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UCSD Seismic Outreach is an annual program that is tailored for 6th graders providing the students and teachers with an opportunity to learn about earthquake science and engineering. The proposed activities focus on broadening participation by extending the program to include a greater number of underserved schools with high populations of underrepresented minority (URM) students. The seismic outreach program is run quarterly and is led by two elected Society of Civil and Structural Engineers (SCSE) student officers (Outreach Director, Assistant Outreach Director) who contact local school districts, encourage schools to apply to the program, and coordinate all activities. UCSD undergraduate engineering students who are members of SCSE provide one hour classroom instruction during the first few weeks of each quarter to a number of 6th grade classrooms throughout the year (approximately 10 per quarter).  The activities include visual and tactile presentations, hands-on activities about tension, compression, bracing and basic earthquake engineering principles. The kids are also introduced to a K'Nex design competition. In the middle of the quarter, 6th graders in teams of four prepare a miniature structure of a skyscraper made out of K’NEX, basic construction drafts, architectural drawings, and a short presentation of their work to bring to UCSD for judging and testing during the UCSD “Field Trips”. During the last few weeks of the quarter, the sixth graders join undergraduate student volunteers at UCSD for a half-day event to test their structures on a miniature shake-table, have their structures and documents judged by UCSD students, take a campus tour that includes a tour of the Powell Laboratories and the Caltrans Seismic Response Modification Device (SRMD) laboratory, and enjoy some recreational time with games. Awards for best structure architecture (best looking), best engineering (best performing) and best construction (cheapest) are given.


Informal surveys of the science teachers are conducted to inform the strengths and weaknesses of the program in terms of content, logistics and delivery.



The goal of the program is to increase awareness of how engineering is used to mitigate the impacts of earthquakes, increase interest in STEM fields, as well as provide some students their first experience of a college campus. Impact is associated with achieving the highest number of participants as possible, a reported increase in interest in STEM learning experiences and high short term retention of facts about earthquake engineering and UCSD.

Learning Objectives and Standards

  • To increase awareness of STEM and encourage K-12 students to go into STEM, the goal of increased participation is achieved by working with school districts and supportive science teachers to bring in several 6th grade cohorts from a particular school district a year. Objectives related to recruitment include:
  • Working with the IDEA Student Center at UCSD to find underserved school districts (
  • Increasing the number of schools that can participate by recruiting more undergraduate and graduate student volunteers
  • Looking for means to support underserved schools (transportation costs) by looking for industry partnerships and sponsorships
  • Another objective of the program includes learning concepts about the engineering and science associated with earthquake engineering.  Students are asked during their UCSD visit (specifically during the competition where they test their structures) concepts such as:
  • Earthquake engineers want to keep buildings safe even after an earthquake.
  • Identify methods to make structures more resilient safe during an earthquake.
  • What is STEM (engineering in particular)
  • To recruit students into STEM fields and provide exposure to college students are taken on a tour of campus and can ask questions of the volunteers about college (school and life).


Target Metrics:

1.     Contact information of lead organizer of the outside party (e.g. teacher, administrator, etc).

2.     Number of participants and gender

3.     General demographics of schools described in public records

4.     Attitudes about science and engineering

5.     Recall of facts from program


Increased number of underserved participants (target level 20%)

Increased number of participants in general (target level 1000 students)

Improved assessments (implementing one more survey or jeopardy game at UCSD visit to gage student outcomes; or work with science teacher to evaluate outcomes with instruments they may use in their classes)


Expected Learning Outcomes:

Learning outcomes are associated with both affective/motivational goals for STEM and cognitive goals primarily associated with factual recall. Participants in the program will be able to explain:

  • What is an engineer, what is a structural engineer?
  • Tectonics and continental drift
  • Faults and waves
  • Bracing reduces structural damage in a building.
  • Structural engineering requires a balance between cost and strength
  • Loads on a building (weight and live loads)
  • Compression/Tension/Torsion
  • Column vs. beam; Column buckling
  • UCSD conducts large-scale structural testing using shake tables and actuators
  • UCSD research is in an effort to protect lives after an earthquake

Material List

Number of K'Nex pieces per kit is provided in the Bill of Materials. 

Need table top shake table that can input sine waves of varying amplitude and frequency.

Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  • Lelli Van Den Einde (2014), "UCSD Seismic Outreach,"

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