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Disaster relief course takes students to Puerto Rico for spring break

7/12/2018 3:37:25 PM

CEE 449 was not the only class that made Puerto Rico the focus of their work this year. The course ABE 498 Disaster Relief Projects: Hurricane Maria was a study tour to Puerto Rico designed to develop a pathway towards sustainable responses for disaster relief efforts. Sushobhan Sen, a Ph.D. student in CEE who was a teaching assistant for ABE 498, said the class – which made the trip during spring break, March 18-25, 2018 – was composed of 37 students from across the university, spanning a variety of majors from music education to physics to landscape architecture.

“It was a very unique experience for me, because I’m a Ph.D. student in civil engineering,” Sen said. “[The students] don’t speak the same engineering language that I do. They don’t even think in that perspective. So it was a pretty unique experience in that respect. But it was really nice. All the students were smart and enthusiastic. Nobody was there to take a vacation; they knew we were there to work, and they had that level of seriousness.”

Sen said the trip had two components: service and infrastructure assessment. Students participated in some recovery work, including painting a school, clearing a mangrove that had been completely infested with invasive species and cleaning up other public areas. The students also went to different neighborhoods to assess infrastructure damage.

Sen said that conditions were generally poor but improving, though areas away from tourism districts were still suffering.

“The government has repaired a lot of the large scale public infrastructure – constructed to decent standards,” Sen said. “But if you go to local streets or local communities where they don’t get public money, things are in extremely bad shape.”

It was nice to see a lot of the students come to understand how important infrastructure is, Sen said.

“Many of them take it for granted. They gained that perspective that good infrastructure doesn’t just happen – somebody has done it, somebody has paid for it, and somebody has designed it. When you go to someplace that doesn’t have good infrastructure … that’s when you appreciate everything that civil engineering does and that we take for granted, at least in the U.S.”