5 Questions with IGS Council Candidate Erol Tutumluer

Erol Tutumluer, Ph.D., is the Abel Bliss Professor in Engineering, Director of International Programs, and Paul Fraser Kent Faculty Scholar at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. He is the Editor-in-Chief of the Transportation Geotechnics journal and for the past two years has served on the IGS Council. A member of IGS North America, Dr. Tutumluer is running for a new, full four-year term on the Council now.

IGS North America encourages all members to actively participate in the IGS Elections, which are open for voting into mid-June. If you cannot locate your ballot invitation, please contact IGS office, igssec@geosyntheticssociety.org. 

What would you like to see the IGS achieve in the next four years?

IGS is a s a learned society dedicated to the scientific and engineering development of geosynthetics. The successful mission will require education, awareness and trust from the users of geosynthetic materials. IGS will have to nurture the understanding that geosynthetic materials have truly become common and necessary components of sustainable construction practices all around the world. Yet, they are still not covered in our undergraduate required courses at most universities and only limited coverage in graduate courses. There is a tremendous potential to teach more about the significant benefits of constructing with geosynthetics to graduating, practicing and agency engineers.

I was fortunate to become a co-opted IGS Council Member in the last two years when I volunteered to serve on Education and Communication Committees. I believe success will come through reaching our education goals, such as through Educate the Educators (EtE) programs, the IGS Digital Library and web-based training materials, professional development hours and short courses, and communicating to the end user the significant benefits of geosynthetics. In addition, as a Council member, I was honored to serve as the first Chair of a new Publication Committee with the mission to ensure consistent high quality across the range of IGS’s published educational and training materials. I believe this is because of my Editor-in-Chief role for the Transportation Geotechnics Elsevier journal and relevant experience. I would like to continue to serve on these committees and do my best to add to the success of IGS mission by contributing to the scientific and engineering development of geosynthetics as an independent university researcher and also pursuing the IGS education goals and the high-quality standards of IGS publications and training materials.

You are active with various geotechnical events and professional groups. How do you balance the demands for involvement from different organizations?

I have been active in geosynthetics engineering research, education, and practice for more than 20 years with research interests and expertise in characterization of pavement and railroad track geomaterials, i.e., subgrade soils and base/ballast unbound aggregates, soil/aggregate stabilization and geosynthetics. On these transportation geotechnics topics, there is an opportunity to focus on the advantages of being involved with multiple groups, like the sister society ISSMGE, and what those perspectives/connections can bring. For example, in May 2021, I chaired the 4th International Conference on Transportation Geotechnics (ICTG), a specialty conference of ISSMGE Technical Committee (TC) 202 on Transportation Geotechnics held every four years.  For the first time in this 4th ICTG event, we started an IGS Keynote Lecture series and IGS President Prof. Chungsik Yoo delivered the first keynote speech. Certainly, these connections with IGS helped to organize one geosynthetics preconference short course and attracted more than 34 geosynthetic-themed paper presentations at the 4th ICTG event. I am also a member of the ASCE T&DI and Geo-Institute and served as the Chair of the ASCE Geo-Institute’s Pavements Committee in 2006-2012. I am an active member of the AREMA Committee 1 on Ballast. For the Transportation Research Board (TRB), I am the Chair of AKG00 Geology and Geotechnical Engineering Section, and I served as a member of the AKG80 Geosynthetics Committee from 2012 to 2021. My involvement in different organizations, all linked to geosynthetics use in transportation applications, greatly benefits IGS in relation to the synergistic efforts and Education and Publication Committee activities.

What does your experience tell you about the professional development needs in the classroom and field, regarding geosynthetics?

As a professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, I can tell you that even in a large civil and environmental engineering program like ours, geosynthetics courses are not offered as required curriculum and any new geosynthetics course offering depends on finding an interested faculty member. IGS will need to do more than just providing the slides and necessary training materials to the educator.  In my belief, we need to recruit faculty members and get them interested in doing geosynthetics research and education.  An excellent way to nurture this concept is to support young researchers in academia with IGS scholarships and get them involved in the industry and familiarize themselves with the variety of geosynthetic materials and their significant benefits in engineering applications. These young academic members are then likely to become friends and advocates of the geosynthetic industry with established close ties and committed professional service to train practicing and agency engineers. They will be the ones to deliver professional education to experienced engineers in presentations, lectures, and short courses around the world.

What exciting opportunities do you see coming for the geosynthetics field in the next few years?

Recently, I taught a short course for a very successful Geosynthetics University (GeoU) industry program, which not only attracted professionals but to our surprise several graduate students from universities were also among participants. This clearly indicates the interest as well as the need to do better in reaching out to professionals of all ages and promoting research and education. In addition, IGS will need to promote more university research studies on geosynthetics through seed funds that may be provided to university faculty and researchers.  It is often very beneficial to convince a university researcher to waive the flag about why certain geosynthetic materials work in some engineering applications and communicate the research findings to federal and state agency representatives.  This is because often these university researchers will be the ones to draft certain provisional standards for geosynthetics use. Industry and university partnerships in this regard will bring unity and much more convincing statements to agency for adoption of commonplace geosynthetics use. Finally, upcoming conference events, such as the Geosynthetics 2023 in Kansas City and GeoAmericas 2024 in Toronto we all look forward to, will provide the venues to disseminate research findings and the knowledge.

All superheroes have an origin story. How were you introduced to geosynthetics?

My introduction to geosynthetic materials goes back to a graduate course I took in geosynthetics at Georgia Tech during my PhD studies in early 1990s. Later, as an Assistant and Associate Professor, I pursued geosynthetic-industry sponsored projects through contacts within the manufacturers. This is because I already had the knowledge and the background on geosynthetics through the Georgia Tech course.  My first research effort that involved geosynthetic use was through an Illinois DOT sponsored project in the early 2000s. Before that project was completed, I already started a research effort with a major geogrid manufacturer and the scope included field testing and modeling of geogrid stabilized pavement aggregate base courses.  Since then, I have been conducting research studies with geosynthetics.