I first met Jim when I was a member of the Technical Staff of the US Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board (DNFSB). He was a consultant for â€œthe other side,â€ and I was charged with reviewing their work. Fortunately, I was only one member of the review team and the most junior member. As a result, my role in the review was relatively minor. My next interaction with Jim was while I was a Visiting Research Engineer at the US Army Waterways Experiment Station (WES) in Vicksburg, MS (now part of the US Army Engineer Research and Development Center: ERDC). Bill Marcuson invited Jim to give a seminar at WES and designated me as his host for the day. The reason for selecting me for this job was because I had mentioned to Bill about my interest in pursuing a PhD in Geotechnical Engineering (my MS degree was in Structural Engineering), and he strongly recommended that I go to Virginia Tech to work with Jim. A few years later I took a leave of absence from my position with the DNFSB and entered the graduate program at Virginia Tech, with Jim as my Advisor.
I remember our weekly meetings where I would outline the work that I did during the past week. I donâ€™t ever remember him telling me what to do, but rather, he guided my research by asking questions. I think the questions were a 50/50 split of him not understanding what I did because what I did was incorrect or because I didnâ€™t explain it clearly. Either way, the meetings were always insightful and encouraging, although there was one exception. He asked me to write an abstract for an upcoming conference, and after he had a chance to read the abstract, he sent me an e-mail telling me that it gave him heartburn. His other PhD students at the time and I used this e-mail as a gage for his responses to all other work that we submitted to him; I actually still have a copy of the e-mail somewhere.
In 2008 I joined the faculty at Virginia Tech, and because they didnâ€™t have an office for me when I arrived, I shared an office with Jim for about a month (the same office where we used to have our weekly meetings when I was a student). We now have separate offices, but they are close to each other. It is great to see him regularly and talk with him about various topics of geotechnical engineering and occasionally politics. Which reminds me of one of our weekly meetings when I was a student. I entered his office, and he and one of his other students were commiserating over the results of the recent elections. He looked at me and said â€œevery single person I voted for lostâ€; my reply was, â€œreally, every person I voted for won.â€ We had a very short meeting that day.
I still seek Jimâ€™s advice regularly and am always impressed with his insights. I know few people that are able to separate the chaff from the wheat as quickly and who are as even-keeled. I am proud to be one of his students and one of his colleagues; he is a great mentor and role model.