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In the classroom: Part 4: Geosynthetics education through the FHWA/NHI

News | October 1, 2017 | By:

Freedom Parkway in downtown Atlanta, Ga. Photograph courtesy of Joey Kyber

There is a twofold purpose for a geosynthetics education program. First, it must offer training to engineers who were not exposed to the subject during college. Second, it must provide a refresher and continuing education for those who have previously taken courses in the subject area.



The continuing education courses on geosynthetics offered by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and the National Highway Institute (NHI) accomplish these objectives.

Origins and overview

Robert D. Holtz, Barry R. Christopher and Ryan R. Berg developed the FHWA/NHI report “Geosynthetic Design and Construction Guidelines” (2008) and the FHWA/NHI Geosynthetics Engineering Workshop short courses, the latter based on the report. The Geosynthetic Materials Association and the North American Chapter of the International Geosynthetics Society supported the development and publication of the short courses and report.

The one- to three-day short courses cover several topics, including geosynthetics in roadways and pavements, geosynthetics in reinforcement, geosynthetics in drainage, geosynthetics in construction and geosynthetics in erosion control.

Learning approach

Drawing on the ideas expressed in Part 1 of the In the Classroom series, “Engineering Education Paradigm” by Bob Mackey in the June/July 2017 issue of Geosynthetics, the short courses adhere to this protocol:

Knowledge: Participants are introduced to several types of geosynthetics, their manufacturing processes and their material makeup.

Comprehension: Participants are given samples of different types of geosynthetics and then are asked to identify them by type, manufacturing process, polymer composition, tensile strength (low, medium or high), strain at ultimate stress (low, medium or high) and cost/sq. yd. (<$1; $1–$2; >$2).

Application: Participants are introduced to the basic functions and applications of geosynthetics, including the functions of separation, filtration, drainage, reinforcement, protection and waterproofing, as well as the applications of drainage, stabilization, reinforcement of slopes and walls, erosion control and scour protection.

Analysis: The design parameters for each of the applications are reviewed.

Synthesis: The participants are asked to do a simple design.

Evaluation: At the end of each course, the participants are given an exam to measure the knowledge gained during the sessions.

The overall course goal is for participants to be able to recognize the use of geosynthetics in design, construction and performance of roadway systems.

Session learning outcomes

Each short course session has expected learning outcomes. For example, from Lesson 2 in the introductory session, participants are expected to be able to identify different types of geosynthetics, differentiate between woven and nonwoven geotextiles and geogrids, describe the primary and secondary functions of geosynthetics, and distinguish geosynthetic properties in roadway design.


The FHWA/NHI Geosynthetics Engineering Workshop short courses (NHI course numbers 132013, 132013A, 132013B, 132013C and 132013D), through specific goals and objectives, provide excellent resources for engineers to gain knowledge or refresh their understanding of geosynthetics and geosynthetic applications.

For more information on the FHWA/NHI Geosynthetics Engineering Workshop short courses, visit and search for 132013 or geosynthetics.


L. David Suits is retired from the New York State Department of Transportation, where he oversaw the testing and acceptance of all geosynthetics for use on department projects. He is the former executive director of the North American Geosynthetics Society (now known as IGS North America), and he continues to focus on geosynthetics education through his work at his company, LDS Geosynthetic Consulting Services, and as a member of the FHWA/NHI course team.


Holtz, R., Christopher, B. and Berg, R. (2008). “Geosynthetic design and construction guidelines: Reference manual.” Publication no. FHWA NHI-NHI-07-092, NHI Course 132013, National Highway Institute and Federal Highway Administration, U.S. Department of Transportation, Washington, D.C.

Mackey, B. (2017). “Engineering education paradigm.” Geosynthetics, 35(3), 14–15.

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