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Duncan to Speak at Graduate Commencement

By Susan Trulove

Spectrum Volume 19 Issue 28 - April 17, 1997

J. Michael Duncan, university distinguished professor in civil engineering, will be the university's Graduate Commencement speaker at 4:30 p.m. Friday, May 9 in Cassell Coliseum.

Duncan is a role model not only for success, but for productivity and integrity. He entered engineering because it is a profitable career, he admitted. Yet he walked out on his first job after earning his bachelor's degree when he was asked to falsify records. He had $200 in the bank and a wife and child. Thirty years later, he is the recipient of the Karl Terzaghi Lectureship, recognizing a lifetime of achievement, and has won national, state and university teaching awards as well as many professional recognitions.

He came to Virginia Tech from the faculty of the University of California at Berkeley in 1984 as the W. Thomas Rice professor of civil engineering. In 1987, he was appointed university distinguished professor.

At Virginia Tech, Duncan has developed and taught undergraduate and graduate courses in geotechnical engineering, dealing with soil mechanics, foundations, and earth dams. He has earned four Teaching Excellence Awards at Virginia Tech, and was named the Outstanding Engineering Educator in Virginia in 1994.

Duncan also served as the coordinator of the geotechnical engineering group from 1984 through 1993. He and his colleagues have built the teaching-and-research program into one of the top geotechnical engineering programs in the country. Duncan's international reputation for his research contributions and his commitment to teaching have attracted top students and resources for students and for research.

He has written more than 200 publications in the area of geotechnical engineering, including engineering manuals on slope stability, shallow foundations, driven-pile foundations, drilled-shaft foundations, retaining walls, and bridge abutments. He has also developed computer programs for analysis of stresses and movements in dams, soil-structure interaction, consolidation settlements, retaining-wall stability, design of anchored bulkheads, and analysis of lateral loads on deep foundations.

Before his academic career, Duncan worked as a civil engineer in Florida, Mississippi, and California, and then was an independent geotechnical engineering consultant on projects in the United States, South America, Europe, the Middle East, Japan, and New Zealand. He continues to consult, including as a member of the Geotechnical Advisory Board for the Panama Canal; for Seven Oaks Dam, under construction in southern California; as a reviewer of geotechnical studies for the Keller Canyon Sanitary Landfill in northern California; as an advisor on geotechnical aspects of the construction of the new airport in Bogota, Columbia; as an advisor on the landslide-stabilization works at the Boise-Cascade plant site on the Tombigbee River in Jackson, Ala.; as a member of the review team for mitigation of ground movements at the Macraes Gold Mine in Otago, New Zealand; and for the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers.

He was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 1985, has been an active leader with the American Society of Civil Engineers, has served on the Geotechnical Board of the National Research Council, and chaired the Transportation Research Board Committee on Soil-Structure interaction.

Duncan received three Outstanding Faculty Awards at UC-Berkeley, the George Westinghouse national teaching award from the American Society for Engineering Education, and many professional awards recognizing his research and teaching. He was the Laurits Bjerrum Memorial lecturer in Norway in 1991.

Duncan received his bachelor of science degree from Georgia Tech and his graduate degrees from Berkeley. He is a registered professional engineer in California and Virginia.