Department in Review: Civil and Environmental Engineering

The following article is part of a recurring segment in which the Oredigger reviews a department on campus by interviewing the department head and surveying current seniors. To see more articles in this segment click here.

For our next instalment of Department in Review, the Oredigger sat down with Susan Reynolds to discuss the state of affairs in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department. When asked to highlight what she would tell those interested in pursuing a degree in either civil or environmental engineering, she emphasized the fact that both fields are extremely broad, meaning graduates can find employment in a wide array of industries. In the words of Professor Reynolds, “they are two similar fields that range from the dry to the wet side.” She is alluding to the fact that environmental engineering is a water based field; while civil engineering deals more with the earth, soils, metals and structures.

One key to choosing a career in either field is the potential for impacting a large number of lives. Environmental projects, such as dam building or water treatment, and civil projects, like bridges or skyscrapers, all have the ability to help millions of people. Either major allows students to “chart their own path” because of the diversity of fields one can find employment. Because of this diversity, careers can be tailored to the interests of each individual. If someone enjoys field work, then they can have a career where they spend most of their time in field and if someone is more office oriented, the same applies for them. With graduates finding jobs in the construction market, oil and gas, government, consulting, water resources, or even the engineering sciences (chemistry, biology, etc..), it creates a wide array of salaries and experiences one can choose upon completion of a degree.
Professor Reynolds pointed out that many students in their first years at Mines have a choice between majors and when it comes to the choice between civil or petroleum engineering, she does not want salary to be the only decider. Because of the diversity a civil engineering degree provides, students can find a job in petroleum and make a comparable salary to a petroleum engineer, but students can also pursue jobs in other markets because they are not specialized in just one field. While the average salaries are varied, the highest salaries in CEE rival those of other majors. Jobs that pay the same as other majors can always be found, but the diversity a civil or environmental degree provides is the true value.
Graduate students hone their undergraduate skills in one of the many different specialties of the CEE department. The Colorado School of Mines is home to the Underground Construction and Tunneling (UC&T) masters program which is the only one of its kind in existence in the United States. Students can also study a structural path, environmental science, environmental engineering, or hydrology. CEE2
As with our other department featured in this issue, females are the majority in The Civil and Environmental Engineering department. For civil engineering roughly 35% of the students are females, compared to the national average of 21% according to a study from ASEE (American Society for Engineering Education) during the 2012-2013 school year. The same study showed the national average for environmental engineering was 45.8%, but at Mines the major is roughly 60%.
Another special trait of the CEE department is its involvement with humanitarian organizations like Engineers without Borders (look for them on campus). These are great organizations to be a part of and with a background in CEE, students could make this a career. There are many different opportunities for research in the department. The civil field of geotechnical includes the UC&T department as well as research in soil mechanics or soil dynamics. Shiling Pei, one of the department’s new hires is currently putting together a shake table that will be used to simulate earthquakes so that research can be done using small-scale models of materials/buildings in order to see how they handle earthquakes. The environmental side has a few labs that are built specifically for research in its field including the Center for Experimental Study of Subsurface Environmental Processes (CESEP) as well as microbiology or environmental- chemistry research opportunities.

From the career center, for the year 2013-2014, 93% of the 58 Civil engineering graduates were either employed, not looking (two), or going to graduate school (15 of the 58) and the average salary for those students was $58, 224 ranging from $42,000-$100,000. On the Environmental side, 90% of the 31 graduating seniors continued on to either grad school (8) or to industry/government jobs (19). Their average salaries were $55,733 ranging from $35,000 to $74,500. The numbers for graduate students were very similar with the job placement rate for the various specialties in the two majors ranging from 89% to 100%. There are 20 full time faculty members, not including research faculty, in the CEE department and there are approximately 300 students in the department, undergraduates. Of those 300, 160 are civil and 140 are environmental. This makes the student faculty ratio 15:1. There are 97 master’s students and 50 doctoral students.

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