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We’re losing the battle

News | June 1, 2016 | By:

The above title is not about military, political, or social issues; it is about the knowledge base of graduating students and other new employees entering the field of geosynthetics.

In both situations (i.e., graduating students and other new employees), entry level men and women have little or no idea of the plethora of available geosynthetic materials or of the myriad applications they serve. To give you an idea of the available talent pool, the following annual statistics are available from the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) for the USA and from Wikipedia for worldwide data (see Table 1).

Category USA Worldwide (except USA)
Colleges/Universities with Engineering Programs 1,723 7,000 (est.)
All Engineering Bachelor Degrees 83,001 1,000,000 (est.)
Civil Engineering 12,157 150,000 (est.)
All Engineering Masters Degrees 46,940 50,000 (est.)
Civil Engineering 4,739 15,000 (est.)
All Engineering Doctoral Degrees 9,582 15,000 (est.)
Civil Engineering 747 2,000 (est.)

As will be seen later, only a miniscule few of these graduates have been exposed to geosynthetics. This, of course, leaves the onus of geosynthetics education to the agency, owner, consultant, testing lab, manufacturer, representative, inspector, distributor, contractor, or installer to the employer! Indeed it is challenging and expensive (for both the employer and the individual) once a new individual enters geosynthetics employment as his or her profession.

Let’s first address the geosynthetic implementation status at the college/university level. Looking at the many disciplines in the geosynthetics field, the logical entry discipline for formal training is civil engineering. This does not mean that other engineering disciplines—such as chemical, materials, mechanical, electrical, environmental, etc.—cannot be involved, it’s just that a dedicated course in geosynthetics is not likely in any other than a civil engineering program.

Students in disciplines other than engineering (such as chemistry, business, law, economics, marketing, etc.) are also not likely to have any exposure to geosynthetics. So why are colleges and universities with civil engineering programs not teaching geosynthetics? The reasons are many, including:

  • university administrative pressure to reduce overall course credits for graduation.
  • university administrative pressure to have more social and liberal courses within engineering curricula.
  • departmental administrative pressure to have fewer specialized technical courses.
  • departmental faculty competition with many other specialized technical courses.
  • departmental costs (and space) involved in setting up a geosynthetics laboratory.
  • departmental requirements of sufficient student enrollment for a geosynthetic course to justify a faculty member’s teaching commitment.

To be sure, efforts to encourage geosynthetic education at the college and university level have been made, most notably in the “Educate-the-Educators” programs. For five consecutive summers, from 1994 to 1998, a one-week course on geosynthetics was given at Auburn University under the guidance of Prof. David Elton.

In a survey made by GSI in 2012 (14 to 18 years later), out of a total of 136 participants 18 (13%) had given a geosynthetic course. A second survey made through the United States Universities Council on Geotechnical Education and Research (USUCGER) found that 24 colleges and universities taught a stand-alone geosynthetics course in 2014. The above said, there are many existing courses regularly being taught that include some aspects of geosynthetics. For example, the following applies in this regard:

  • geomembranes and geosynthetic clay liners for liners in landfill-related courses.
  • geogrids and geotextiles for walls, slopes, and filters in geotechnical-related courses.
  • geotextiles (and other geosynthetics) for highway pavement courses.
  • geopipe (and other geosynthetics) for liquid distribution in hydraulics-related courses.

However, such existing civil engineering courses hardly do justice to explain the complete geosynthetics technology, much less make a graduating student see the field in a holistic sense.

The purpose in undertaking this activity is to provide a complete, on-demand body of geosynthetics information that will be available at any time and any place.

Toward the end of having a complete course in geosynthetics, we have decided to put the entire textbook, Designing with Geosynthetics, in a distance-learning, on-demand format. The existing textbook, made for teaching a full nine-month academic year’s coursework, is being transitioned into about 2,000 PowerPoint® slides, each with voice-over by yours truly. It directly follows the 914-page textbook, section-by-section, and page-by-page. The eight chapters include:

Chapter 1—Overview of Geosynthetics
Chapter 2—Designing with Geotextiles
Chapter 3—Designing with Geogrids
Chapter 4—Designing with Geonets (and Geospacers)
Chapter 5—Designing with Geomembranes
Chapter 6—Designing with Geosynthetic Clay Liners
Chapter 7—Designing with Geofoam
Chapter 8—Designing with Geocomposites

To update and augment this 2012 textbook, there will be several current webinars and slide presentations included, as well as direct links to YouTube™ clips illustrating situations of interest. When completed by mid-summer 2016, the course will be in the form of a set of CDs and, yes, there will be a charge that is not yet determined.

The purpose in undertaking this activity is to provide a complete, on-demand body of geosynthetics information that will be available at any time and any place for the new or relatively new employee of an organization dealing with geosynthetics.

Obviously, in-house augmentation training of specific materials and applications should complement this distance-learning course, but the heavy-lifting of basic training, in a completely generic sense, will now be available.

Because this effort is currently a work in progress, please communicate your thoughts and comments to me:

Thanks in advance.

Bob Koerner is director emeritus of the Geosynthetic Institute and professor emeritus at Drexel University.

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