The Journey into Geotechnical Engineering | by: Schemmer Geotechnical Engineer Loras Klostermann, P.E.

One of Schemmer’s geotechnical engineers, Loras Klostermann, P.E., often meets people that are not familiar with the geotechnical engineering field or the nature of work that is performed. Over the past five years, Loras has participated in the annual OPS 7th Grade Career Fair. He meets students at these events that often ask him questions like, “What is geotechnical engineering,” or “How did you become a geotechnical engineer?” 

Loras began his journey into geotechnical engineering by attending Iowa State University. He graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering in 1981. Due to the "Oil Crisis" and the recession that it caused, jobs were hard to find and Loras decided to continue his education pursuit at the university. He found a job assisting one of his professors with a lake rehabilitation research project during the summer of 1981.

During this time, Loras also co-authored a research proposal that was accepted by the Mining and Mineral Resources Institute at Iowa State University to evaluate "The In Situ State of Stress in Rock." He studied a new method to measure the breaking point of rock in a mine, to enable the engineers to predict when the rock might break and fall on the miners. The team developed a tool used to insert into small holes that were drilled into the rock. This tool was used to measure forces applied by nature and also measure the strength of the rock.

Loras found it fascinating to interact with the geology majors that were working on similar research efforts. In addition to lab work, studying similitude and rock mechanics, he toured deep lead and coal mines to observe the actual field conditions. Loras was able to study soil, rock mechanics and engineering under some of the best professors in the central U.S. at that time.

Loras went on to receive his Masters of Science in Geotechnical Engineering in 1984, with credits to qualify as a mining engineer. He learned that receiving a Bachelor of Science in Engineering was relatively easy. The hard part was studying for a Masters of Science degree, while determining how to solve problems based on raw theory alone. Most students do not encounter this until they take graduate level courses or begin their careers in the field.

Today, Loras continues to use his experiences from graduate school to assist Schemmer clients in defining the problems they encounter and finding solutions for their projects. He has vast experience in soil testing and analyses, as well as rock and building materials. His knowledge ranges from areas of environmentally clean soils to locations where hazardous material suits are required. One thing Loras learned from working in hazardous environments is to look for clues from nature. If there aren’t any ants or insects in sight, you should not be there either unless you are wearing the appropriate protective clothing.

Loras also uses his farming background and assessment of the current condition of plants to estimate probable subsoil properties prior to soil sampling. By making this connection, he can review soils at a project location for engineering purposes. Loras finds forensic study of cracked and broken structures both interesting and rewarding. Forensic projects give the engineer a firsthand evaluation of practices to confirm which to continue and discontinue using. If the material is made up of soil or placed on or in the ground, Loras can assist in the analysis and design of the project.

Loras continues his journey as a geotechnical engineer today at Schemmer. He is the group manager of field services, a subset of the engineering division. As a professional, Loras is experienced in the analysis and design of many types of geotechnical structures. He has assisted in the design of structures ranging from single family homes to oil refineries, and many structure types in between. He has analyzed and recommended repairs of failed dams; designed deep sheet pile walls for a super-fund site and short retaining walls for construction and recreational purposes; and designs mechanically stabilized earth walls in the Omaha, Nebraska area. He works with foundation types ranging from shallow footings and intermediate depth footings, to deep pile foundations supported in soil and rock. His projects include high rise residential towers; pedestrian bridges; railroad bridges and alignments; roadway and highway bridges; roads and highways; heavy commercial buildings; multi-story structures; very heavy refinery and chemical plant structures; off-shore drilling platforms; and the foundations required under tall and heavy cranes needed to build large structures.

Loras is able to use the experiences along his journey to geotechnical engineering to best serve Schemmer’s clients. Schemmer’s practice continues to evolve and the firm’s engineers and technicians evolve with it. Loras strives to lead the field services group into the future and the continued success of Schemmer.