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After finals, the first thing many students think about is a relaxing break at the end of a long semester. However, 30 Aggie engineering students took that time as an opportunity to give back through a 15-day volunteer internship with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Among those students was civil engineering junior Anh Duong, who participated in the internship by assessing damages to public infrastructure sites impacted by Hurricane Harvey.

Civil engineering FEMA training“When we went to a site in Houston affected by Hurricane Harvey, I was able to shadow a site investigator at a community park that had been under about five feet of water during the flooding,” Duong said. “It was a very unique experience.”

Before going out on a 10-day field exercise as a part of the internship, Duong and the other engineering students attended a 40-hour certification course put on by FEMA at Texas A&M University’s main campus. They learned site inspection practices and culminated in a two-day exercise at the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service’s Disaster City® training facility in College Station.

“During the last two days, they would run us through scenarios where we would look at damaged sites, take pictures and record everything,” Duong said. “We had a week of training before we went to Houston, and I felt like the actual practice was much more beneficial to our learning experience rather than just sitting in a classroom.”

Duong was paired with another student and they were assigned to a site inspector who guided them in assessing damages within the park. He was also able to interact with other FEMA engineers and drew some connections to his civil engineering education.

“Getting to see different people come in during the process was cool,” Duong said. “We were able to see mitigation practices applied at the site and learn how they might reduce the damage with future structures they build there. I learned a lot; it was a really good experience.”

According to Duong, the experience ultimately framed his career in a new perspective and made him think about various career paths.

“Now that I have this experience, I know that it is always something I can pursue,” he said. “I know that if I ever wanted to do something technical with FEMA, I could do the mitigation work, and working this internship has allowed me to see opportunities in areas I wouldn’t have been aware of.”

Duong was also able to make connections during the internship, both with fellow Aggies and industry professionals, such as the site inspector he was teamed with. Providing the students with this FEMA public assistance program is the result of a unique partnership created as a part of the Governor’s Commission to Rebuild Texas (GCRT), which Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp is the GCRT commissioner by appointment from Governor Abbott. For students like Duong, the experience has proved valuable and a true example of the Texas A&M “selfless service” core value.

“I’m glad I had the opportunity to do this, because I got so much out of it during the short time I spent,” Duong said. “I had never planned on making these connections, but it taught me that you never know what an opportunity will bring.”