Tom Iseley

Trenchless Pioneers: Tom Iseley

Trenchless Pioneers is a special monthly series, sharing with readers the trailblazers who made their mark on the trenchless industry.

When thinking of people who were early advocates and educators in the trenchless industry, D. Thomas Iseley, Ph.D., P.E., Dist. M. ASCE, PWAM, is likely at the top of many lists.

Iseley has long been known as an underground infrastructure educator through his work at Louisiana Tech University and the Trenchless Technology Center (TTC), Purdue University and through organizations like the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) and its Utility Engineering & Surveying Institute (UESI) and the North American Society for Trenchless Technology (NASTT).

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Even at 77, Iseley is not ready to stop educating the next generation of trenchless technologists and underground infrastructure experts. He is a professor of engineering practice, construction engineering and management at Purdue University and a Beavers Heavy Construction Distinguished Fellow.

Iseley grew up with first-hand exposure to underground infrastructure construction, watching his father and grandfather who were water and sewer pipeline contractors in the Carolinas. “At 12 years old, I spent the summer helping my brother and father build brick manholes,” Iseley recalls. “This was my first paid job in the industry. I worked my way through college, working for a consulting engineer designing water and sewer treatment plants and conveyance systems.”

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In 1979, he and his father started a utility construction company that owned some boring equipment but most of their work remained open cut. It wasn’t until Iseley found himself at Purdue University pursuing his doctorate that he was made aware of the beginnings of what we now refer to as trenchless technologies.

“In 1986, I was conducting a research project for the Indiana DOT and, during my literature review, I obtained a copy of the 1985 No-Dig Conference proceedings,” Iseley says. “I was amazed at what was being developed on a global basis. After reading through it several times, I had to learn more; so, I started traveling to meet anyone and everyone I could to learn as much as I could.”

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Iseley notes that this experiential learning process launched a commitment to doing what he could to advance the science and practice of trenchless technology. “Much of the motivation for my commitment goes back to my early days working with my father and grandfather wishing that they could see what our underground infrastructure industry had evolved to,” he says.

“Having been an assistant professor at Mississippi State University for four years prior to going to Purdue to pursue a Ph.D., I was already in academia when I became aware of the beginnings of the industry,” Iseley says. “I realized that most of the major developments were taking place outside the USA and realized that more research was needed in America.”

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This idea led to the TTC. Iseley helped establish the industry-university cooperative research center after he relocated to LA Tech in 1988. Officially established in 1990, the first major research project was in 1991 with the U.S. Corps of Engineers. Iseley also notes that he was one of the founding five who helped establish NASTT.

As important as the TTC is to trenchless education and research, when asked about his legacy, Iseley points to his work with Mayor Shirley Jackson in Atlanta in 2003.

“I was charged with assisting how to achieve the Mayor’s vision of transforming the water program to be first-in-class. This helped me realize that having access to the greatest technical solutions and having the most effective condition assessment technology will not achieve her vision,” Iseley says. “My experience working with Mayor Franklin’s administration allowed me to establish the Buried Asset Management Institute-International (BAMI-I). So, I would like to think that my legacy would recognize the accomplishments of BAMI-I helping water utilities develop and implement asset management plans.”

To this day, Iseley continues to lead the growth and development of BAMI-I. A lot has happened since he first joined the trenchless world, so what are Iseley’s thoughts about the growth of the trenchless industry over the years?

He replies, “The growth of the trenchless technology industry has been remarkable. In the initial phase, the industry pulled together to form a support structure through the NASTT and ISTT organizations. The technical envelope for most of the solutions expanded at a rapid rate. Education, training and research programs expanded to meet the needs. Now we are realizing how asset management will help utility owners make sure that they are spending the right amount of money at the right place at the right time. This helps make sure that the rates users pay are the right rates.”

Mike Kezdi is the managing editor of Trenchless Technology.