A career spent giving: Briaud honored by ASCE, named Geo-Legend by Geo-Strata magazine
Education has the potential to impact lives, an impact that is usually made by a good teacher. Few teachers, however, have impacted their students like Dr. Jean-Louis Briaud, distinguished professor, Spencer J. Buchanan Chair Professor and Regent’s Fellow in the Zachry Department of Civil Engineering at Texas A&M University, and the director of the National Geotechnical Experimentation Site.
In honor of Briaud’s 40 years of teaching and research, he was recognized at the Geo-Institute of the American Society of Civil Engineers’ (ASCE) Annual Congress in early March 2018 at a special symposium held in his honor. Briaud has also been named a Geo-Legend by Geo-Strata magazine, a series honoring professionals who have left a significant impact on the field of geotechnical engineering. More than 20 speakers presented at the ASCE symposium on work they have done in the field of geotechnical engineering based on Briaud’s work.
“It didn’t really dawn on me until I had two students that got up there and said that I had changed their [lives] because of my teaching,” Briaud said. “It raises this concept that professors have the potential to change young peoples’ lives, but it is a big responsibility that I did not see the full weight of until now.”
The symposium included researchers from Korea, Brazil, Egypt and Russia who each gave presentations on their work based on foundations laid by Briaud’s work and influence. More than 180 colleagues attended the symposium to have a special limited copy of a book reflecting Briaud’s life’s work, all of which began at Texas A&M in 1978. Born and educated in France, Briaud received his master’s and doctoral degrees in Canada and eventually came to the United States to pursue a teaching career.
Briaud fondly remembers getting off the plane at Easterwood Airport in a suit and tie to interview for a teaching position, only to be greeted by a professor in a ten-gallon cowboy hat driving a pickup truck. The environment at Texas A&M was not at all what he had expected.
“I remember thinking to myself: ‘What kind of place is this’, Briaud said. “Then I met the people. Kind, interested and ready to help with a can-do attitude. I had six job offers, but I chose Texas A&M because of the environment and the people here.”
Reflecting on the highlights of his career, one contribution served to preserve a piece of Aggie history: the cliffs at Pointe Du Hoc, made famous by the assault of James Earl Rudder and his men during the Normandy invasion.
“We worked on a fantastic project to save the cliffs from collapse because there was erosion at the bottom of the cliffs and we were about to lose the bunker that was overtaken by Rudder and his men,” Briaud said. “It was one of the most interesting and significant projects I ever worked on.”
Briaud remembers a long list of similar projects and research contributions over his lifetime but maintains that his greatest contribution has been the relationships he has built over the years with his students. As Briaud plans to continue teaching and serving as a mentor and guide to students, he finds that educating others has given him a career of immense purpose and satisfaction.
“I have always looked at my graduate students as my professional children,” Briaud said. “You have discussions that are technical, sure, but you talk about family, philosophy and all sorts of things. It really hit me during these presentations that as a professor you really have an impact on young peoples’ lives and, it is beyond what you can measure.”