Latest News

Couple's gift establishes geotechnical engineering lab

One of Gerald R. Olson’s (BS 56) favorite memories of being a civil engineering student in the 1950s is of yearly lectures by geotechnical engineering great Karl Terzaghi.

Audrey and Gerald Olson
Audrey and Gerald Olson

“Dr. Terzaghi was a close associate of Professor Ralph Peck, and he came to Illinois at least yearly,” said Audrey Olson, Gerald’s wife, who over the years has heard her husband’s many recollections of his time at Illinois. “These trips included a multi-hour lecture open to all civil engineering students. Dr. Terzaghi was considered the ‘father of soil mechanics,’ and his lectures emphasized the importance for detailed field visits and the practical side of geotechnical engineering.”

Longtime supporters of CEE at Illinois, Gerald and Audrey recently made a leadership gift to fund a geotechnical engineering laboratory in the new addition to the Hydrosystems Lab that is being built as Phase II of the CEE Modernization Plan. The lab will feature updated equipment and offer students more hands-on learning experiences.

This concept dovetailed with the couple’s philanthropic interests, because of Gerald’s long career in geotechnical engineering. More than 50 years ago, Olson founded and built Terracon, an employee-owned geotechnical engineering consulting firm. Many of the employees remained with Terracon for their entire careers, a fact that was especially gratifying to Gerald, he said.

“Loyalty and a feeling of family for all employees was important,” he said. “I feel I was very fortunate during my career to have the opportunity to work on many interesting projects and help develop Terracon into a large consulting engineering firm.

“God has been good to us, and we feel that giving this laboratory is something we can do that would pay part of our ‘dues’ for having been blessed throughout our lives.” 

More stories