We humans have a long history of polluting our air, water, and soil. This contamination not only hurts nature, but is dangerous to people. Luckily, environmental engineers are on the job. They use math and science to clean up the messes we've made and prevent new ones from happening. For example, they might figure out how to clean up toxic material that has seeped into the ground at an old gas station or design an effective way to treat wastewater.
If you choose this major, you’ll study a wide range of subjects. Besides learning the basics of engineering, you’ll also take courses in the life and social sciences so you can understand environmental problems in all their complexity.
Students in environmental engineering learn to design, develop, and evaluate structures, equipment, and systems that protect the environment from the effects of human activity and that improve public health and well-being.
“[Engineering] allows you to think and be creative … We get to solve problems and [tackle] projects that seem impossible at first, but when they are completed, it's so cool.” Cindy, junior, civil and environmental engineering, UC Berkeley
Are You Ready To...?
- Complete a senior design project in an area of interest
- Take the Fundamentals of Engineering exam
- Spend hours solving problem sets
- Get real-world experience by completing an internship
- Join a student engineering organization, such as the American Society of Civil Engineers
- Conduct research in the field or the lab
It Helps To Be...
Passionate about the environment. You should enjoy science and math, like solving problems, and have an eye for detail. Someone who is comfortable working as part of a team and who has good speaking and writing skills should do well in this field.
- Is the department accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology?
- Does the school have a distinct program in environmental engineering? Or will you choose another major, such as civil engineering, with a concentration in environmental engineering?
- Does the program have certain areas of emphasis, such as water and wastewater engineering, air-pollution control, and solid-waste management?
- Will you get a chance to do research? What types of research facilities are available?
- Does the department have an internship program in place so you can get hands-on work experience?
Did You Know?
Some environmental engineering students, particularly those who participate in internships, graduate after five years instead of four.
To round off your studies, you will mostly likely take a senior design course. In this class, you'll learn all about executing a design project, from writing a technical proposal and estimating costs to creating a work schedule and dealing with legal issues.
You'll then use what you've learned to complete an original design project in an area of interest, such as water treatment or solid-waste management. You'll probably work on the project as part of a team, gaining important professional skills as you go.