Best Practices for EERI Student Chapters

Version 1.2 (5 January 2007)
by EERI Student Activities Committee

EERI Student Chapters have been established to engage students in earthquake engineering, to provide context to earthquake engineering research and education, and to afford students networking opportunities with earthquake engineering professionals. Student members of EERI also gain the valuable experience of interacting with a professional organization, which is an important part of their future as earthquake professionals. Based on our survey of EERI student chapters, we have found that active chapters have specific characteristics that help them achieve these goals. We collated the following ‘best practices’ guidelines to share these characteristics with Student Chapters and their faculty advisors. Of course, these are only a few ideas, and with a little imagination and commitment, your Student Chapter will be a success.

  1. Selection of Leadership
    The selection of the student officers, particularly the president, will significantly impact the success of the Student Chapter. These students should display leadership skills, have a strong interest in earthquakes, and be an active member in the local student community. It is also important that the Faculty Advisor for the chapter be an active member of the earthquake community and be proactive in facilitating chapter activities. Monthly meetings of officers and faculty advisor helps ensure that the chapter has continuing activities, etc. Developing clear and concrete goals for the year (e.g., three invited speakers, two outreach activities) can also help in making sure things get done.
  2. Welcome Session
    To advertise EERI to students and provide a means for members to join or renew, a welcome session near the beginning of the academic year is useful. This meeting should introduce EERI to the students and describe previous and planned activities. Food at the meeting always brings some extra people out!
  3. Seminar Series
    One of the most common activities for successful student chapters is to host a seminar by an outside speaker. These seminars can be organized in various ways:

    1. inviting a practicing engineer through EERI’s Friedman Family Visiting Professional Program,
    2. inviting a current EERI Distinguished Lecturer (travel paid by EERI),
    3. inviting local earthquake professionals, and
    4. advertising as an EERI Seminar any speaker that comes to your university and is talking about an earthquake-related topic.
  4. Outreach Activities
    Outreach activities allow graduate students to use their passion for earthquakes to inspire K-12 students and get them interested in math, science, and engineering. Outreach activities can involve graduate students going to a local school, or a group of K-12 students coming to the university. When going to a local school, the activity often involves a short introduction about earthquakes and earthquake engineering followed by a hands-on shaking table activity. This activity involves students in building structures with K-Nex and testing them on the shaking table. When hosting a K-12 group at a university, a laboratory tour and demonstration are typical activities. (Visit the EERI website to learn more about the outreach programs being carried out by many EERI Student Chapters and described in their annual reports)
  5. Interactions with Undergraduates
    Typically, EERI has been a student organization for graduate students. There is potential to interact with undergraduates, mostly through organizations such as ASCE. For example, the EERI Student Chapter may wish to coordinate seminars with the ASCE Student Chapter. Additionally, an undergraduate student shaking table competition is being developed where students would build a structure that is tested on a shaking table at the EERI Annual Meeting. This represents another interaction opportunity.
  6. Activities at the Annual Meeting
    Each active student chapter can send one member to the EERI Annual Meeting with travel expenses paid by EERI. The Annual Meeting represents an opportunity for interaction between graduate students from different universities, as well as between students and earthquake professionals.
  7. Social Activities
    Social activities can help develop a feeling of camaraderie between members of the student chapters, which facilities all of the activities above. Organizing one or two social outings per year may be helpful.
  8. Maintaining a Chapter Website
    A chapter website can be a useful means to advertise student chapter activities, inform visitors about earthquakes and EERI, and provide useful links.

Ongoing Challenges:

In talking with current student chapters, the biggest challenges were related to competing with other student organizations (ASCE, Geo-Institute, Structural Engineering Association, etc.) and finding and maintaining a critical mass of students.  Some chapters have successfully addressed these potential challenges by working together with other student organizations so that they are not competing with one another, but rather complementing one another.  For example, joint speakers, outreach activities, and social activities can bring more students out than separate activities.  Additionally, it is important to have continuity between the EERI officers from year to year, such that the “corporate memory” and chapter momentum can be maintained.

Another challenge that many chapters face is the ability to develop multi-disciplinary appeal.  Because of the structure of graduate programs, students identify themselves as “structures”, “geotechnical”, etc.  Thus, a geotechnical EERI speaker does not attract structures students, and vice versa.  Also, most student chapters currently do not even attempt to interact with earthquake professionals outside of civil engineering (e.g., in social sciences, urban planning, earth science).  As a result, although earthquake engineering is considered a multi-disciplinary field, the EERI student chapters do not reflect this multi-disciplinary nature.  The only way that this issue can be remedied is for student chapters to take the initiative to interact with all earthquake professional on campus and in their community. Again, only strong leadership from the student officers and the faculty advisor can make this happen.

Good luck!