Geotechnical engineering is a relatively recent subdivision of civil engineering, generally being recognized as a distinct discipline only since the 1920's and not developing significantly until after World War II. Even as late as the mid-1960's, there were only a few geotechnical engineering programs of prominence in the U.S.A.

At The University of Texas at Austin (UT), the geotechnical engineering program began with Raymond Dawson in the 1930's. Professor Dawson, who had an M.S. degree from U.T., was involved in problems with foundations on expansive clays and helped to organize and promote a series of conferences called the "Texas Conferences on Soil Mechanics and Foundation Engineering". In the late 1940's, Dr. Karl Terzaghi, the acknowledged father of geotechnical engineering, spent time during one or two summers in Austin working with Professor Dawson.

In the 1950's, Professor Lymon Reese joined the UT faculty after receiving his Ph.D. in geotechnical engineering from the University of California at Berkeley. In addition, Professor Hudson Matlock, who had received his graduate degree from UT, joined the faculty and began working in structural mechanics with an emphasis on foundations for offshore structures. Through the 1960's, geotechnical engineering at UT was a program with a regional focus and a relatively small faculty, most of whom were also working in other areas of civil engineering. At that time, the major programs in geotechnical engineering were clearly at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Purdue University, The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and the University of California at Berkeley. Good programs also existed at the University of Michigan, Northwestern University, the Georgia Institute of Technology, and a few other locations, with Texas generally being considered a good program but clearly not of the first rank.

The modern period for geotechnical engineering at UT probably began when Professor Stephen Wright joined the faculty in 1969 after completing his degree at Berkeley. In the following few years, Professor Dawson retired and the faculty was increased with the addition of Professors Roy Olson (University of Illinois) and Kenneth Stokoe (University of Michigan). At that time the program developed a new vigor that catapulted it into the top ranks of the country. As senior faculty retired at M.I.T., Purdue, Illinois, and Berkeley, the geotechnical engineering program at UT moved up to become one of the leading programs in the country.

Professors David Daniel (University of Texas) and Priscilla Nelson (Cornell University) joined the faculty in the 1980's and Professor Robert Gilbert (University of Illinois) in the early 1990's. Those six faculty (Daniel, Gilbert, Nelson, Olson, Stokoe, and Wright) formed a group with strengths in just about all aspects of the geotechnical engineering field. Collaborations with other faculty in the Department of Civil Engineering at the University of Texas resulted in a pre-eminent program. In the summer of 1996, Professor Nelson accepted a permanent position as program director in Geotechnics at the National Science Foundation, while Professor Daniel accepted the position of Head of Civil Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Professor Ellen Rathje joined the program in the spring of 1998 after completing her degree at the University of California at Berkeley. She brings to the group experise in the areas of earthquake engineering and geotechnical analysis. Subsequently, Professor Jorge Zornberg (University of California at Berkeley) joined us in the fall of 2003 following his previous practical and academic experience in the US and abroad. He focuses on the areas of soil reinforcement, geosyntheics, and environmental geotechnics. 

Hence, the geotechnical engineering program at The University of Texas at Austin has evolved over a period of years based on the hard work and dedication of a number of well-respected faculty members. With the addition of new and talented people, the program remains vibrant, healthy, and at the forefront of geotechnical engineering research and education.