Inside Rensselaer
* James Mitchell ’51 Receives Davies Medal
President Shirley Ann Jackson, James Mitchell '51, and Engineering Dean David Rosowsky at the Davies Medal celebration.
James Mitchell ’51 Receives Davies Medal

Esteemed geotechnical engineer and educator James Mitchell ’51 received the prestigious Davies Medal for Engineering Achievement from the School of Engineering Oct. 14. Mitchell, the University Distinguished Professor, Emeritus, at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, was honored during a ceremony in the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies. He delivered a presentation titled “Soil Mechanics to Geotechnical Engineering: 60 Years in the Evolution of a Discipline,” which explored geotechnical engineering’s vital role in solving present and future problems in both constructed and natural environments.

The ceremony was part of the celebration of the 175th anniversary of civil engineering at Rensselaer.

“We are very pleased to present Dr. Mitchell with the Davies Medal, the highest honor given to an alumnus of the School of Engineering, as part of our celebration of 175 years of civil engineering at the Institute,” said David Rosowsky, dean of engineering. “We are proud of Dr. Mitchell’s many accomplishments, and proud to have him among the global family of Rensselaer engineering graduates. For nearly six decades, his innovative spirit, discerning eye for detail, and passion for education have enriched the field of civil engineering and inspired countless young engineers.”

In honor of one of the Institute’s most accomplished, active, and loyal alumni, Clarence Davies ’14, Rensselaer established the Davies Medal for Engineering Achievement in 1980 to recognize an alumnus with a distinguished career of engineering achievement, public service, and technical and managerial accomplishments. The award is funded by an endowment from Mr. and Mrs. J. Erik Jonsson ’22.

After serving for two years on active duty in the U.S. Army, Mitchell joined the faculty of the University of California, Berkeley, in 1958. He held the Edward G. Cahill and John R. Cahill Chair in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering when he retired from the university in 1993. He served as chairman of the Department of Civil Engineering from 1979-84. Mitchell joined the faculty of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Virginia Tech in 1994, and was named University Distinguished Professor in 1996, and University Distinguished Professor, Emeritus, in 1999. Today, he continues research and graduate student supervision in the geotechnical engineering program at Virginia Tech.

A gifted researcher who has written more than 375 publications, including the recently updated graduate-level textbook and geotechnical reference, Fundamentals of Soil Behavior, Mitchell focuses on the experimental and analytical studies of soil behavior related to geotechnical problems.

Mitchell has received many awards and accolades, including the Norman Medal, Thomas A. Middlebrooks Award, Walter L. Huber Research Prize, and the 2006 Outstanding Projects and Leaders Award (OPAL) in Education, all from the American Society of Civil Engineers. In addition, he received the Medal for Exceptional Scientific Achievement from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Chief of Engineers Outstanding Service Award in 1999, and the Department of the Army Outstanding Civilian Service Medal in 2007.

Mitchell received his bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from Rensselaer in 1951, and went on to earn his master’s and doctoral degrees in civil engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1953 and 1956, respectively.

For more information on the Davies Medal, including past winners, visit

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Inside Rensselaer
Volume 4, Number 17, November 5, 2010
©2010 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
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