Civil engineering graduate student's internship offers priceless experience

March 01, 2018

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Internship experience can be an invaluable part of education, and no one knows that more than civil engineering doctoral candidate Jaskanwal Chhabra, who spent the fall semester at one of the leading architecture, interior design and engineering firms in the world.

After receiving his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in civil engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology in Kanpur, India, Chhabra came to Penn State in 2014 to begin his doctoral research.

Under the supervision of Gordon Warn, associate professor of civil engineering, Chhabra began working on a National Science Foundation (NSF) project titled, “A Sequential Decision Framework Support Trade Space Exploration of Multi-Hazard Resilient and Sustainable Building Design.”

“The focus of my research is on viewing design as a sequential decision process (SDP) and using reinforcement learning to alleviate the cognitive burden on designers with respect to selecting models to evaluate designs,” said Chhabra.

In May 2017, the NSF posted a letter offering funding to graduate students seeking nonacademic research internships. The application process included a two-page summary of the proposed internship, a student resume, a letter of collaboration from the host organization, and a letter from the principal investigator requesting the supplemental funding.

“We applied, and I was fortunate enough to receive three months of supplemental funding from NSF for an internship at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP from September through November,” said Chhabra.

Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP (SOM) is known worldwide. The organization has designed many challenging and iconic structures including the Burj Khalifa in Dubai and the Willis Tower in Chicago.

The internship was Chhabra’s first industry experience and allowed him unparalleled access to senior SOM engineers. During the three months, he was able to assist on a variety of industrial projects, including the conceptual design of various skyscrapers and detailed design tasks on numerous ongoing projects.

“It was very interesting and informative for my own research to see how low-fidelity (less-detailed) models are used to quickly determine feasibility in the initial stages of design, and how high-fidelity models are used for very detailed analysis at later phases,” said Chhabra.

Additionally, as part of the internship requirements, Chhabra undertook a research project in which he studied the impact of different modeling assumptions on the results of nonlinear dynamic analysis of buildings.

“Working on these projects gave me a chance to work with a diverse team of engineers with amazing ideas and skills and to learn from their experiences in a very collegial environment,” said Chhabra.

Toward the end of his internship, Chhabra had the opportunity to present his doctoral research to SOM engineers during their regular seminar series.

His presentation, titled, “Design As A Sequential Decision Process With Application In Structural Engineering,” was well received and doubled as a chance for him to hear feedback from some of the most prominent structural engineers in the industry.

“I was happy to see the close synergy between my Ph.D. research and design processes used at SOM, and to see the potential for adoption in practice,” said Chhabra.

  • Chhabra presenting at SOM

    Jaskanwal Chhabra, standing on the right side of the screen, presented his research at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP.

    IMAGE: Penn State

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated March 01, 2018