investigator to include other student and faculty PEER researchers (including those off the home campus) and (2) Graduate Fellowships for under-represented groups will be strongly encouraged.

K-12 Program

The Pacific Earthquake Engineering Research Center is engaged in the delivery of an educational program related to its main earthquake engineering research program. As part of its broad-based educational outreach services provided to undergraduate and graduate students and practicing engineers, PEER has identified grades kindergarten through 12 (K-12) schools as another important user group and target audience.

PEER's K-12 program is an initiative intended to interest pre-college students in continuing their education in earthquake engineering. K-12 focuses on earthquake awareness, sponsors projects and contests that encourage learning about earthquakes, and helps prepare students for college. This year, PEER is sponsoring several workshops for educators at the K-12 level. The workshops are designed to give teachers the tools needed to teach methods of scientific inquiry, especially as these relate to earthquakes and seismology. It is vitally important that educators learn how to adapt this knowledge to the classroom. Since math and science courses are often the weakest points of the U.S. education system, any contribution to facilitate learning in these areas is a top priority. Because of the size and complexity of the K-12 target group, PEER engaged in a classic strategic planning exercise to identify those activities which most appropriately fit the allocation of resources, and to identify alternatives for effective programming. The PEER education program used a seven-step strategic planning process with a five-year implementation horizon.

  1. History—The PEER organization and educational program are new, thus providing an opportunity to establish a baseline for future planning.
  2. Size Up—The PEER advisory committee will discuss the strengths and challenges of the organization as perceived during development of the plan.
  3. Organizational Objectives—The mission statement is the ideal outcome of the organization or what the program intends to be.
  4. Forecasting the Environment—Forecasting is an indispensable phase of long-range or strategic planning.
  5. Illuminating and Evaluating Strategic Objectives—From the aforementioned planning phases, objectives will be formed and will be a product of what we already know, what we have discovered, and what we foresee.
  6. Implementing the Strategy—The K-12 program will be implemented over five years according to the priority of the various objectives.
  7. Assessment, Review, Replanning—The advisory panel will organize the review process and continued relevance of the plan to alert the organization to the need for modifications.

The strengths of the PEER Education Program are as follows:

EERI Student Chapters

Student Chapters of EERI were developed at UCD, UCI, and UCSD during Year 1. A council of EERI Student Chapter representatives, including representatives from the existing chapters at UCB and Oregon State, will be formed in Year 2 and hosted to a national conference to discuss matters of particular interest to students. The council, in turn, will provide input to PEER's Education Committee on how the educational experience of the student chapters can be enriched. EERI Student Chapters at all PEER core institutions is a Year 2 goal of the Education Committee.

Gerard Pardoen, Professor
Civil & Environmental Engineering
University of California, Irvine