Maggie Lindsey grew up near a coal mining area in the small town of Richlands in southwest Virginia. A vivid memory from her elementary school days is the restoration her family did of their historic home, which dated back to the 1800s.
“We lived in it while the construction was going on,” she told Global Atlanta. “It took about two and a half years to finish the work but I learned a lot about construction while I was in elementary school.”
Currently Ms. Lindsey is a senior at the Georgia Institute of Technology and is to graduate in December with a civil engineering degree.
“The idea of being an architect entered my mind and I started studying math and problem solving,” she said of her high school education, which she began at a local high school and completed at a boarding school in Asheville, N.C.
As a sophomore at Tech, she spent two weeks in a program offered by a non-profit architectural firm to help rebuild a school in Costa Rica that had been damaged by an earthquake. A year later, she picked up a minor course in Global Engineering Leadership offered by the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering in anticipation of working some day in a developing country.
Based on that experience, she said that she expected to spend part of her life building schools in Africa. “When people asked me what I wanted to do with my engineering degree, I would shrug and say, ‘I’m not sure, all I want to do is build schools in Africa, but that wouldn’t pay the bills,” she added.
By the time she was a junior, however, her focus narrowed as her desire to work abroad deepened. “For an internship I knew that I wanted something in civil engineering that would be practical,” she said.
This past academic year, more Georgia Tech students participated in overseas internships than ever in the university’s history with 188 students enrolled in the global internship program. Despite all of the university’s connections with companies around the world, Ms. Lindsey couldn’t find an appropriate one with the right mix of engineering and human compassion that she was looking for.
An intense search over the Internet, however, did lead to Miyamoto Relief’s Sacramento, Calif., office and the email of Sabine Kast, its executive director.
By the time that Ms. Lindsey came across Miyamoto Relief, the non-profit’s parent Miyamoto International Inc. was an established earthquake engineering firm under the direction of Kit Miyamoto, who had been involved in post-disaster assessment and reconstruction in Haiti following the 2010 devastating earthquake and many others including the reconstruction of Christchurch, New Zealand, in the aftermath of the 2011 earthquake there.
Once offices were established in Haiti and New Zealand, Miyamoto International opened an office in Thailand in 2012 to address earthquake risks in Southeast Asia. They now also have international offices in Italy, Turkey and Japan, which experienced the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster initiated primarily by the tsunami following the Tōhoku earthquake on March 11 2011.
In the U.S., the company has offices in Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco, Portland, Ore., and Washington.
As Dr. Miyamoto’s fame grew so did his company’s services including the design of new buildings and the retrofitting of existing buildings to withstand the effects of earthquakes. They also provide risk consulting services for other natural calamities, including hurricanes, typhoons and floods.
After earthquakes or other natural disasters occur, they can provide technical advice and damage assessments to aid in the restoration of affected areas.
Ms. Lindsey was determined to complete her internship with Miyamoto International in conjunction with Miyamoto Relief that were actively engaged in Kathmandu, Nepal, which had suffered on April 25, 2015, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake that killed nearly 9,000 people and injured some 22,000. The earthquake also caused an avalanche on Mount Everest, killing 21 and set off another avalanche in a nearby valley with more than 200 people considered missing.
It didn’t take long for Miyamoto International to set up its Nepal office in Kathmandu and Dr. Miyamoto was quoted to say that he was committed to helping “build back better.” The damage affected more than 1,000 structures and the company launched many retrofit projects.
Despite the widespread work to be done, Ms. Lindsey faced a giant hurdle…Miyamoto Relief hadn’t listed any internships on its website. Undeterred she wrote a canny email to Ms. Kast, the executive director, seeking her perspective on how to prepare to work for a technical non-profit such as hers.
“I finally was able to talk on the phone and told her about my interests and relevant experience such as having worked in Costa Rica for two weeks, but that I was really interested in something more long-term,” she said.
Ms. Kast, who was traveling back and forth between the new established Nepal office and the California office, came through and set up the four-month internship. With the financial backing of Tech’s Joe S. Mundy Learning Endowment she was on her way to Kathmandu.
Once there, she couldn’t help but notice “how polluted the city was. Trash was everywhere, building materials were strewn about…”
Almost two years had passed since the earthquake, but there were many delays in all relief efforts as Nepal’s internal politics were embroiled with several governments in control during the period and an the presence of an unofficial blockade at Nepal’s border with India.
The earthquake’s core had occurred some 50-plus miles away from the city so the damage could have been much worse in the city, and the pressures to restore the collapsed structures lagged.
Once, she settled down in an apartment she had located through Airbnb, she came to “love the city” as she was in easy walking distance of the historic districts where she could wander through its narrow alleys and come upon the Thamel site of “the main touristy area with lots of unique restaurants and shops.”
She immediately went to work with the 12 members of the Miyamoto Relief team based there — a collection of engineers, construction workers and development officials — and helped in evaluating the potential for the new construction of a monastery in the nearby town of Jomsom.
“We were told to prepare for the monastery to have a 400-year lifespan. Since most buildings are just built to last for 50 to 100 years, this was an unusual case,” she said.
Many of the smaller, low-to-the ground buildings survived the quake even though composed of ancient soot-and-exhaust stained concrete, uneven bricks, drooping facades and crooked balconies.
The buildings that suffered the most were the taller and historic ones including the Gaddi Baitak Palace at Hanumandhoka Durbar Square , a UNESCO heritage site where Nepal’s royalty lived and conducted official business, which suffered extensive damage and long delays before its reconstruction was initiated.
The delays incurred public criticism with the growing possibility of the structure being torn down. But they prompted Miyamoto Relief to advocate for its reconstruction in keeping with its commitment to preserving heritage structures once they determined it could be saved.
Miyamoto Relief’s efforts were reinforced by the U.S. embassy’s decision to support the project from the Ambassadors Fund, which supports the preservation of cultural sites, cultural objects, and forms of traditional cultural expression in more than 100 developing countries.
And the delays turned out to be a blessing for Ms. Lindsey, who was assigned to work on the project.
“There were no plans for the site, and bricks were still falling down when I got there,” she said. “We had to measure everything. Nobody knew even what it was made of, so one of the most important aspects was learning how the structure was built and how it failed.”
She also said that aside from her exposure to the engineering challenges Kathmandu faced, her leadership skills were frequently sharpened as she learned a lot from the members of the Nepal office — how to make projects happen, what goes into overseeing program development, how to effectively speak in front of groups about structural resiliency, helping develop websites, framing stories about certain projects and going to communities to discuss what’s happening and what wasn’t working.
Aside from the work, she managed to do some trekking in the countryside and experience the beauty of the Himalayas. “I didn’t realize how important tourism is to the economy,” she added.
Was the experience worth it? “It was right up my alley,” she replied. Her only disappointment was that she never had the opportunity to meet Kit Miyamoto personally.
And as to future plans, she is enrolled in a Tech master’s structural engineering program, which she hopes will lead to her finding a job where she can earn a professional engineering license.
With that degree in hand, she’ll be equipped to go back out into the world which undoubtedly will experience more earthquakes and other disasters requiring the expertise of engineers who know how to “build back better.”