If there is one thing we can all likely agree on, it’s our mutual love for water and air. All right, so maybe we don’t consciously think about our love of either. And perhaps love isn’t really the right adjective. However, we can definitely agree that both are necessary to sustain life. But how do we know that the water coming through our pipes is safe to drink? Or that the air we are breathing isn’t doing us harm? The answer to these questions (among many others) is the provenance of the environmental engineer.
If you decide to become an environmental engineering major, you will learn how to solve environmental and public health issues. Through courses in engineering, chemistry, biology and geology, you’ll study how to address topics like hazardous waste concerns, public hygiene, groundwater protection and air pollution. Further, your lab work (and there will be a good deal) will allow you to hone your skills in analyzing and evaluating data and assessing possible solutions to environmental problems. Finally, in addition to all your science classes and technical training, a handful of programs may require you to take some economics, policy and management courses as well. These will leave you well-positioned to understand the business side of the industry and will certainly round out your education.
As an environmental engineering student, you’ll need to be a keen problem solver with an impeccable eye for detail. You’ll often work in groups or teams so solid communication and social skills will be in tall order as well. And, of course, you should probably be an advocate of public transportation (or carpooling at the very least).
Nuts and Bolts
Environmental engineering majors take such challenging and intellectually stimulating classes such as: Introduction to Environmental Assessment and Remediation, Hydraulic Systems, Sustainable Bioenergy Systems, Physical Hydrology for Ecosystems, Solid Waste Engineering, Green Engineering and Sustainable Design, Air Pollution Control, Chemical Engineering Process Design and Risk Analysis, and Management.
Environmental engineering majors are also likely to consider studying chemical engineering, bioengineering, biochemical engineering, structural engineering, environmental science, geology, civil engineering, urban planning, ecology, ocean engineering, natural resources conservation, biology, chemistry and mineral engineering.
Graduates of environmental engineering programs will find themselves ready to join the front lines of environmental protection. As with many science-based majors and professions, gradudates can easily enter the public or private sector and work in the field, in the lab or within the confines of a cubicle (or perhaps even a combination of all three). More specifically, environmental engineers can be found within the public health sector, recycling, waste management, and water and air pollution control. Jobs can entail anything from designing waste treatment facilities and equipment to studying the impacts of proposed construction projects and performing quality control checks. Further, they can work as consultants helping companies and organizations comply with environmental regulations, clean up hazardous sites and reduce their footprint on the environment. And, of course, they might also land policy gigs and help to establish new rules, regulations and management strategies. Finally, it should be noted that although you can certainly find employment with an engineering degree, you will not be a full-fledged, licensed engineer. Indeed, you will have to pass the Fundamentals of Engineering Exam (known as the FE) administered by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying. Upon successful completion of the FE exam, you will acquire an apprenticeship to qualify for the Professional Engineer exam (known as the PE). Once you pass the PE exam, you will become a fully certified engineer!