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Successful Laboratory And Field Experiences With Undergraduates And K 12 Students: A Geotechnical Engineering Example

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1999 Annual Conference


Charlotte, North Carolina

Publication Date

June 20, 1999

Start Date

June 20, 1999

End Date

June 23, 1999



Page Count


Page Numbers

4.475.1 - 4.475.13

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Paper Authors

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Gregg L. Fiegel

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session 1375

Successful Laboratory and Field Experiences with Undergraduates and K-12 Students: A Geotechnical Engineering Example

Gregg L. Fiegel Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering California Polytechnic State University San Luis Obispo, CA 93407


In the field of geotechnical engineering, principles of mechanics are used to analyze and predict the behavior of earth materials (i.e. soil and rock). Expertise in this area, which is usually gained through a degree in civil engineering, is required for the design and construction of most, if not all, civil structures. Bridge piers, building foundations, embankments, retaining walls, dams, and roadways are all examples of civil engineering works that require geotechnical engineering analysis, to some degree.

Being able to analyze and predict the behavior of soil and rock can, at times, be a very a difficult task for a geotechnical engineer. Difficulties arise when dealing with deposits of soil and rock because they are hidden from view, their thickness and location can vary tremendously, and their engineering behavior can be very complex and highly variable. Often, geotechnical engineers are required to base their designs on a very limited amount of information which is gathered from only a small number of drill holes and a few laboratory tests on relatively small specimens. These limitations require that geotechnical engineers acquire extensive, varied practical experience, exercise good judgment, and learn the value as well as the limitations of all related laboratory and field experiments.

A primary goal of the geotechnical engineering program at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo (Cal Poly) is to train aspiring geotechnical engineers in common laboratory and field testing procedures so that they gain practical experience and learn the importance of good judgment. The faculty believe that this teaching approach prepares the students for the rigors of the geotechnical engineering industry. Employers agree, given the fact that most students "hit the ground running" after graduation and are able to immediately make valuable contributions to practice.

At Cal Poly, students interested in geotechnical engineering find a curriculum that is almost entirely laboratory- and field-focused. Students learn using a truly "hands-on" approach. Admittedly, the development of the geotechnical program has taken a significant amount of time and effort; it did not come easily. Described in this paper is the process that the author has followed in developing what is believed to be a successful lab- and field-based engineering program for undergraduates. Also included is a discussion of recent experience that the author has had in developing similar, though "toned-down", engineering exercises and demonstrations for K-12 students. It is hoped that the information, or tips, presented will be valuable to educators working in engineering disciplines that require lab and/or field experience.

Fiegel, G. L. (1999, June), Successful Laboratory And Field Experiences With Undergraduates And K 12 Students: A Geotechnical Engineering Example Paper presented at 1999 Annual Conference, Charlotte, North Carolina.

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