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Mentoring Women in Engineering and Geology

An undergraduate internship included real world field study and a research report, which aligned with their studies and prepared them to apply for graduate school and pursue professional careers.


GHI’s Dr. Janise Rodgers and Aizawl Mitigation Specialist Lalrinpuii Tlau (c) with interns Sarah Welch-Higgins, Aurora Smedley, Carly Schaeffer.

If you ask our interns from University of California Berkeley what they did over the summer, you’ll probably hear about tricky geology or precarious buildings on the other side of the world. These earth science and civil engineering students traveled to Aizawl, India to assist our team with risk reduction efforts.

Six internships over three summers provided U.S. under-represented students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) with real-world experience in emerging economies. An earth science and an engineering student were paired each year. They conducted inter-disciplinary research with mentors from GeoHazards International, UC Berkeley, and Pacific Earthquake Engineering Research Center.


One pair assessed earthquake and landslide vulnerabilities at 22 schools; another pair mapped cracking and drainage of a fast-moving landslide and slow-moving “sinking areas” in residential neighborhoods; and a third pair documented components of the municipal water system and investigated their seismic vulnerability. The interns’ field work documented threats from landslides and earthquakes to schools, housing and water supply, confirming the need to accelerate implementation of effective policies to safeguard people from these hazards.

The paid positions provided an opportunity that would otherwise be out of reach for some students. Work that aligned with their studies and aspirations prepared them to apply for graduate school and pursue professional careers. There is a good chance they will apply their talents where the need is great.

“I saw how my civil engineering studies can have humanitarian applications,” said Carly Schaeffer, 2014 intern. She went on to earn an MS in Geosystems Engineering and now works as a geotechnical engineer. Funded by the Heising-Simons Foundation.

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