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Orientation Program teaches PEER Interns research skills for the future

All eleven 2011 PEER Summer Interns traveled from their host universities to UC Berkeley to participate in the program’s orientation program on June 16 & 17. During two full days of activities, the interns were exposed to new ideas and expanded their skills to allow them to succeed in this summer’s internship program and in their future educational pursuits.

Group Photo PEER 2011 Summer Interns and Mentors

Photo showing the 2011 PEER Summer REU interns and mentors who participated during the orientation.

The theme for this NSF funded REU site, hosted by the PEER Center, is “Engineering Earthquake Resilient Communities”, so the orientation began with a workshop discussing the concept of resiliency and how it applies to earthquakes. Professor Mahin, the REU PI, gave a presentation that broadly discussed how resiliency relates to sustainability and how both are largely impacted by earthquake performance. According to one of the interns, “I had very little understanding of what the term meant but after the initial orientation session I had a much clearer picture. The presentation by Dr. Mahin was very helpful in providing a detailed introduction to the topic.”

Following Professor Mahin, several other mentors including Professor Dawn Lehman from UW, graduate student Jack Montgomery from UC Davis, and post-doctorate researcher Matt Schoettler from UC San Diego, presented how their research and their summer intern’s research project relate to concept of resiliency. One of the interns found Professor Lehman’s discussion of sustainable rapid bridge construction particularly surprising. “I never really considered resiliency to include speed of construction/reuse so I thought that was interesting. I always considered it to just be resistance to damage or preventative measures.” An additional presentation was also given by a visiting researcher Alexandra JaYeun Lee of the University of Auckland, New Zealand, about the her studies of the earthquake recovery efforts underway in Christchurch, New Zealand.

By the end of all presentations and subsequent discussion, the workshop was able to emphasize and reinforce Professor Mahin’s assertion that earthquake resiliency requires interaction of many different disciplines. One of the interns echoed this in his/her evaluation form comments: “The workshop introduced different ways to think of Earthquake Resiliency and the capacity/necessity for integration between disciplines.“

Prof Lehman presents during the Resiliency Workshop at the PEER Summer Internship Orientation.

Interns Christopher Kissick and Andrew Makdisi review a sample poster during the Communications Workshop.

Interns Christopher Krage and Doug Spitzer review a sample poster during the Communications Workshop.


In addition to the resiliency workshop, the interns participated in a variety of activities during the orientation including:

  • - A workshop on library research tools and research paper writing tips at the NISEE Library with Librarian Chuck James.
  • - Tours of various earthquake engineering labs on campus, including the Earthquake Simulator Lab with UC Berkeley’s large scale shaking table, the nees@berkeley lab, and the Davis Hall structures lab.
  • - A team-based K’Nex building challenge.
  • - Meeting with Graduate School Admissions Counselor for Civil and Environmental Engineering, Shelley Okimoto.
  • - Panel Discussion (about graduate school and graduate-level research) with five graduate students from different disciplines including structures, geotech and public policy.
  • - Research Ethics Workshop including discussion of various case studies
  • - Poster Presentation Session with Design Tips and a Sample Poster Review Activity

From the intern evaluations, the most popular activities were the graduate student panel and graduate school admissions discussion. This comment from one of the interns summarizes the thoughts of several of the interns: “The Friday discussion of grad schools was very helpful. It was daunting at first to hear about all that we will need to do to successfully get into grad school. After listening to the panel, however; I was reassured that this is the path that I want to follow, and that it is attainable.”

Guest speaker Sharyl Rabinovici (UC Berkeley Public Policy) talks about her experiences as a grad student with the interns during the graduate student panel discussion and Q&A session.

Geotechnical Engineering Graduate Student Mentor Ian Maki from UC Davis (left), Structural Engineering Graduate Student guest speakers Pardeep Kumar (center) and Tea Visnjic (right) from UC Berkeley, participate in the graduate student panel discussion and Q&A session.

Post-Doc Mentor Matt Schoettler (UC San Deigo Structural Engineering) gives advice to the interns during the graduate student panel discussion and Q&A session.

Other favorite orientation experiences included the exposure to research in the labs during the lab tours, and the opportunity to spend several days meeting interns from the other research sites. One of the interns was particularly pleased with some discussions during dinner, and recounted this story: “My top moment from the orientation occurred at dinner on Thursday night when I looked around and realized that I was sitting in a burger joint talking animatedly with everyone at the table about the same hilarious video of a Norwegian earthslide we had all seen in our geotech classes. It was fun to see that we Civils are the same no matter where we come from.”

Both the interns and mentors felt that the orientation was a great success. It is hoped that this experience will provide a launching point for interaction and networking amongst the interns and mentors at various sites throughout the summer and into the years ahead. One intern summed it up the success of the program, quite succinctly: “This internship program is exactly how I would like to spend my final summer as an undergraduate as it is helping to give me a better understanding of what path I should take next after graduation.”

Interns and Mentors on tour of the nees@berkeley lab during the PEER 2011 Summer Internship Program Orientation.

Find more information about the PEER Internship Program.

Funding for the 2011 PEER Internship Program was provided National Science Foundation under Grant No. EEC-1063138. Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation (NSF).