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Department offers new engineering majors

Lily McGill | Thursday, August 29, 2013


The Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Earth Sciences (CEEES) underwent a major rearrangement this year by adding environmental engineering and environmental earth science majors and removing a previously offered environmental geosciences major. 

Dr. Elizabeth Kerr, director of undergraduate studies for the College of Engineering, said the department takes an interdisciplinary approach to the study of the environment.

“The new environmental engineering and earth sciences curriculum merges environmental earth systems, chemistry, hydrology and water flow and transport into a unique interdisciplinary curriculum focused on the environment at a range of scales,” Kerr said.   

Previously, an environmental concentration was available through the CEEES department, but it was relatively unknown, Kerr said. 

Environmental Engineering associate professor Dr. Joshua Shrout said because of the obscurity of this concentration, the CEEES department needed a restructuring to publicize its offerings. 

“The idea for some change in environmental engineering has been on the table for years,” Shrout said. “It became clear over time that we were a little bit hidden, so we needed to change that.”

Kerr says the program’s merits should be more well-known. 

“We wanted to make it so students knew we had this environmental portion in our department,” she said. “We have faculty that are very strong in these areas, and we really wanted our undergraduates to be able to benefit even more from those strengths.”

Students participating in the environmental engineering program will obtain an accredited environmental engineering degree, Kerr said. Also, although housed in the College of Engineering, students participating in the environmental earth sciences program obtain a science degree, she said.  

Dr. Jeremy Fein, director of the Center for Environmental Science and Technology, said the two disciplines often coincide. 

“There’s a lot of overlap between environmental engineering and earth sciences,” Fein said. “Because of that overlap and because the College of Engineering had more of an established graduate program, it was combined that way.”

Fein also said the environmental earth science degree offered through the CEEES department differs from the environmental science degree offered through the College of Science in that it is more specialized and focuses specifically on earth sciences, or processes that occur near or at the surface of the Earth. 

Students graduating with a degree in environmental engineering or environmental earth sciences will be prepared for a variety of fields, Shrout said.  

“Many issues pertain to water, air and soil,” he said. “Protecting human health, cleaning up contamination [and] preventing contamination are some of the things that environmental engineers do.”

The Environmental Engineering and Environmental Earth Sciences programs are open to all students entering the CEEES department with sophomore status in the fall of 2013 and future years. 

Although there are currently only 16 environmental engineering majors, Kerr said the CEEES department soon hopes to have upwards of 30 to 40 students enrolled between the two programs. 

Those who graduate with these degrees will be prepared to look at environmental issues from a big-picture perspective, Fein said, opening up important career goals in their futures. 

“Graduates can also go on and contribute to policy,” he said. “We’ve had graduates go on and work for senators and congressmen, educating them about global climate change and things like that.”