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ecuscino | Created: 21 Jun 2024 | Updated: 28 Jun 2024
Earthquake Engineering and Soil Dynamics
earthquake engineering

By Melanie Dickson-Rodríguez

Since I was an undergraduate student, I knew that one of my personal goals was to help vulnerable communities through the civil engineering profession. Perhaps this goal formed after witnessing the catastrophic earthquake in Haiti, which was very close to home as I am from the Dominican Republic. It made me question the preparedness of the impacted city for such geotechnical hazards, which we can face at any moment.

After I finished my bachelor’s degree, I decided to come to NC State to study geotechnical earthquake engineering. I was very excited to participate in multidisciplinary and collaborative research that wasn’t only focused on engineering aspects, but also considered the social aspects. My advisor and I decided it would be really beneficial to work on the social side of earthquake geotechnical engineering. We wanted to show people that good technical engineering is not only essential, but also how our work and analysis can impact pre-existing communities.

To learn more about research considering these aspects, I attended a series of seminars in April related to this topic. One of the seminars was given by members from the Center for Collective Impact in Earthquake Science (C-CIES), titled “Collective Impact's Role in Uniting Earthquake Science and Engineering for More Resilient Futures,” organized by Dr. Divya Chandrasekhar, Dr. Yolanda C. Lin, Dr. Aaron Velasco, Dr. Jeffrey Weidner, and Dr. Marísa Macías. I was excited to see that the seminar presented a collective impact model, which develops a network of multidisciplinary parties. This allowed me to see perspectives and experiences not only from civil engineering, but also from seismology, anthropology, and geography. It was really helpful to see how they focused on designing human-centered earthquake information products and highlighted the roles of equity, diversity, inclusion, and justice in conducting Collective Impact research that can increase future resilience to earthquakes and associated hazards. C-CIES's seminar showed me how multidisciplinary projects are managed and how to prioritize the needs of vulnerable populations.

Attending the seminar inspired me to help other students get started with this approach too, as some of my peers do not currently prioritize this in their projects. From my perspective, conducting multidisciplinary research is not easy, especially without a background in all the areas involved, and securing collaborations is not always straightforward. However, I want to share that I’ve found excellent resources that have helped me develop skills in conducting research and projects with social focuses. Here are a few of these resources:

  1. CONVERGE Training Modules: I took the “Social Vulnerability and Disasters” module, which helped me understand the correct concepts to define social vulnerability. These modules are designed to accelerate the training of hazards and disasters with a special emphasis on students.
  2. Workshops, meetings and conferences: These are great opportunities to absorb knowledge from more experienced professionals in the field, receive feedback on ongoing projects, or generate new ideas. I am attending an upcoming workshop titled “Creative Strategies for Understanding and Communicating Disaster Risk”. This is being organized by the Natural Hazards Center and will be held from July 14-17 in Colorado. This workshop will discuss challenges associated with risk communication, such as helping people find narratives that can help them understand disaster risk and sharing strategies for creative risk communication.
  3. Literature Review: Don't underestimate the power of diving into the literature to back up your research. As part of Dr. Ashly Cabas’ research group  at NC State, we have a great paper on the intersectional impacts of the 2021 Haiti earthquake from both geotechnical and social perspectives. Additionally, one of my role models, Dr. Sabine Loos has an excellent paper on how to estimate recovery potential after the 2015 Nepal earthquake by integrating social parameters that can influence the response of different communities.


All right, colleagues, I hope these resources will help you consider incorporating social aspects within your engineering projects, improve geotechnical earthquake engineering research, and guide you in your path to change the world!