I am currently a guest on the most ambitious Field Trip I have ever enjoyed – a 12-day wander: Engineering Geology in Engineering Works in Greece-Italy-France-Switzerland with Emphasis on Case Histories of Great Failures. The trip leader is Prof. Paul Marinos, one of the world’s most outstanding Geological Engineers and this year’s Richard H. Jahns Distinguished Lecturer in Engineering Geology. The principal beneficiaries are 230 Third Year Civil Engineering students from the National Technical University of Athens, Greece’s eminent engineering school. I, also a beneficiary, am tagging along because Prof. Marinos invited me for the third of fourth time and for once I was able to accept.
Our trip started in Athens on Saturday, 20 March. En route to the ferry to Patras we stopped at a construction site, a tunnel being built for freeway improvements though faulted ground. As is customary, we had to wear hard hats and safety vests, the first time for many of these students. (Actually this trip is the first time a good many of them have ever been on a trip like this; or even a journey outside of Greece.). The picking of hard hats was a sight to see, with much jostling for just the right color and lots of laughter. I was taken with the boots that several women wore; not quite safety boots but more rubber gumboots of various colors. A least 40% of the class is women, which is both astounding and good given the traditional gender bias in civil engineering is toward men. When I was an undergraduate in the 1970’s there were only about 4 women out of 200+ in Third Year Engineering at the University of British Columbia.
Prof Marinos had to bellow to his students in the tunnel as he explained the New Austrian Tunneling Method of construction being used. To remind us that this was a construction site there was mud underfoot and lumbering trucks back and forth. A sketch pad and color pencils were useful for drawing the geological basis for the design. Given some photocopied maps and graphs the students had to estimate how much deformation the ground might suffer during a typical earthquake rupture along the 4 km long normal fault (about 10 cm). A number of them took the task seriously, mud, noise gloom and all.
Later, on the 20-hour ferry to Italy, many more students took to dancing at the disco. But there was much initial awkwardness – many of students do not know each other very well, and are aligned in their own cliques and groups. Of course it was the women who took to the disco floor as first; joined by eager truckers, and then the bolder men students. By the time the Trip ends there will be much less shyness between the students, and they will dance and wear their hard hats with confidence.