Cahill Professor of Civil Engineering, Emeritus, University of California, Berkeley
University Distinguished Professor Emeritus, Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering, Virginia Tech
Rudy Bonaparte Testimonial
Recollections of a Former PhD Student
Jim Mitchell’s enormous contributions to the geotechnical and geoenvironmental profession cannot be overstated. Whatever area you look at, be it teaching, research, consulting, or service to the profession, Jim Mitchell has left an indelible mark. His legacy as an educator is enormous as reflected in the thousands of undergraduate and graduate students he has taught and mentored over the past nearly 60 years, the 75 Ph.D. students whose dissertations he has supervised, and the academic “family tree” atop of which he sits. It is a testament to Jim’s teaching and mentoring qualities that many of his students have become leaders in academia, industry, and government, both here in the U.S. and around the world.
When I arrived at Berkeley in the Fall of 1977 to start my graduate studies I asked that Jim be my advisor. I had met him previously and immediately felt a connection. In addition, the first edition of his landmark textbook Fundamentals of Soil Behavior, which had been published the year before, grabbed my attention and interest. For me, Jim was an exceptional teacher and advisor. His lectures were always well -prepared, lucid, and interesting. Notwithstanding his busy schedule and commitments, he always had time for his students and his office door was always open. His engaging style and willingness to have lengthy one-on-one discussions and problem-solving sessions contributed greatly to my education and development as a professional. He became a life-long mentor and friend to me, and, I believe, to many of his other students. (As a side note, those days at Berkeley were special, with Jim as my advisor, and Harry Seed, Mike Duncan, John Lysmer, Bill Houston, Dick Goodman, and Tor Brekke just down the hall. It was a great time and place to be a geotechnical engineering graduate student.)
Jim is also an exceptional colleague. I have had the chance to see first-hand many instances where Jim helped others by putting in a good word, writing a reference letter, reviewing a paper, participating in a conference, serving on a committee, or providing some other form of help. Jim only has good things to say about others in our profession and he exhibits what I would describe as a great “generosity of spirit.” I would challenge anyone to identify another individual in our profession who has done as much to professionally help so many others. I count my nearly 40-year friendship with Jim Mitchell as one of the true blessings in my life.