Colombia Purdue Initiative — CPI

Professor Emeritus Manuel García-López

A Success Story that Started at Purdue


At 75 years of age, Manuel García-López still climbs the mountainous terrains of Mocoa, a Colombian city that suffered an avalanche in March 2017 - the worst catastrophe in the history of the region. He and his team survey the damage to aqueducts that provide water to the city. As an authority in geotechnics, he is a leading figure in the prevention and correction of damage caused by landslides, avalanches, and other natural hazards. He attributes his success to his graduate studies at Purdue.

Originally from Armero, Tolima, Manuel García has dedicated his academic and professional life to the study, research, and development of geotechnics. He has written more than 100 scientific articles, participated in more than 50 events on geotechnics, and received more than 30 accolades from both national and international institutions.

As a manager and study director of his consulting firm Ingeniería y Geotecnia, Manuel García has led or participated in more than 1,200 engineering project studies in Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Argentina and Chile. As a professor, he received the distinction of Professor Emeritus when he was only 48 years old, in recognition of his outstanding services to the University and exceptional academic merits in the Faculty of Engineering at Universidad Nacional. Furthermore, he has taught for 52 consecutive years at Universidad Nacional and approximately 45 years at the university he co-founded, Escuela Colombiana de Ingeniería. 


Manuel García López receiving the “Julio Garavito Armero Order of Merit” in the category of Great Official – the maximum distinction the Colombian Government affords to praise the trajectory and professional merits of those engineers who have rendered important services to the nation. From left to right Dr. Ernesto Samper Pizano, President of the Republic of Colombia, Dr. Enrique Ramírez Romero, President of the Colombian Society of Engineers (also a Purdue Graduate) and Prof. Manuel García López. Bogotá, May 1997.


“Studying at Purdue, meeting such distinguished professors, and being successful have been some of the best things in my life”

The successful and laser-focused career Manuel García has led in geotechnics started in 1964 while pursuing his BSc in Civil Engineering at Universidad Nacional de Colombia in Bogotá. “I was an undergrad teaching assistant for a renowned professor in Foundations Engineering, Dr. Pablo Y. Castillo Pinzón, and Assistant for the lab of Soil Mechanics and Pavement Engineering of the School of Engineering,” he says. “The modern name Geotechnics we know today as such did not exist.”

Soon after graduation in November 1965, he joined Universidad Nacional, where he has been a lecturer ever since. “The first project I participated in was led by The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and its goal was to create the first Graduate Program in Civil Engineering in Colombia. I was very proud when the Head of Civil Engineering invited me to join!”

When UNESCO’s project was at the beginning, Manuel García was offered the opportunity to pursue studies at a foreign university. Coincidentally, some of his students had given him a book as a graduation present on Foundation Engineering, edited and partially written by Purdue Professor Gerald A. Leonards. Because he liked the book, he applied to Purdue. He was accepted to start his studies in the Fall of 1967 and graduated in the Fall of 1968. “When I arrived at West Lafayette, I was told that UNESCO’s scholarship was for only one year, so I decided to finish my degree in that time.” With a tight schedule and unbreakable focus, Manuel García-López got his Master of Science in Civil Engineering, with majors in Soil Mechanics and Foundation Engineering and a minor in Rock Mechanics.


Manuel García says the time spent at Purdue helped him to be successful. He highlights the quality of the professors, the fruitful environment of study and research, the opportunity to enjoy the United States and its advances, and all the people he met from all over the world. In these photos, Manuel García with Purdue Professors Gerald A. Leonards (left, 1985), Milton E. Harr (center, 1985), and Charles W. Lovell (right, 1992).


Thanks to the contact with Purdue’s distinguished professors and their advanced courses, Manuel García could develop a successful career in teaching and research, and as a Consulting Engineer. It allowed him to meet very distinguished faculty who became friends, mentors, and colleagues. Professor Emeritus Gerald A. Leonards was one of them. “He was famous worldwide for his work on Foundation Engineering. He came to Colombia several times and we named him an Honorary Member of the Sociedad Colombiana de Geotecnia.” Another mentor and friend was Professor Emeritus Milton E. Harr. “Years after my graduation, I came across him at a congress in Costa Rica. After listening to my talk, he took the stand and praised my speech, the quality of my time at Purdue, and Purdue’s research spirit.” Other professors who influenced Manuel García’s work were Professor Emeritus C. William Lovell, who was his advisor, and Professor Emeritus William Judd, who was one of the first persons to use the term “geotechnics.”

After finishing his studies, he returned to work at Universidad Nacional. "After doing these kinds of studies, one arrives wanting to change and improve things, and I did it."

For the almost 50 years after his graduation, Professor García-López has maintained the relationship with Purdue and helped grow the Colombia-Purdue Initiative. He has maintained close ties with Purdue professors and directors, sent outstanding Colombian students to pursue graduate studies at Purdue, and invited Purdue professors to participate in geotechnical engineering conferences. He has supported collaborations between Universidad Nacional and Purdue and now is also promoting the development of new relationships with Escuela Colombiana de Ingeniería.


Manuel García has achieved great prestige both in teaching and in consulting and is still active. Here, assessing the avalanche effects in Mocoa, Southwest Colombia, July 2017.


Manuel García is internationally acknowledged as one of the main developers, experts, and promoters of a new prosperous branch of geotechnics: The Geotechnics in Hydrocarbon Transportation Systems in Mountainous Terrains. “Many oil and gas pipelines failed due to landslides, as they were constructed through unstable terrains. In 1977, we started to apply to the Colombian Petroleum Enterprise Ecopetrol’s pipelines the new theories of Soil Mechanics and Geomorphology, seeking that these conduits were built through safer areas,” he explains. “That was the beginning of this area of study in which Colombian engineers have excelled throughout the world.”

Besides his accomplishments in teaching and consulting, Manuel García has held important roles in notable institutions. He has been a member of the board of Sociedad Colombiana de Ingenieros and President of Sociedad Colombiana de Geotecnia. He is also co-founder, a member of the Board of Directors and a Full Professor in Geotechnical Engineering at Escuela Colombiana de Ingeniería. With his relentless pursuit of research and study, Manuel García López has exemplified the values for which Purdue is known around the world. He will forever be a Boilermaker.


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