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CCEE students bring engineering camp experience to rural Colombia


The campers watched a virtual presentation at the Sueño Pacífico library.

In June 2022, CCEE Ph.D. students Ariadne Palma and Lina Espinosa, with NC State’s Earthquake Engineering Research Institute (EERI), collaborated with the Colombian youth organization Corazón Pacífico for its first summer camp, “Verano de Carreras” (Summer of Professions). The EERI members presented remotely while Corazón Pacífico volunteers conducted the activities with the campers in person at a local community library in an isolated seismically vulnerable region on Colombia’s Pacific Coast.

Corazón Pacífico, which Palma and Espinosa helped start in 2020, promotes education in the remote region of Colombia. Since the beginning of 2022, the organization has worked with community library Sueño Pacífico of Ladrilleros, Valle del Cauca, and has donated computers, tablets and educational memberships. The group also organizes workshops for children and teenagers in the area with the help of fundraising and volunteers.

Participants watched as their building structure was tested on the manual shake table.

The organization’s inaugural camp consisted of a series of workshops on different career paths with hands-on activities throughout the summer. Children learned directly from practicing professionals who volunteered to share their experiences through fun and interactive exercises. Palma and Espinosa organized a virtual presentation on what civil engineering is and how the campers could impact their community through the profession. One emphasis of the presentation was the importance of designing structures that can withstand earthquakes, due to the community’s high seismic risk from its location on the Colombian Pacific, which is along the Pacific Ring of Fire.

Other hands-on camp activities included constructing a building and changing the mass of the system, which was then subjected to “earthquake loads” via a manual shaking table. The EERI student chapter at NC State donated a set of toy model building parts to the local community library, and one of the in-person volunteers built the manual shake table, which was also donated to the library.

 The campers built structures and bridges using spaghetti and marshmallows.

The second activity consisted of constructing bridges and buildings using spaghetti for the structural elements and marshmallows for the connections.

This workshop also had a significant impact on the library staff, as the children, teenagers and young adults of the area all learned about civil engineering. Their excitement and engagement were palpable with the active participation of the kids throughout the workshop, especially during the hands-on activities.

“I want to thank you for this experience that you brought to the community,” said Sergio Pardo, founder of the library Sueño Pacífico and the NGO Plástico Precioso Uramba. “It was amazing to see the children paying attention, engaged, and behaving well during the presentation. I loved the interactive components and the participation of the children. It was an incredible activity.”

This story was originally published in the CCEE Fall 2022 Newsletter.