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10 Questions With… Preston Kendall

Photo of Preston KendallIncreasing young member engagement is a key priority for the IGS. Preston Kendall spearheads this goal for the Australasian Chapter of the IGS (ACigs). Here he shares his thoughts on how best to attract and retain the next generation of geosynthetics engineers.

How did you find out about the IGS?

My good friend and mentor, Warren Hornsey was on the International Council at the time and he encouraged me to get involved. I’ve been a member of ACigs and the IGS since 2013.

Please tell us a bit about your involvement with ACigs and the IGS.

My experience is unique because I was heavily involved with various IGS committees before getting more involved with the local chapter. I served as the secretary of the TC – Filtration and a member of the TC – Hydraulics. I’ve also served as Co-chair of the Young Members Committee. In 2017, I was elected to the International Council.

In the past two years, I’ve become more involved with the local Australasian chapter. We have fortnightly video meetings and I attend as a Young Member and a link to the International Council. These regular meetings are very effective. Attending has helped me appreciate the local chapters as the engines of the society.

What does ACigs have to offer young members?

Currently we have about 40 young members out of 131 chapter members overall.

Increasing young member involvement is an important priority set out by IGS President Chungsik Yoo and I’m helping ACigs drive this goal.

The question of  ‘What can we offer young members?’ is important for both IGS and ACigs. Networking with our corporate and individual members is one of the most valuable things we offer. The incredible market growth of geosynthetics shows how much potential there is for the future. What a great place it is to start and build a career. This is not immediately obvious to young people so we are focused on getting more exposure to them.

How has Covid-19 impacted ACigs activities?

The pandemic has constrained some of our efforts but we are hopeful things will improve soon. We are discussing various ways to add a more virtual element to our activities. We are in the process of running an online photo competition and we added a special young category to make it especially rewarding to younger participants.

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How are you expanding and improving ACigs’ exposure to young people?

ACigs has begun reaching out to other organizations and this is a potential path to reach more young people. I have been speaking to organizers at Engineers Without Borders (EWB). Young people naturally flock to EWB because it offers travel, adventure, and idealistic pursuits. The EWB members are a great audience for us because they have a big population of young students starting their careers, they need innovative engineering solutions for remote and challenging problems, and their sustainable ideals are in line with ours. I feel my own career was a sort of EWB dream come true. I was involved with EWB in college but unfortunately I didn’t get the opportunity to travel. I never could have imagined that geosynthetics would take me to places like the Maldives to help protect against rising sea levels.

Photo of Preston Kendall presenting to students at Queensland University of Technology
Preston Kendall presenting to students at Queensland University of Technology
How do you place yourself in members’ shoes?

We did some brainstorming on this in the Young Members Committee, looking at first principles and fundamental human needs and wants. I’m sure you will see some new and interesting initiatives come out with the new committee leadership.

What do you think is key to attracting young members?

Attracting young members is the bigger challenge and I think we must take an honest look at a young individual’s self-interest so that we can appeal to them. We should be bolder and louder about how rewarding our industry is financially. Geosynthetics competes in a marketplace of other technologies. The market is the best tool we have to allocate resources efficiently. The tremendous growth and profitability of geosynthetics is the market’s way of telling the world that we want more of this because this stuff works really well. In the marketplace of jobs and research initiatives, the geosynthetics industry is very well positioned and our society is a pathway to that industry.

What is your advice to young engineers?

Whether you are a designer or a researcher, young people should be positioning their career where the growth is. Steel and concrete are boring, stagnant, and commoditized. The problem is that none of this is obvious to a young student choosing a career path so it would help if we were bolder and louder. If you tell a young engineer we are going to strap a rocket to his or her career path you will get their attention. One way to do this is to collect and demonstrate industry statistics and employment statistics. The American Society of Civil Engineers for example has many career resources for their society.

What do you think is key to retaining young members?

To retain young members, we need to deliver on helping to facilitate learning and career growth. The IGS has a lot to offer here: world class journals, great conferences, award opportunities, and an extensive membership resources. Many of the initiatives we are planning in ACigs are geared toward networking and career growth for young members. This includes networking events, job shadowing, and sponsored research.

Photo of IGS Young Members in Cape Town, South Africa
IGS Young Members in Cape Town, South Africa. Preston Kendall has given a lot of his time to help build the young engineer base of the International Geosynthetics Society.
Why is any of this important?

There is a boring answer and an exciting answer to this question. The boring answer is that any society needs continuity so there is always a mix of experienced members with new members. The young members will eventually offer their wisdom to the next generation.

The exciting answer is that young people bring energy and new ideas. People feed off of this energy and it makes for a more vibrant society.