There are 29 types of 501(c) nonprofit organizations in the United States and probably many more worldwide. The most common are 501(c)(3) organizations, which include organizations with religious, charitable, scientific, literary and educational purposes. Of the approximately 4 million in the United States alone, the Geosynthetic Institute (GSI) is one of them. These organizations are approved by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to be tax exempt, which has several benefits for the institute. One of these is that GSI can invest whatever extra revenue is made annually into a sustaining endowment fund, which is nontaxable. Thus, the funds can accumulate substantially over time, which they have. One condition of tax-exempt status, however, is that some of the funds must be distributed annually for the express purpose that the organization is established. In our case, it is for educational purposes, which include student fellowships to research geosynthetic topics. After years of accumulating funds, the principal became sufficient to begin a GSI Fellowship program in 2008. This year is the program’s 10th anniversary, and the anniversary is a good time to review the progress of GSI fellowships.
Working with the GSI board of directors, we initially focused on doctoral candidates doing research in geosynthetics with up to $20,000 for a three-year grant. Requests for proposals were sent to many magazines, newsletters, websites, etc., and the board of advisers (BOA) ranked the proposals received for funding. Five were accepted the first year. In the second year, four new and four continuation grants were made. As seen in Table 1, this pattern existed for seven years (2008–14).
As time progressed, however, it was recognized that there were relatively few doctoral candidates doing geosynthetics research. Additionally, U.S. universities were the primary recipients. Thus, a change in the program was implemented for the 2015–16 academic year.
From that time to date, all worldwide masters and doctoral graduate students working on a geosynthetics research topic would be eligible for a single-year grant of $5,000. With this change, the number of proposals increased significantly, and the number of fellowships granted increased as well (see Table 1). This situation has continued to date.
Student names, their university affiliation and their geosynthetics topic are reported annually in GSI’s quarterly newsletter/report. All are online at www.geosynthetic-institute.org/new.htm. Here are some additional statistics about fellowship recipients over the last ten years:
The 73 student recipients came from universities in the following locations:
- USA = 52 (71%)
- Europe = 14 (19%)
- Asia = 3 (4%)
- Australia = 2 (3%)
- Canada = 1 (1.5%)
- Latin America = 1 (1.5%)
Their research focused on these geosynthetic materials:
- geotextiles = 23 (31%)
- geogrids = 22 (30%)
- geomembranes = 10 (14%)
- geocomposites = 5 (7%)
- geosynthetic clay liners = 3 (4%)
- others = 10 (14%)
The application areas had some overlap, but the main application areas were as follows. Note that walls and slopes are placed in the geotechnical area, waste containment materials in the geoenvironmental area and highways/pavements in the transportation area.
- geotechnical = 22 (30%)
- geoenvironmental = 18 (25%)
- transportation = 16 (22%)
- other industry = 17 (23%)
The approaches taken by the students largely emphasized either theory or laboratory testing, but some fieldwork (or data analysis) was also conducted.
The breakdown of approaches:
- laboratory testing = 32 (44%)
- theory = 25 (34%)
- field = 12 (16.5%)
- other = 4 (5.5%)
Most students acknowledge their grants and many list GSI Fellowship funding in whole or part in the technical papers they write for journals or conferences. Because of this success, the GSI Fellowship status will continue with hopes of encouraging further geosynthetics research worldwide. That said, we hope that the fellowships are also of value to the industry by leading many of the student recipients to choose careers in geosynthetics.