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The Geosynthetic Institute Fellowship Program

News | October 1, 2008 | By:

It was of great personal interest to look into Wikipedia® and learn that there are 1.6 million nonprofit organizations in the United States! Many other countries, such as the United Kingdom and Canada, have similar organizations.

I believe that most of these nonprofits, e.g., universities and colleges, religious organizations, hospitals and health-care facilities, sports and recreational clubs, etc., fall under a tax-free status. As such, their annual income over expenses (aka, profit) can be invested in an endowment fund. The endowment fund can accumulate but some expenditures are necessary following specific taxation requirements. That said, the expenditures must serve the basic purpose for which the nonprofit organization was formed via its mission statement and goals.

The Geosynthetic Institute is such an organization and it has an endowment fund. The fund is held (and invested) by a brokerage firm in the Detroit area. The GSI financial advisory committee consists of Jerry Neyer of NTH, Jim Olsta of CETCO, Bob Koerner of GSI, and the account manager John Basista of Smith-Barney. The fund was initiated on Oct. 1, 1993, and it is to the point where some type of suitable outreach program is appropriate.

From the numerous possibilities, it was proposed by Bob and George Koerner to the GSI Board of Directors at our meeting in Cancún in March 2008 (during the GeoAmericas Conference) to fund a select number of graduate students doing geosynthetics research and development. The caveats on such funding were set as follows:

Students must have passed their candidacy examinations leading toward a doctoral degree. (The reason is that these students are likely to enter academia in a role of teaching and/or research).

Students must be doing research on a geosynthetics topic or area which in some way promotes proper use of the material or system being investigated. (The reason being that such students who do eventually enter academia are likely to continue researching geosynthetics and will hopefully teach courses in, or involving, geosynthetics at their new university).

The candidate student must be recommended by his/her advisor or department head. (The reason being that the project will automatically co-opt the advisor and give visibility to geosynthetics within the department).

The solicitation for proposals should be worldwide in its scope thereby attracting the greatest possible number of applications. (The reason is that the current membership of GSI is approximately 40% international, i.e., non-U.S.).

Last summer, the announcement for requests-for-proposals (RFPs) was sent to about 20 magazines, periodicals, newsletters, and Internet sites. The deadline was July 15, 2008 and many were received — about half from the U. S. and the other half from international students. Ultimately, the following 5 proposals were accepted. (For additional information on the projects, go to the GSI Web site: www. and click on the link “GSI Fellows.”)

Each of these students will receive $10,000, with a report due to GSI by June 30, 2009, on the achievements made during the academic year. These 5 students are eligible to apply for a second fellowship (again at $10,000) and possibly even a third year (for $5,000). Thus, the total a specific student doing acceptable geosynthetics research can anticipate over a 3-year period is $25,000.

There will be a solicitation for new RFPs due on July 15, 2009, and an additional 4 or 5 students will be selected. This will continue on an annual basis. Thus, from the third year of the program onward, GSI will be supporting 12 to 15 students per year. They will be known as “GSI Fellows” and research that is generated by them will be identified as “being supported (in part) by the GSI Fellowship program.” We hope that you will be hearing many great achievements by these students and their respective research activities in the future.

Obviously, we at GSI, its Board of Directors, its Members, and Associate Members are delighted to provide this service and proud to do so. In this regard, please contact any of the current members of the GSI board:

  • Tony Eith, Waste Management Inc. (Chair)
  • Dave Jaros, U. S. Army Corps of Engineers
  • Paul Oliveira, Firestone Specialty Products
  • Kent von Maubeuge, NAUE
  • Dick Stulgis, GeoTesting Express
  • Gary Kolbasuk, Raven Industries
  • Mark Sieracke, Weaver Boos Consultants
  • Boyd Ramsey, GSE Lining Technology Inc.
  • Sam Allen, TRI/Environmental Inc.

or the undersigned for comments, suggestions, or opinions regarding the fellowship program or its particulars.

George R. Koerner, Ph.D., P.E., CQA,, Robert M. Koerner, Ph.D., P.E., NAE,

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