From the Egyptian pyramids and Roman aqueducts to the Great Wall of China and the Hoover Dam, many of the most ambitious and impressive building projects in world history are examples of civil engineering at its finest, according to some experts on this area of engineering.
“Civil engineering is one of the oldest professions that deals with engineering,” says Michael Horodniceanu, a professor in the civil engineering department at the New York University Tandon School of Engineering.
Civil engineers have frequently tested the limits of the technology at their disposal, which makes their accomplishments even more remarkable, says Horodniceanu, the chair of NYU’s IDC Innovation Hub, which focuses on inspiring creative excellence in the construction industry.
What Civil Engineering Is and How it Happens
Civil engineering focuses on the creation of infrastructure that helps a society function, including its transportation, energy and sewer systems. It also concentrates on the erection of all types of structures, from single-family homes to office complexes. Civil engineers often work alongside architects and contribute to a variety of construction projects, including shopping malls, houses of worship, stadiums and cemeteries.
Experienced civil engineers note that they can find jobs in both the public and private sectors, since they may elect to work for federal, state or local government agencies or with a construction company, developer, private engineering firm or surveyor. Some civil engineers oversee building projects while others create construction blueprints.
Key Steps to Take if You Want to Be a Civil Engineer
— Develop relevant skills.
— Earn a college degree in civil engineering.
— Consider getting licensed and a graduate degree.
Tip 1: Develop Relevant Skills
One common misconception about this academic discipline is that the only helpful knowledge within this domain is mathematical or scientific, experts say. Although learning about math and science is necessary in order to become a civil engineer, they say, those are not the only subjects that a civil engineer needs to study.
Karen Panetta, dean of graduate education at the Tufts University School of Engineering in Massachusetts, suggests that aspiring civil engineers learn some type of computer programming language and cultivate their logical thinking skills.
“You need to know how to ask questions,” she says, adding that “imagination and determination” are necessary personality traits in the civil engineering profession.
Aspiring civil engineers should take a course on construction drafting or modeling and gain relevant professional experience, recommends Zane Pucylowski, principal engineer and owner of the Phoenix Engineering and Consulting company in Georgia.
“One of the things that can really set you apart in engineering is the ability to speak in public and speak to others,” he wrote in an email. “As engineers a lot of us are introverted and those of us that really advance in the profession are able to talk to people and communicate clearly and speak in front of groups. The earlier you start this the better.”
Bill Yu, chair of the civil engineering department at the Case School of Engineering in Ohio, advises future civil engineers to strengthen their teamwork skills so that they can collaborate with a variety of people.
Tip 2: Earn a College Degree in Civil Engineering
A bachelor’s degree is usually the minimum credential necessary for entry-level jobs within the civil engineering profession, but a master’s or doctorate may be mandatory for management positions in this field.
Boston -based civil engineer Alicia Moore notes that civil engineering is a broad field of study with many subcategories.
“Regardless of the specific discipline a civil engineering student may decide to pursue, there are basic courses every civil engineer student should take including Surveying, Geology, Soil Mechanics, Foundations, Steel/Concrete, Hydraulics, Traffic, Construction Management and Contracts,” Moore wrote in an email.
Tip 3: Consider Getting Licensed and a Graduate Degree
Although junior roles for civil engineers typically don’t require state licensure, senior positions generally do. Obtaining a Professional Engineering, or PE, license usually involves meeting the following four standards.
— A degree from an engineering school accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology.
— A passing score on the Fundamentals of Engineering exam, which is often taken shortly after obtaining an engineering degree.
— Several years of apprenticeship under the tutelage of an experienced engineer.
— A passing score on the Professional Engineering exam, which is generally completed after several years in the workforce.
Advanced civil engineering jobs frequently require graduate education, such as a master’s or doctorate.
Civil Engineering Careers
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary among U.S. civil engineers in May 2020 was $88,570. The bureau predicts slower-than-average job growth in this field and projects that employment opportunities in this sector will be 2% higher in 2029 than in 2019.
To thrive professionally, a civil engineer ought to feel passionate about building structures that are better than what was built before by using new materials or techniques, suggests Horodniceanu, a registered PE who has a Ph.D. degree in transportation planning and engineering.
Muralikrishna Chelupati, an associate and senior civil engineer at Stantec, a Canada-based global design firm, says interest in math and science led him to his calling.
“I’ve always been interested in problem solving and as a child I was fascinated about infrastructure and used to watch documentaries about buildings, highways, and dams,” Chelupati wrote in an email. “Even as a child I knew I wanted to work in a field related to building infrastructure.”
Yu notes that civil engineers often have to develop solutions to community challenges, which requires negotiation and coordination with multiple parties and consideration of competing concerns. Delays are common on civil engineering projects, so patience is a must, Yu says.
Chelupati, an award-winning hydraulic modeler, describes some of the pros and cons of civil engineering jobs.
“The most rewarding aspect of a civil engineering career is seeing conceptual projects turning into reality such as a multi-lane highway to reduce travel times, large diameter tunnels to store wastewater during storm events which otherwise would have polluted a water body, or a treatment technology that converts wastewater into potable water,” he says. “On the flip side, the hardest part is convincing the public and lawmakers to increase funding for infrastructure improvements.”
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