5 Questions with IGS Council Candidate Jacques Côté

Jacques Côté is the founder and serves as Chairman of the Board at Solmax, the largest geosynthetics manufacturing group in the world. Mr. Côté helped establish the IGS Foundation in 2019 and currently  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. 

As you seek a second term on the IGS Council, what are you proudest of with the IGS from the past four years?

Jacques CoteThe achievement that I am most proud of over the past four years was gaining from the IGS Council an approval for the establishment of the IGS Foundation in 2019. To date, the mission of the IGS Foundation is to support educational initiatives capable of understanding and promoting the appropriate use of geosynthetic technology throughout the world, thus enabling a reduction of our carbon footprint for the benefit of humanity. This mission fully supports the IGS mission statement that is “To provide an understanding and promote the appropriate use of geosynthetic technology throughout the world.”

After decades spent building your company, what inspired you to focus on IGS Council service and helping launch the IGS Foundation?

Giving back for me was my way of saying thank you for what I received. From a professional and human point of view, the geosynthetics industry has brought me a lot. Now was the time to give back to this great industry, so the main goal is to protect our world today for the benefit of future generations.

Are there specific endeavors you hope the IGS Council puts a stronger focus on in next Council cycle?

I believe that a major effort must be put on greater involvement of all IGS members in the realization of the vision of their Society. For my part, I would like to work to bring together Corporate Members to obtain their collaboration in the achievement of the IGS sustainable development vision with regard to the use of geosynthetic products in applications for the reduction of greenhouse gases. This endeavor will preserve the quality of life for our future generations. It would also be important to emphasize the promotion of all the services and tools that the IGS has developed over the last few years and which are not used enough by the people and organizations who need them most, because many of them do not know that these resources exist.

Finally, I believe that it is important to have a strong link between the IGS and the IGS Foundation to ensure a harmonious alignment of these two entities toward the future. I am certainly the person who could fulfill this role!

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

What I see in the next few years is a significant increase in the use of geosynthetics for two main reasons. The first is for cost reasons: applications using geosynthetics can replace large volumes of natural materials, thus making the purpose of a project more economical. Secondly, for environmental reasons: the use of geosynthetics allows the preservation of our natural resources and makes it possible to reduce the carbon footprint in the realization of our infrastructure projects. Moreover, in the years to come I also see great efforts that will be employed in our industry to innovate. In this respect, we have at my own company a group of dedicated people so the raison d’être is to find disruptive technologies in relation to the use of geosynthetics both from a products and applications point of view.

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

My dream when I was an engineering student in Canada was to do international cooperation and more specifically to build roads in Africa. At the end of my studies in 1978, I was offered the opportunity to work in a small manufacturing company (TEXEL) which manufactured non-woven products, therefore a new product called geotextile. They needed a young engineer to do the technical and commercial representation of this new product. My first geotextile initiator was Jean-Paul Drouin, a mentor who introduced me to the technology of needlepunched nonwoven products and marketing techniques for these products. On the other hand, I was far from my dream of adventure of going to build roads in distant countries. In July of the same year, I had the chance to attend a conference in Manchester, UK on geotextiles and their applications. This is where I met my second initiator. During this conference there was a presentation made on the subject by the ‘young and dynamic’ Dr. Jean-Pierre Giroud from the University of Grenobles. I was impressed by the clarity and eloquence of his talk on the functions of geotextiles and the obvious advantages of using these new materials in civil engineering infrastructure applications. My conclusion was immediate: I’m in the right industry!

There is a lot to do and I like challenges. My third and fourth initiators were Dr. André Rollin from the Polytechnic School of Montreal who had Bob Denis as a master’s student. These two persons allowed me to evolve in the learning of geosynthetic technology. They have been apostles and builders of our industry.

Finally, today I can confirm to you that I made the right decision to make a career in this beautiful industry that is geosynthetics. I have never built roads in Africa but I have supplied geosynthetics to build them and installed thousands of square meters of them during my years on construction sites all over the world. In the end, however, I succeeded in realizing my adventurer’s dream.


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.


5 Questions with IGS Council Candidate John McCartney

John McCartney, Ph.D., P.E., F.ASCE is Professor and Department Chair at the University of California – San Diego, Department of Structural Engineering. He is a former President of the North American Chapter of the International Geosynthetics Society and is now running for IGS Council. In addition to his work with IGS North America, Dr. McCartney is very active with other engineering organizations.

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. 

Did your time in leadership with IGS North America inspire your interest in seeking an IGS Council position?

Yes, I was inspired by working with colleagues from across North America to promote geosynthetics engineering principles and research, and to serve as the learned society for geosynthetics in the region. I had the pleasure to meet many people and work toward a common goal with colleagues from industry, manufacturing, and academia, and that is what I am looking forward to if I am elected to serve on the IGS Council.

What are some things you’d like to see the IGS Council focus on in the next four years?  

I think that there are opportunities to encourage more interaction between the different chapters and with other organizations around the world. The regional conferences are excellent, but I think that the Council could encourage more smaller workshops—focused topics to bring people together from different chapters and different organizations like ISSMGE, ASCE, and ASTM International: emerging research, practical applications, standards, etc. These workshops could lead to special issues of the society journals, Geosynthetics International and Geotextiles and Geomembranes.  Although the pandemic taught us how face-to-face meetings are ideal, it also gave us new tools to interact globally through webinars and virtual panels.

I would also like to contribute to continuing the expansion of the IGS Digital Library. Index more past proceedings in an open access format. Archive more videos and webinars from the different chapters, encouraging the establishment of and linking to their YouTube Channels.  

You chair the unsaturated soils committee with the ASCE Geo-Institute, and you just ran an energy geotechnics conference. How do these endeavors outside IGS inform your interactions with geosynthetics? 

I have been fortunate to work on a variety of research topics in my career, but I always look for ways to incorporate geosynthetics as they are very versatile tools to augment the behavior of soils. For example, energy geotechnics is my current passion, and I have been working on incorporating geothermal heat exchangers into reinforced soil slopes to help dry poorly draining backfills, and to integrate heat exchangers into prefabricated vertical drains to improve soft clays using thermal consolidation. There are of course new challenges when proposing new applications like this, but solving problems is exciting. I think that both the unsaturated soil mechanics and energy geotechnics fields are still expanding and there are still many ways that geosynthetics could be used.

You hosted an Educate the Educators (EtE) event (La Jolla, California 2019). What’s the state of geosynthetic engineering education in civil engineering programs today?

I think that most undergraduates are introduced to the concept of geosynthetics and their different applications. However, there are many required courses in an undergraduate curriculum and there are also many topics to cover in an introductory geotechnical engineering course. We have a short overview of geosynthetics in our introductory soil mechanics course, then show some applications in a ground improvement course. It really isn’t until the graduate level that we are able to go into depth on analyses and designs involving geosynthetics. The Educate the Educators events are great ways to give educators materials that they can directly integrate into their courses. As the MS degree becomes more and more important for starting in geotechnical engineering practice, we may want to make graduate course content a focus of future Educate the Educator courses. At both the undergraduate and graduate levels, I think having prepared presentations on case histories of the different applications of geosynthetics, going from a problem in the field, to the analysis and design, to construction in the field with possible instrumentation, would really be helpful for students.

If elected to the IGS Council, I would be excited to work with practitioners to build case histories like this that could be shared with students to give them a tangible feel for how geosynthetics can be used to solve problems.

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

I started getting involved with research during my undergraduate at the University of Colorado Boulder, and first started working on structural reliability. This led me to take a course on fractals in hydrology and I was inspired by patterns in clay cracking. The professor of this course introduced me to Professor Jorge Zornberg in the last year of my undergraduate, who introduced me to geosynthetic clay liners. Professor Zornberg shared a large database of GCL shear strength data from his time at Geosyntec that were performed by Rob Swan and his colleagues. I was very excited to integrate my background in probability and statistics with clay deformations to understand the many variables affecting GCL shear strength, and this got me started on my research career. I decided to continue working for my PhD with Professor Zornberg on the interaction between unsaturated soils and geosynthetics and have been having fun with geosynthetics since.


5 Questions with IGS VP Candidate Jie Han

Jie Han, Ph.D., P.E., F.ASCE, is the Glenn L. Parker Professor of Geotechnical Engineering at the University of Kansas and a long-time member and supporter of IGS North America (IGS-NA). IGS-NA group manager Chris Kelsey interviewed Prof. Han by email regarding his candidacy for Vice President in the 2022 International Geosynthetics Society (IGS) Elections. Prof. Han has spent the past four years serving on the IGS Council and is active in leadership with the ASCE Geo-Institute as well.

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. 

After years of actively supporting the IGS and IGS North America, you are running for IGS Vice President.  What motivates you to seek this office in the current election?

Prof Jie Han

Jie Han, Ph.D., P.E., F.ASCE, is the Glenn L. Parker Professor of Geotechnical Engineering at the University of Kansas

IGS is a great organization that promotes the proper use of geosynthetics in the world. I am very fortunate to have been an IGS Council Member of this great society for the past four years. I witnessed and participated in several activities and initiatives that have made positive impacts on the geosynthetics community, such as helping bring about the new, open access IGS Digital Library.

From the career side, I have had working experience in the geosynthetics industry as an engineer, in academia as an educator and researcher, and in different professional organizations as a leader.

I feel I can make more contributions to the geosynthetics community by developing coalitions to achieve the common goal that benefits the geosynthetics and geotechnical fields. I have also been a beneficiary of the geosynthetics community through my career – growing from a student, an engineer, to now a professor and researcher. I hope becoming a leader as IGS Vice President and can set an example to encourage students and young engineers/researchers to pursue and grow their career in geosynthetics.

Is it important to you to represent the perspective of education and research in IGS leadership?  

Yes. Even though geosynthetics have been successfully used in many projects, they have rarely been included in undergraduate education for engineering degrees at most universities. IGS has an excellent Educate the Educators (EtE) program, which should be expanded and improved. The geosynthetics industry has been very innovative and has continuously produced new products, improved product performance, and developed new applications, which often require research for verifications, improvements, and implementations. I think IGS can play an active role in disseminating new information and knowledge globally through education, conferences, webinars, and the IGS Digital Library.

You have been an advocate for improving access to engineering information on the internet. What other opportunities exist for digital outreach by the IGS? 

With rapid change of the world to an information era and due to the unforeseen pandemic, many organizations and societies have been forced into or demanded to provide access to information on the internet for their members. IGS, under the leadership of President Chungsik Yoo, took quick action to develop the IGS Digital Library and the IGS University Online Lecture Series.  These digital and online resources have well served our members and the public.

Certainly, there are more opportunities for IGS to expand our digital outreach by expanding the database and adding new features and functions. For example, we can develop training courses to serve practicing engineers, geosynthetic manufacturers and suppliers, and contractors. We can also develop short videos to help policy makers and the public understand the importance and contributions of geosynthetics to general society and daily life.

How can we improve the connections between industry, sister societies, and educational institutions to support the next generation of engineers?

Even though different organizations or societies may have different missions, their common goal related to geosynthetics is to promote the use of geosynthetics for a better future. I have been involved in several organizations by playing different leadership roles. For example, I have been a Council Member for IGS since 2018, I am now a governor and the treasurer of the ASCE Geo-Institute and the past chair of the Soil Improvement technical committee, and I am the current chair of the US Transportation Research Board (TRB) Transportation Earthwork Committee.

In addition, I have served as a conference or technical chair for past and ongoing geosynthetics conferences or geosynthetic-focused conferences organized by or partnered with the geosynthetics industry.

Lastly but not the least, I am a professor at a university teaching and researching geosynthetics.  I strongly believe that it is mutually beneficial for all parties to work together to support the next generation of engineers and advance the development of geosynthetic materials, technologies, and applications.

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

The first time I learned about geosynthetics was in 1985 when I took an undergraduate class of ground improvement at Tongji University in China. Geotextiles were introduced in this class as a new material and technology. In 1989, I attended the second Chinese national geosynthetics conference. In 1997, I participated in the student paper competition at the Geosynthetics conference in Long Beach, California, which was organized by IFAI and the North American Geosynthetics Society (NAGS) – now the IGS-NA. Even though I did not win the competition, that event drew me into the geosynthetics industry. One month later, I started to work as a design engineer for Tensar Earth Technologies, Inc. (now Tensar International).