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A Year On With IGS Secretariat-Manager Elise Oatman

It’s been a busy year for one of the IGS’s newest members – Secretariat-Manager Elise Oatman who joined in November 2020. Here, Elise shares the experiences and highlights of her first year and what she has in store for members in 2022.

Congratulations on your first year with the IGS! How have you found it, especially joining mid-pandemic? 

Thank you! I have really enjoyed my first year with the IGS. There is always a learning curve when beginning a new job but starting during a pandemic adds extra complexity. The majority of my interaction with members and stakeholders has been virtual, but I think most of the world would say the same thing these days. Everyone I have worked with so far has been patient and helpful as I’ve learned the society’s processes and goals.

What have been your highlights so far?

The knowledge I have gained on geosynthetics is incredible. While not an expert by any means, I now have a better understanding of geosynthetic functions and products. The wide range of applications used globally in civil engineering projects are impressive, and the contributions they make to sustainability make these products even more impressive.

One particular highlight for me was helping the Technical Committee on Hydraulics (TC-H) with the workshop on Improving the Performance of Canals. The three-day series of webinars in November of last year, focusing on Egypt’s National Canal Rehabilitation program, was a great success. I enjoyed interacting with Egypt’s Minister of Water Irrigation, the Director of the International Commission on Irrigation and Drainage, J.P. Giroud (founder and first president of the IGS), as well as other renowned lecturers, including Herve Plusquellec and Pietro Rimoldi. I must give credit to the TC-H chairman Eric Blond for his many hours of hard work in coordinating the speakers, but I was glad to contribute to the technical aspects and promotion of the webinar, which went off without a hitch.

Another huge success was the launch of the new IGS website. The old website was due for a redesign, and we spent a significant part of the year developing a newer, more modern site. I hope our members are enjoying it and users are able to easily access the information they are looking for.

What’s on your schedule for the year ahead?

I’m looking forward to another busy year for the IGS. Many of the events happening will be firsts for me in my role as Secretariat. This spring, the IGS Council will vote on the location of the 2026 International Conference on Geosynthetics (ICG), and I am excited to see where it will end up.

This is also an election year for the IGS where a new President, Vice President and half the Council will be elected. Then, of course, we will have two regional conferences in the fall: EuroGeo7 in Warsaw, Poland, in September, and GeoAsia7 in November. I’m especially looking forward to these and to be able to travel again and meet members in person that I have only been able to interact with virtually.

When you joined you said you wanted to solicit more active involvement from current members and grow membership – how has that been going and what have been the challenges?

Involvement from members has been steady despite the challenges of the pandemic. Our IGS committees and global chapters have been able to pivot to offering webinars and virtual conferences, which have been valuable to our members and made information about geosynthetics even more accessible. I foresee virtual activities continuing even after it’s safe to return to in-person events.

Corporate Membership is also strong. Companies that have supported the IGS for many years have continued to do so. Their membership makes what the IGS does possible.

What have you learned?

As the IGS Secretariat I have the privilege of interacting with the IGS Officers, Council Members and Committee leaders. Through this interaction, I have come to appreciate the commitment given by each of these individuals. They are all volunteers and all passionate about the society’s mission of broadening the knowledge and use of geosynthetics. The expertise amongst these professionals is remarkable and I am humbled by their achievements.

Looking ahead, what are your main goals and priorities for this year?

Over the next 12 months I would like to continue to tighten up my processes and procedures in the Secretariat’s office, from invoicing to social media marketing campaigns to meeting coordination.

The next several months will also be spent working with the outgoing Council to close any old business as we prepare for new leadership at the IGS in September. Together with the IGS’s Executive Director, John Kraus, I will also be looking into how we can bring back previous IGS members, increase interaction with IGS Chapters and cross-promote activities, and look at how to align the four Technical Committee member application processes.

Partnering John has helped to move some of the IGS’s bigger ambitions forward such as highlighting the Educate the Educators program and creating the bidding guidelines for the ICG. His vision has been invaluable. 

Last time you shared some of your interests outside the IGS such as learning Spanish. How is it going?

To be honest, I have not had much progress in this area. I am spoiled by being able to conduct IGS business in English so my opportunities to practice Spanish have been limited. However, by attending regular meetings of the PanAm Regional Activity Committee (whose members include many Spanish speakers) I do get a small amount of exposure, but even these meetings are conducted primarily in English.

Playing the piano has continued to be a bright spot for me during the pandemic and I believe my skills have improved. I was fortunate enough to receive a hand-me-down piano too, which has helped this endeavor tremendously. About a year ago, I picked up a book of sheet music with popular Classic Rock songs and have slowly been learning some of my favorites.

Anything else you would like to add?

Members – don’t miss the monthly newsletters to see what’s happening at the IGS and also be on the lookout for the Council election e-ballots coming in April. We will continue to send out information about the upcoming conferences too. Also, please let me know if any of your contact details have changed so that you don’t miss any important updates.

I can be contacted via email at, by phone at +1 561-768-9489, or through Skype at IGS Secretariat.