The Jane Goodall of Geotechnical Engineering

By: Stuart “Stu” Thompson (CTL|Thompson, Inc.)

“What is a geotechnical engineer?” I have been answering that question for most of my life. My dad, Robert W. Thompson P.E., D.GE, F.ASCE, is a geotechnical engineer and founded CTL|Thompson, Inc. in Denver, Colorado when I was a toddler. Inevitably, a teacher, fellow student, coach, friend, or parent of a friend would ask about my parents’ professions, and I had been coached with an elevator-pitch answer.

Maybe because my dad is so passionate about geotechnical engineering — he is a past-President of GBA, a recent inductee to the College of Engineering, Architecture, and Technology Hall of Fame at Oklahoma State University, and the visionary founder of CTL|Thompson — for much of my life I equated a profession with an identity. Beginning in elementary school, I spent my summers and school breaks working for CTL|Thompson, Inc. Until high school, the work was primarily just picking weeds in the parking lot, jacking brass liners and cleaning them for reuse, and other cleanup work around the lab. As I got older I worked in the lab and eventually the field and on the back of a rig.

I spent a lot of time around geotechnical engineers, but I was not one of them. I am still not one of them. I have lived with them, spent thousands of hours of my adult life with them, I work with them, I work for them, admire and respect them, promote them, advocate for them, want the best for them, and encourage them. I am not one of them. I live amongst them. I am like the Jane Goodall of geotechnical engineering.

During my college years at Auburn University, I continued to work for CTL|Thompson, Inc. when I was home on break. While at Auburn I passionately pursued two things: Auburn Rugby and my future wife, Kelly. Notice that there is no mention of engineering. My dad recognized that I did not have enough interest in the practice of engineering, the projects, etc., and guided me toward business school.

The mayhem of the rugby pitch was my happy place in my college years. I captained the team for my last couple of years and was the President of the affiliated club that provided support and raised money. Through rugby I had the opportunity to travel to different universities and meet a lot of people. In rugby it is tradition that the home team hosts a party after the game. The two teams fight it out on the pitch and then get together and share beers and stories after the game. We challenged one another and learned from one another. It was good training for participating in the cocktail parties at GBA. I had friends all over the Southeast Conference that were competitors and compatriots.

Kelly and I ended up getting married and moving back to Colorado. This year is our 30th anniversary. When we moved back to Colorado I worked for a CPA for a while, earned my MBA from Regis University, worked as an EMT and Ski Patroller, owned and operated a franchise, and eventually ended up working for CTL|Thompson, Inc. in the accounting department as the Controller. In 2008 I was promoted to President and in 2018 I became the CEO of CTL|Thompson, Inc.

I have been involved with GBA since the early 2000s. I am motivated to actively participate in GBA by the relationships I have developed. We challenge one another, learn from one another, and share stories over cocktails at GBA conferences. I have friends from GBA all over the country that are competitors and compatriots.

Last year Kelly and I became empty nesters. We have three daughters that we love immensely and enjoy watching take flight. Colorado is a great place for outdoor activities and as a family we’ve enjoyed skiing, cycling, running, hiking, fishing, and backpacking.

With the girls gone from home, I am focused on keeping up with Kelly and staying close enough on a bicycle that I can draft. I am an avid fan of bluegrass music and play mandolin, guitar, and write songs. The bluegrass scene is very friendly and supportive.

I frequent various jams and festivals around Colorado and enjoy making music and friends. We challenge and learn from one another as we share songs in taverns, campgrounds, and festival parking lots. I have friends from bluegrass all over Colorado that are collaborators and compatriots.

I am in my first year on the GBA Board of Directors and I am honored to work with, and for, professionals of such high caliber. I am sure my tenure will be characterized by great relationships with competitors and compatriots that share a desire to elevate the geoprofessions.