Robert Randall’s legacy includes more than four decades of teaching, research, and service.
It’s hard to encapsulate such a rich career and expertise into one book, but that is what Randall set out to do.
Recently published by ASCE Press, Dredging and Dredged Material Placement is a wealth of information on the state of dredging as Randall collects a career’s worth of experience and history into a single volume.
He talked to Civil Engineering Source about the book, his career, and his legacy.
Civil Engineering Source: Why take on a book project of this magnitude at this point in your career?
Robert Randall: Well, I’ve been teaching a marine dredging course at Texas A&M University for 20 years. It’s not the normal course – my university is probably the only one I know of that’s teaching one in the United States. I’ve also been teaching a dredging short course for over 40 years at the university.
The idea was that when I retired in 2020, I had all of these lectures, in addition to a good bit of research in the area that I’d done. In other words, I covered everything from the actual digging – the dredging of the material – to where you place it. I thought it was a good thing to make available to the profession. A book would be good for that, and there are problems in there that I had used that you typically wouldn’t find in a dredging book. I wanted to leave a legacy type of thing. I didn’t expect it to take me two years, but I guess that’s normal.
Source: As you look back on your career – all those classes and students – what stands out for you?
Randall: What comes to the forefront of my mind is the number of former students who are now working for dredging companies, consultants, and the Army Corps of Engineers. Recently, I went to a WEDA conference that I’ve been involved with for a long time down in Houston, and it made me feel good to see how many of my former students have master’s degrees and are working in the field. A few former undergraduates were there too and giving papers, heavily involved with their most recent dredging work.
Dredging has been around forever. But for the difficulties with our coastlines and the deepening of our ports and harbors and all the sedimentation in lakes and rivers, dredging is an approach that’s commonly used. It takes a lot of effort. It requires a lot of money from the federal government, municipalities, and ports. Sometimes the federal government is too slow for the private industry, so they find ways to fund it themselves.
So it really makes me feel good that, yes, something like 2,000 people over time have taken the dredging short course. And to see them involved, publishing papers and going to conferences, makes me feel good.
Source: Did you always plan to teach when you were growing up or going through the industry?
Randall: No, I would never have said I was going to be a teacher when I was going to school. I got an engineering degree in mechanical engineering. I had gone to school on a scholarship from the Navy. When I got out, I owed them four years. I was in the submarine service, so I got hooked on the ocean. When I decided that I didn’t want to stay in the Navy for a career, I knew if I [did] go back to engineering, I really needed to get a graduate degree.
I went to the University of Rhode Island, which had just opened up an ocean engineering degree program, and I thought that kind of fit what my interests were. I ended up going on for a Ph.D., which I never expected to do. I just had a faculty member ask, “Are you interested? I’ve got funding.” And I thought to myself, “Oh, I don’t know about this.”
Anyway, I said, “Yes” [laughs].
I ended up at Texas A&M in 1975, and that’s where I stayed until I retired in 2020. When I came here, these Aggie students as we call them, most of them were hardworking and interested. It was nice to work with them. I was also the director of the Haynes Engineering Lab. We had a model dredge and laboratory, and we did some research with that. Much of that is included in the book, along with some of the results of the students’ research. I felt like it was just a matter of putting that information out into the world and letting people see what they can do.
Source: You mentioned that you have a couple of test cases or problems that you address in your course that students couldn’t find anyplace else. They are now part of this book. Can you elaborate on that?
Randall: Two colleagues developed a simulator of a cutter-section dredge. Those simulators were based on computer software, and it was like a video game, if you will; only the equipment for the dredge was much better than any video game.
Anyway, my two colleagues asked me to develop a course around the simulators. I developed all the exercises that we would show the students and have them work on. Consequently, we developed the simulator course which went from about 1990 to 2010 or so.
That information is in the book so students can see the value of training. I use the word “students,” but most users, in the case of the simulator, were operators on a dredge where they were company people who wanted to operate a dredge without actually doing it. You couldn’t break what I was showing them. If they messed up, all I would tell them is “OK, you plugged the pipeline, and now you’re going have to unplug it.” All you had to do was turn off the computer. [He laughs.] So that went pretty well.
The homework problems are the problems that I have in the book. They’re pretty unique in the fact that I had to dream them up! Of course, I do have a solution manual, but I haven’t done anything with it. I don’t really like to give those things out, because that’s a value for people to try figuring out how to solve the problem on their own. You’re not going to have a solutions manual out in the real world.
Learn more about Dredging and Dredged Material Placement at the ASCE Library.