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Meet Your New President – Sam Allen

This summer Sam Allen was voted into the prestigious role of IGS President. Along with newly elected Council members, they started their four-year term this month. Mr Allen made his first formal address to IGS members at the recent EuroGeo7 conference in Poland where he shared an ambitious program for the years ahead.

IGS President Sam Allen

Here, we find out more about Mr Allen’s involvement and affinity with the IGS, his plans for the Society, and why now is the best time to be working in geosynthetics.

Congratulations! How does it feel to be the new President?

Thank you. It is my highest honor to serve as the President of the IGS. It is also a joy to support a Society I have served for so many years, and the agendas and investments that I am so passionate about. The IGS is a very special place to me.

Do you have any words for your predecessor Professor Chungsik Yoo?

Yes. Quite simply: thank you! I met Dr. Yoo many years ago and immediately valued his devotion to the IGS. Unique amongst all IGS Presidents before him, Dr. Yoo’s term was challenged halfway through with a global pandemic, shutting down industries around him, restricting his travel within his own country much less the world, and eliminating any possibility for his planned in-person meetings. Instead of uninterrupted time spent on IGS initiatives, Chungsik and his team of Officers found themselves devoting time to the navigation of postponed IGS conferences, endless online meetings, and the struggles of membership communications suddenly reliant solely on digital technologies.

They led the way with initiatives including the hiring of a new Executive Director and a Communications specialist, the establishment of the IGS Sustainability Committee, and IGS online events including conferences, webinars and the many Committee meetings.

I am very fortunate in that Dr. Yoo, as immediate Past President, will still be an active and appreciated resource to the IGS. He was also elected as the new President of the Federation of International Geo-engineering Societies (FedIGS), of which IGS is a part, so I look forward to working closely with him in his new capacity.

Tell us about your involvement with the IGS so far.

I feel in many ways that I have grown up within the IGS. I was first elected to the IGS Council in 2006 and again in 2010. I guess because I was an active volunteer, I was co-opted in 2014 and then re-elected in 2018. Through the years I chaired the Education Committee (2008-2010), co-chaired the Pan-American Activities Committee (2010), helped launch the Educate the Educators (EtE) program (Argentina – 2013, United States – 2015), and chaired the Communications Committee (2014–2022).

I was very involved in the development of major communications endeavors, such as the Two for a Few series, expanding the IGS’s digital and social media presence, helping manage the rebuild of the IGS Digital Library and IGS website, and working on the ‘Did You Know…?’ sustainability campaign. The IGS has been a fertile ground for relevant volunteer service to our industry.

What do you do outside the IGS?

I am Vice President and Director of the Texas Research International (TRI) Environmental Group, a series of independent, employee-owned geotechnical and geosynthetics testing and research centers around the world. Our firm operates labs and service centers in the USA, China, India, Australia, Brazil and South Africa. We serve industry participants from regulatory authorities to commercial engineering, installation, contracting and manufacturing firms.  Specific to geosynthetics, we are heavily involved in auditing and verification testing, as well as product development, and durability and materials engineering. I am extremely lucky to work with a large group of dedicated geosynthetic professionals who deeply care about our industry.

How does this relate to the IGS?

In my career of being an independent auditor of geosynthetics, performing testing and research services, geosynthetics promotion was never my immediate mission. In fact, my company’s independence as a third-party service firm was and still is related to the fact that we do not sell or distribute geosynthetics in any way. However, I also learned very early in my career that the more geosynthetics were used in applications, the more products that were sold, the more testing work we enjoyed. I also learned that education was directly related to the readiness and ability to design with and apply geosynthetics. Having been involved in many industry organizations, I can confirm that the perfect stage, the perfect platform from which to grow, invest in, support, and contribute to our geosynthetics industry was, and still is, the IGS.

Why did the role of IGS President interest you?

The IGS has always inspired me as the perfect place to ‘give back’. Having a wealth of experience working with and for the IGS, the next step was always a consideration. I am honored to serve in this capacity.

What are you most looking forward to doing?

One of my favorite aspects of IGS work is meeting our industry people and learning about their needs, their struggles and successes. The Presidency allows me to delve into this learning in new ways. I’m also very excited about the unique inflection point the IGS finds itself in: not pre-pandemic and yet not really free from it either. We are navigating a consistent pandemic – nearly an endemic – in a new world with serious environmental and financial challenges. I firmly believe geosynthetics play a key role in responding to these challenges. I’m very excited about promoting this message.

What are your priorities or main goals in the short term and also more long-term?

There is so much to do! In the short term we will facilitate the development of new IGS initiatives related to education. Namely, a ‘sustainability calculator’ inclusive of geosynthetic solutions, a Geosynthetics Handbook that is friendly to design engineers and contractors, and a new applications-focused curriculum that supports a post-graduate geosynthetics expertise credential: an IGS professional certification program. These ‘products’ are needed to propel our materials and their utility to greater widespread use and acceptance.

In the longer term, we will implement renewed educational programs leveraging these products, to accelerate the growth of geosynthetics design and contracting to achieve smarter, lower carbon footprint and sustainable infrastructure development. These programs will also assist our IGS Chapters in their own growth and outreach efforts. We will also be focused on connecting state-of-the-art with state-of-the-practice by celebrating our contracting and installation communities and soliciting their support in keeping the quality bar very high in practice.

Finally, we will work diligently to liaise with our sister geotechnical societies to speak with a common voice when communicating with global regulatory authorities and policy makers. This has never been more important as humankind faces a changing planet requiring new and modern construction practices.

What are your ambitions for the IGS and its members?

As we are all part of a global community facing urgent challenges, the IGS and our membership need to embrace our relevance to, and responsibilities for, the needed response. Geosynthetics are a mandatory material for better, more resilient infrastructure.

I also look forward to enjoying our ever-growing digital presence via leveraging our IGS website, our world class Digital Library, our social media presence and our soon-to-be-released IGS mobile app. These tools will assist us in continually connecting with, and supporting our Chapters and global membership.

What sort of challenges is the industry facing right now and how do you hope to help IGS members navigate them?

The challenges our industry faces are many, and not too unlike the challenges affecting all businesses. Global populations are facing unprecedented environmental stresses from inflation, global warming and food and energy security challenges. This is expected to worsen in the next four years and beyond. Geosynthetics are a key component of the needed solutions and best practices associated with sustainable, lower carbon footprint and economically advantageous design and construction practices.

While IGS educational programs and contributions (such as EtE and online geosynthetics university videos) have been successful, currently, the vast majority of global engineering students and professional engineers are not yet knowledgeable about, nor comfortable with, designing with and constructing with geosynthetics. The success of geosynthetics education has not kept up with the pace of geosynthetics education need. However, these challenges present wonderful opportunities for growth and transformation. We heard repeatedly at the EuroGeo7 conference, “education, education, education!” This continues to be the challenge of our time, and defines the urgent need to accelerate IGS educational outreach.

In addition, we all support the reduction and eventual elimination of single-use plastic pollution, and we will differentiate and promote our geosynthetic solutions. IGS members will be supported with our IGS programs, materials and education efforts. They will also play an important role in carrying our message forward to grow awareness of and appreciation for geosynthetics.

Do you have any messages for members?

I firmly believe that IGS members are in the right career at the right time.  The world needs our materials, our message, and our ingenuity and engineering solutions. We have never before been more necessary for the successful future of our planet and its infrastructure. The IGS is here to provide education and technical resources to meet these challenges, and to inspire new generations of enthusiastic and informed leaders. I look forward to working with all IGS members in partnership to realize a strong IGS and a better world for all.

How can members contact you?

I am always available via my company contact information:

Samuel (Sam) Allen
Vice President and Director
TRI Environmental Group
9063 FM2244 (Bee Cave Road)
Austin, Texas 78733 USA
Direct: 01 512 615 4415

Members can also say hello face-to-face as I hope to attend all IGS regional and international conferences not only as the IGS President but also as a technical contributor and conference attendee, learning as much as I can at all times.  I immediately look forward to meeting IGS members in person at the GeoAsia7 Conference in Taipei, Taiwan, and the much-anticipated GeoAfrica4 conference in Cairo, Egypt. I will also stay very active in global standardization communities including ISO and ASTM International. I look forward to every opportunity to interact with IGS members.

Any last remarks?

The IGS is stronger with each new Corporate and individual Chapter member, so please join us, engage with us and participate with us to grow our industry and help the world.