Life in Engineering: EERI




The Nebraska chapter of the Engineering Earthquake Research Institute (EERI) spent the 2016-17 year crafting a balsa wood “tower” for the annual EERI national Undergraduate Seismic Design Competition in Oregon. The organization helps students learn about earthquake risk and earthquake engineering to help limit the effects on built structures. For the competition, teams from across the nation built tall wooden structures that then underwent various shake tests.

Read about our students’ experiences firsthand and see how the team prepared for the competition.

SDC-Portland, Oregon 2017

This year’s Seismic Design Competition was a great experience for UNL’s EERI members. To get accepted into the competition, the EERI team submitted a proposal that included a tower design and its specifications. The tower design was influenced by the location of the competition. We wanted the building to represent the culture of the city and fit in with the existing structures in the area.

The building process took a lot of time and effort from our team. Many members spent hours upon hours piecing the structure together and ensuring everything was built to specification. The process was long but over all, it was a great bonding opportunity that allowed us to get to know each other before our trip to Portland. There were many events set up for students once we arrived in Portland. I thought the most exciting part was meeting students from other schools and seeing their designs. There were also many opportunities to meet with professionals from the industry. This year, Ashraf Habibullah, founder of SAP2000, attended the competition. This was particularly inspiring because we used the software he developed to analyze our tower design.

Overall, we learned a lot from the competition and loved getting to experience a new city. We will definitely take what we learned from other students and mentors to advance our building processes and designs for the future.

Nicole Aschoff
Major: Sophomore, Architectural Engineering

The Earthquake Engineering Research Institute (EERI) offered me a lot of great opportunities over the last two years, but none as great as the opportunity that came with the Seismic Design Competition in Portland. I helped organize and lead UNL’s EERI team for this year’s competition.

Before we ever left Nebraska, I learned a lot of engineering skills beyond my classes from the expertise of the upperclassman in EERI. During design and analysis, I applied the techniques I’ve learned in classes to a real-life situation. While we were in Portland, my eyes were opened to some of the possibilities engineering will give me. I learned from the industry members there, the judges, and especially from the other undergraduate students who had also spent time working on their structures, including design, analysis, testing and presentation. The trip was not only fun, but also gave me the opportunity to step into the real-life world of engineers.

Adam Hansen
Major: Sophomore, Architectural Engineering

This year’s design was due November 30, 2017. I, along with Jonathan Ingram, did physical testing to find the modulus of rigidity to finalize the report. We continued work on the project to mid-January after we received confirmation we were in the competition. We started construction by laser cutting all our pieces. Then we used wood glue to connect the floor plates and used modular construction to integrate the vertical columns and the floor plates. We shipped it to Portland by bolting the tower into a wooden crate, wrapped it in bubble wrap and filled the empty space with packing peanuts.

The tower made the trip with no hiccups and we applied finishing touches such as the roof plate and the dead load connections. We made it through the preliminary judging with no deductions. We were free for the rest of the day, so we explored the Pearl District of Portland.

On Wednesday, we had a presentation: we did well for our first time and we definitely learned a lot. The next day was shake day. The tower survived all three shakes with minimal damage. The wrap-up party was a great opportunity to get to know fellow students. It was a blast. This experience has given me the opportunity to be a member on a cohesive team. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Ryon Sommerer
Major: Sophomore, Architectural Engineering

This was my first year attending the Seismic Design Competition and I really enjoyed the experiences it had to offer. The preparation for the competition, you could say, was a lot more work than we were expecting. Our team spent hours upon hours creating the proposal and building the tower.

The proposal is the “application” for the competition, in which only select teams are accepted. We were one of those teams. The Student Leadership Council in charge of the competition really challenged our team in designing a building that could support a green roof, which added extra weight to the top of the tower. Due to a class conflict, I was unable to assist with the proposal; however, I am very proud of my team for the work that they put into it. Once accepted, we started to build the tower. Many late nights were spent building, some days staying until 2 a.m., and it allowed our team to connect and make friendships. Once our tower and the other extra pieces to our project were finished, we were excited to head to Portland.

Once we got to Portland, we didn’t know what to expect. As the week went on, we attended industry mixers and socials to interact with the other teams competing. The Student Leadership Council made the competition an experience of a lifetime. They held an auction for our towers where industry sponsors got to bid on everyone’s tower as a donation to the competition. On shake day, each team got to play a song of choice as they got ready to shake their tower. Of course, as University of Nebraska-Lincoln students, we played the Husker tunnel walk song. As each team shook their tower, it wasn’t just about how our predictions matched up with the results, it was about having fun doing it.

As the week ended, we all did not want to leave and head back to our responsibilities at school because it was such a fun week connecting with our own team and meeting others from all over the world. Our team learned a lot about the competition, as most of our team has not gone before, and we will use our new knowledge to strive for a higher place in next year’s competition.

Kelsey Stithem
Major: Sophomore, Architectural Engineering

My experience this year as a member of the SDC team for UNL’s EERI chapter helped me learn so much about seismic design and the design process, as well as future career opportunities. It was incredible to watch a project go from start to finish and be a part of each step in the process. The teamwork, skills-building and taking responsibility for important tasks have benefitted me and taught me the basics when it comes to design collaboration.

The conference itself in Portland opened my eyes even wider to the amount of work and hours that goes into creating something as simple as a balsa tower. The other teams’ work was so impressive and I feel our team learned a lot from watching the presentations. Not only was the work of the other teams impressive, though, but so were the people. Throughout the five days, I met other undergraduate students from all over the country and the world, as well as professionals in the industry. The networking opportunities I encountered at the conference were endless and, if nothing else, helped to excite me about my academic and career path.

Yes, there was a lot of hard work that went in to preparing for the competition; however, when I look back on the year, Portland and the preparation for the competition was one of the most fun extra-curricular activities I have experienced thus far in my college career. I highly encourage any undergraduate student to partake in a group like EERI for the exposure to the industry and for the good memories you’ll take with you.


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