The Geo-Institute (G-I) is one eight specialty institutes organized by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) to facilitate networking, knowledge transfer, and professional development. The Geo-Institute is dedicated to geotechnical engineering, and it serves as the United States member of the International Society for Soil Mechanics and Geotechnical Engineering (ISSMGE).
With 11,500+ individual members and 65 Organizational Members, incoming G-I Board of Governors President Allen Cadden, P.E., D.GE, M.ASCE, has a large constituency to represent.
In an interview with Mr. Cadden during Geo-Institute’s Geo-Congress 2014 (February, Atlanta), Geosynthetica’s Chris Kelsey found that the G-I is in good hands and evolving. The organization has been tweaking its approach to interacting with the profession in recent years and is responding smartly to event and membership trends. It has developed new programs, and is investing in integrating the next generation of engineers into the established practice.
At a time in which many not-for-profit associations and professional societies are struggling, the Geo-Institute is finding balance between its current and future members while examining the best business model for delivering future value-added and personalized benefits to those members.
Much of this balance seems to have been achieved through dedicated analysis of communication—how they interact with members and other attendees during face-to-face events; how they communicate digitally; how they partner with others; and, most importantly, how they listen to the profession.
An Interview with Allan Cadden, Geo-Institute Incoming President
Allen Cadden has worked with Schnabel Engineering since 1984. He has served on the Geo-Institute Board of Governors for three years, most recently as Vice President. He was elected to the position of President by the current Board beginning in October 2014, and will serve a one-year term followed by a year as Past-President to help with the continuity during leadership transition.
For the interview, Allen Cadden was joined by Linda Bayer, IOM, Manager of the Geo-Institute of ASCE who has been with the Institute since 2003.
GEOSYNTHETICA: You launched a YouTube Channel not long ago. [ISSMGE has also been active in video publications as a means of outreach.] How is social media being utilized by the Geo-Institute and its members?
ALLEN CADDEN: The YouTube Channel has been very successful, and in a very short time.
LINDA BAYER: We compiled our last three years’ worth of award lectures and released them one at a time. We now have eight or nine uploaded on the channel. Our 2012 Geo-Congress highlights have been viewed more than 1,000 times, for example. We’re continuing the recording of key lectures at this Geo-Congress. They’ll be part of the next phase.
GEO-INSTITUTE BY THE NUMBERS
- 11,500+ Members
- 400+ Students Attended Geo-Congress 2014 in Atlanta
- 234 Special Publications
- 37 Geo-Institute Chapters
- 19 Graduate Student Organizations
- 3 Most-Recent Past-Presidents Now Part of a New Committee to Share Leadership Experience
CADDEN: We have 11,500+ members and there are more than 25,000 geo-professionals. You often get a little more than 1,000 to a conference, so there are a lot of opportunities to reach the rest of our membership and potential membership. These videos are a way to provide additional value. We’ve talked about it for many years and are now getting it out there. We’re seeing our committees becoming re-excited about things as a result of what they now can do.
Still, for online communication, many of the links to our web pages come through email connections. It isn’t necessarily social media—not even at the student level. YouTube and LinkedIn are not our biggest interests in driving online traffic. Video isn’t an exclusive effort.
BAYER: Our membership is historically stable. We have a lot of veteran members…so part of what we are doing in our communications is looking at not just our membership today but what it might look like in seven to 10 years.
Geosynthetica: You have a mobile app for the Geo-Congress. Are you looking to mobile as a better communication tool for the larger Geo-Institute work?
CADDEN: The mobile app has been a great addition to the conference, but we are still learning how to use it. I use it almost exclusively here to keep track of everywhere I want or need to be.
Geosynthetica: It’s pretty slick.
CADDEN: It is. But with a tool like that you need to stress populating it early to get the important information out rather than just asking people to use it on site. The overall mobile lesson is being responsive. We want our sites going forward to adapt to smartphones, tablets, whatever is out there so everyone is getting the same information in the right timeframe
Geosynthetica: What are the big issues with your membership and how is the Geo-Institute responding?
CADDEN: This conference is a good example of being responsive. It’s not just what we need today, but what will impact us in the future.
For example, we talk a lot about allowable stress design versus LRFD, and that is, generally speaking, moving from one widget to another widget; and there are a lot of technical issues that have to happen to make that work. But what’s interesting is this conference is helping us understand how the sustainability topic has become critical. It’s not just the technical widget we might be talking about. It’s not just about calculating a factor of safety this way or that. It’s becoming more aware of how the overall process of what we do today affects an entire project life cycle.
We do a lot of studies on sustainability. Everything built moves a lot of earth. It takes a lot of energy to use concrete. We can be smarter about the fundamental design. Right now, it’s a lot of brute force. But we’re becoming smarter, and this conference is part of that.
In the opening plenary, Craig Benson, our former president, took out a smartphone and said, “We’ve got a lot of students saying ‘Don’t use bottled water. You’re killing the environment.’ This little smartphone, though, is like a refrigerator in its environmental impact.” And we carry two or three of them around all the time without thinking about the global breadth of impact they have.
BAYER: Another way of responding to members and supporting them is in partnering with like-minded associations. Not only does this expand conference attendance, it diversifies attendance and expands the knowledge of those who are exposed to Geo-Institute members’ expertise. Next year, we will partner with three other associations— The International Association of Foundation Drilling, Deep Foundations Institute and the Pile Driving Contractors of America—in San Antonio to host IFCEE 2015. That will also include a huge outside exhibition.
CADDEN: The International Foundations Congress
BAYER: In 2016 we will partner for the first time with the Structural Engineering Institute [SEI] of ASCE in Phoenix. In 2017, we have the next Geo-Frontiers with IFAI as a partner.
Geosynthetica: Can you say a bit about the Geo-Institute’s Academy of Geo-Professionals?
CADDEN: It’s a raise-the-bar effort for recognizing our many members who are above the minimum. We have state licensing laws that require minimum education, minimum experience, but that’s just a base line. It doesn’t recognize capabilities developed and maintained throughout a career. Diplomate programs are a way to recognize capabilities and ongoing commitment to learning; the people who are at a higher level. We wanted a vehicle for recognizing that greater breadth.
The challenge we have now is while it’s nice to recognize this, it is only a certificate until states and owners or clients require it. We need to encourage it to be recognized in an RFP. We want to see it incorporated into leadership paths within companies, to see it as part of career advancement.
BAYER: We have almost 300 AGP Diplomates right now.
Geosynthetica: What’s coming next for Geo-Institute?
CADDEN: We want to broaden our product line from technical content. We want to be known for more than that. We don’t need to take on all aspects of career development, but by partnering with other associations we can all bring more pieces of the professional development needs to our members including: technical training, career development training, and, to a great extent, networking opportunities to help broaden careers.
So we’re thinking about how we broaden what we do without broadening the timeframe—to maximize how we use our time together, such as at events like Geo-Congress. The way we operate our businesses today may not be how we operate our businesses tomorrow.
Thank you Allan Cadden and Linda Bayer for sharing your time. To learn more about the Geo-Institute, its events, membership, specialty recognition programs, etc., visit the Geo-Institute website.