Morristown College Student Travels to India to Study Earthquake Preparedness

By: Elise Phillips Margulis


Morristown High School graduate and Aerospace Engineer major, Jake Tappen, will be entering his senior year at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) in Massachusetts in the fall. He visited India this summer to study preventative protection from earthquakes. 


Tappen’s love of the universe began when he was a youngster. He was always fascinated with space and flight and followed NASA’s discoveries as a child. Teppen enjoys problem solving and entered the astronautical engineering program at WPI because he knew he’d relish the challenges.


Tappen credits his high school science and engineering class teachers, Mr. Danese and Mr. Rizzo, with his decision to pursue engineering. Mr. Rizzo taught his 3D Computed Aided Design and Honor Design Studio classes. Tappen explained that those were “classes in which we used programs such as AutoCad Inventor to do 3D print projects for real applications. I had Mr. Rizzo every year of high school, he was one of the greatest teachers I could have asked for. He taught me everything I know about engineering drawings and computer aided design, which I still use at WPI today.” Tappen said. 


“I took AP Physics my senior year with Mr. Danese. Mr. Danese helped me challenge myself on a daily basis and was a great reason why my love for physics sparked during senior year, which I continue to use every day in my Aerospace Program in classes such as Atmospheric and Space Environments and Aerodynamics. Overall my science and engineering course load was pretty heavy in high school, and it definitely prepared me for WPI.”


WPI students are offered the opportunity to study in several different countries for an Interactive Qualifying Project and Tappen chose India because he knew it would be an experience unlike any he had ever had. “I had a few friends who had gone to India to study abroad the year before, and they told me about the life-changing experiences they had there, the friends they met, and the memories they made. I wanted to break out of my comfort zone and truly learn about the culture and lifestyle there.”


Tappen’s praised his advisors, Dr. Ingrid K. Shockey and Dr. Gbetonmasse B. Somasse, who guided twenty-four WPI students through the two-month trip. He said that India was as fascinating as he had imagined it would be. He enjoyed bonding with the students on the trip who he hadn’t known prior to their visit to India. The WPI students also become close with their teammates from the Indian Institute of Technology, Chirag, Abhay and Prabhakar.


Tappen said the people of India were very friendly. “I learned about their customs, beliefs, their respect for the elders and the way they greet each other. It was really interesting to get the chance to try different foods, which I pretty much had not tried before. I also learned a lot about the architecture there, for instance when we traveled to the Taj Mahal. The Taj Mahal is easily the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.”


He expressed surprise about the number of earthquakes India experiences annually. The students stayed in the town of Mandi in the foothills of the Himalayas, a very active earthquake zone. Tappen said he learned about “how the Indian government prepares for these events, how their newer architecture is designed to reinforce them against earthquakes, and how the community responds to them.”


Tappen’s group created a manual for emergency planning for the school to use in case of an earthquake. The manual includes “safety zones and evacuation routes, as well as training for the staff and guards on campus.” 


While studying at WPI Tappen has managed to squeeze some extracurricular activities into his schedule despite rigorous academics. He was a member of the wrestling team in high school and the first two years of college. He then stopped wrestling to focus on studying and joined Zeta Psi Fraternity where he serves as treasurer. 


Tappen was the Philanthropy chair for the fraternity and helped organize fundraisers for the Mustard Seed Foundation in Worcester which runs a soup kitchen and helps the town in other ways. They sponsored a Spikeball Tournament, a PB&J Day (the community of WPI donated over 300 sandwiches to the Mustard Seed) and other great events. “Being philanthropy chair was a fulfilling experience, and I see it as a really great way to give back to the community of Worcester.” said Tappen.


Tappen has been accepted into WPI’s BS/MS Aerospace program so he’ll be taking some graduate level classes during his senior year of undergraduate school and graduating with a MS after a year of post-graduate studies. His core study will be in Fluids and Propulsion.  


Tappen’s career objective is to work in the defense industry as a civilian engineer. He is spending his third summer interning for Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA), which designs, constructs and supports the United States Navy’s fleet of ships. 


Tappen wants to work in the defense industry when he graduates because he “strongly believes in supporting and helping those that protect our country.”

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