What is civil and environmental engineering?


Let's take this from first principles, where dictionary definitions are a good place to start:

  • The definition of the word "civil" involves "relating to ordinary citizens and their concerns."
  • "Environmental" relates to how we interact with the natural world and the impact of human activity on its condition.
  • "Engineering" is the branch of science and technology concerned with the design, building, and use of engines, machines, and structures.

Link "civil" with "engineering," and this pretty much sums up how we humans are concerned with having safe, reliable structures and buildings, ways of transporting people and goods from one place to another, power generation and distribution, clean water, efficient processing of wastes and other services that we now take for granted. We make Earth habitable.

However, in making Earth habitable, we take a lot from it, and the resources we use and the wastes that can accumulate, we affect the environment. That's why we have environmental engineers, who apply, develop, and design technologies that help us deal with pollution, build more efficient buildings that save on water, natural gas, and electric consumption, among other improved and environmentally-friendly infrastructures.

In nearly every aspect of life, we rely on services produced from civil and environmental infrastructure.

  • Structural engineering: design of structures to withstand stresses and pressures of their environment
  • Transportation engineering: planning, design, operation, and maintenance of safe and efficient transportation networks that might run from bicycles, cars, trains, to autonomous vehicles that connect different sectors of a city
  • Construction management and engineering: design, plan, sequence, select materials, and execute processes to build infrastructure from houses to bridges to power plants or wastewater pumping stations that are efficient and long-lived
  • Geotechnical engineering: study soil and rock behavior to design and create stable foundations, earthen structures, and pavement subgrades that are resilient and sustainable in the face of a changing climate
  • Water resources: planning and design of drinking water production and distribution systems; wastewater collection, conveyance, and treatment systems, study and management of the hydrologic cycle
  • Environmental: Encompasses air, water (as above), and soil, and how our human impacts on the environment can be tempered and made more sustainable; how to safely deactivate or store pollutants are also in the scope of this area

The Civil and Environmental Engineering curriculum is comprehensive, and after completing a sequence of foundational mathematics, chemistry, statics and dynamics, basic engineering, and materials you would take courses in each of these areas listed above.

What is significant about your BSCE degree is that you'll be prepared to take on planning, design, and innovation challenges. Our built environment is aged and undergoing monumental change you'll be at the forefront of building back solid, sustainable infrastructure that is resilient to whatever the climate or future holds.

What skills are needed to be successful in civil and environmental engineering?

  • You'll want to be strong in math and science, and curious as to how things fit together
  • This involves good problem-solving skills, which you'll further develop as an individual and on team projects
  • Creativity and confidence in your skills leads to new solutions that improve or create new ways of renewing and restoring the built environment
  • Communication skills are paramount, and we will give you experience in expressing yourself clearly in the written word, and in giving verbal presentations

What is the difference between civil and environmental engineering and other fields of engineering?

In short, we apply and integrate elements of mechanical engineering, management and economics, electrical engineering, materials science, computer science, physics, chemistry, and roll it all together to take it to the world's stage by building the places that people live in and making them compatible with environmental quality.

The Wayne State edge that you get here is that we are a dedicated urban-serving university. We take urban infrastructure seriously, and we know our way around cities and what they need to thrive. We'll impart that experience to you.

Networking opportunities

The Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Wayne State has your back. We are well-connected in Detroit and have sent our graduates across the USA and the world where they are productive, effective engineers.

We have a formalized co-op work program where you can prepare to work in the civil-environmental field for spring-summer terms as rising Junior, Senior students. These are paid work experiences where you get valuable on-the-job experience, and this work can make your tuition work harder and qualify you for technical elective credit toward your degree.

Through our Advisory Board and our wide network of alumni in various fields, we keep our finger on the pulse of the civil and environmental engineering experience.

Michigan has many hotspots for construction and structural engineering, environmental design and remediation work, and our location in the midst of the Laurentian Great Lakes offers unique opportunities.

In these times, civil and environmental engineers must assist society in dealing with infrastructure renewal, climate change mitigation and adaptation, and the engineering of sustainable, resilient, and equitable infrastructures that provide affordable, essential services to all.

What can I do with this degree when I graduate?

We are in the midst of increased pressure on our aging infrastructure, and now is the time for you to take up the mantle. Our graduates work in engineering consulting firms, construction companies, municipal, state and federal government agencies. Interested in post-graduate work? Your BSCE can take those who are so inclined to graduate school for a Masters, Doctoral degree, and Law School has many opportunities for the application of your skills.