Now that Assistant Professor Abbie Liel has won the Faculty Early Career Development Program Award from the National Science Foundation for her research surrounding the impact of retrofit building designs on earthquake risks, she plans to involve students in this project through service-based coursework.
Specifically, the research is looking at older buildings that were constructed according to the required seismic codes of the time but are not necessarily considered safe in today’s environment, Liel says. While owners of these buildings are generally under no legal obligation to require upgrades because they were built within regulations, safety improvements could be made, and the research looks at how to do this in a more cost-effective manner. The other research component examines the impacts of earthquakes at the community level when a large number of homes and businesses are affected.
“My research is trying to integrate those two problems,” Liel says. “If we can develop methods to access seismic risks to communities, we can use that to be smarter about retrofitting and managing older buildings because older buildings are expensive to deal with, and it puts a lot of pressure on the community scale.”
As part of the service-based coursework, Liel is looking at establishing a local partnership with a nonprofit organization, which would allow students to participate in community service activities while applying their academic knowledge as it relates to this research project. Although earthquakes are not an issue in Colorado, students can work toward the winterization of homes as it relies on similar principles.
“You can apply some of the same questions about what must be done for installation and winterization as you can about what must be done for seismic performance,” Liel says. “That’s the type of question we’ll be looking at in some of my classes.”
Liel believes that this service-based coursework will be more academically engaging and attract a more diverse student body, as past studies have shown. By participating in this type of academic environment, students can also develop a better understanding and be more prepared for future engineering endeavors.
“As a student, I found service learning to be very valuable, and the evidence shows that students not only learn the applications they’re studying but they also learn the technical material better if they know what some applications are,” Liel says.
Liel is still actively developing the academic portion of the NSF CAREER Award, but students can expect to begin participating in this service-based coursework during the fall semester.