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What is a Civil Engineer?
As the oldest engineering discipline, civil engineering deals with the built environment and can be readily seen in all aspects of our lives. Examples of visual works credited to civil engineers include high-rise building, wastewater treatment facilities, highways, water wells, bridges, airports, international space station, dams, levees, subway systems, hydroelectric dams, and public utilities. A civil engineer is a vital professional that works as part of a collaborative team to bring large and small projects to life. In the automotive industry, civil engineers work with mechanical engineers, designers, project managers, and management to help cars achieve the optimal weight to power ratio, meet national safety ratings, construct the load-bearing capacity of a chassis, fabricate vehicles with ideal metallurgic properties, and help optimize fuel efficiency.
Practically speaking, a civil engineer will design, organize, construct, manage, operate, and complete projects of all sizes. From large construction projects like the construction of an airport and developing high-rise condominiums in the heart of a city to improving roadway systems and digging tunnels for public transportation, a civil engineer is a key professional to bring it all together. Civil engineers will take any number of these projects from start to finish that may include starting a project with site excavation and grading to the structural integrity and long-term performance reliability testing of a built structure.
What Do Civil Engineers Learn in School?
As a multi-disciplinary study in engineering, a civil engineer must be equipped with a variety of skills and knowledge to succeed in the workforce. Civil engineers must have working knowledge and application of academic disciplines such as hydrology, mathematics, physics, chemistry, geology, project management, computer-aided design (CAD), architecture, geophysics, construction engineering, and seismology. The utilization of these disciplines will vary by project but the knowledge of the principles of engineering and science will permeate each individual project.
A civil engineer may be brought in to review soil composition, write specifications for building processes, map out a project’s material list, work to develop blueprints using computer-aided design software, review bids, manage a budget, adhere to state and local building codes, and manage a project through completion. As such, a civil engineer will need to learn a number of key skills in college above and beyond science acuity. They will need to learn to be an exceptional communicator, detail oriented, synthesize information, solve complex problems, utilize deductive reasoning, gather information, collaborate with others, work with computers, comply to exact specifications, take initiative, work independently, and recognize opportunities for project improvements.
Specialties in Civil Engineering
There are a number of specialties in the field of civil engineering for prospective students to consider. Whether you decide to study a specialty in school or learn it on the job, you will work with a variety of civil engineers during the course of a project to ensure a successful, safe outcome. A list of the top specialties of a civil engineer include:
- Structural Engineering – A structural engineer will study the loads associated with external and internal forces through prudent design, analysis, and construction techniques.
- Hydraulic Engineering – Engineers specializing in water resources and hydraulics focus on the study of the hydrologic cycle, distribution of water, utilization of water, and circulation of water and the relationship between the earth’s land, bodies of water, and atmosphere.
- Materials Engineering – A materials engineer specializes in the properties, structure, use, and behavior of materials involved in a project including metal, wood, concrete, polymers, liquids, and solid mechanics.
- Environmental Engineering – An environmental engineer will work to ensure the sustainable and responsible usage of natural resources such as land, water, and air.
- Transport Engineering – Transportation engineers ensure safe and efficient movement of goods and people across a number of system that can include passenger vehicles, boats, railroads, air travel, and aerospace.
- Geotechnical Engineering – A geotechnical engineer is a specialization in engineering focused on understanding the implications of soil influences, loading forces, and water-soil interplay.
- Project Management – Civil engineers must have exceptional partners in projects to complete a variety of tasks through the project life cycle from feasibility and development through completion.
Education and Schools
Individuals wishing to pursue civil engineering will become familiarized with projects typical and atypical over the course of one’s education. Individuals will be educated in engineering principles, as well as various sciences, and architectural designs, in order to better construct and manage public works projects. A program in civil engineering will cover a variety of disciplines, sciences, and topics in order to best prepare individuals for a career. The most common degree pursued is a bachelor’s degree, although graduate level degrees are available.
A curriculum may include:
- Soil Preparation and Evaluation
- Infrastructure Design and Construction
- Engineering Principles
When searching for schools, students should take into consideration several factors when considering a civil engineering program. These include whether the school utilizes local public works programs for internship opportunities, offer research positions, and if the facilities are regularly updated and modernly maintained in order to ensure the education provided remains relevant. Reviews of programs are typically available online, and departments running such programs may be contacted with relative ease in order to identify if such features are available.
Job growth for civil engineers is expected to be significant over the next decade. In fact, job growth is expected to reach 8% adding some 23,600 jobs in the coming decade. Such growth is attributed to population growth resulting in increased demand for infrastructure development and expansion. In addition, maintenance and retrofitting of previously existing buildings, other public works projects, and the like will be available in cities throughout the United States and require trained and educated individuals to work on them. Understanding not only the construction aspect, but being able to perform soil sampling and feasibility tests are also necessary. Employment will be pursued through public or private firms that are equipped to handle such large scale projects. The median annual income for a civil engineer in the United States is $83,540 according to the BLS.
Where Do Civil Engineers Work?
A civil engineer can work for a variety of institutions across many sectors. Civil engineers can work for public utilities, local government agencies, consulting firms, private civil engineers, public companies, non-profit organizations, construction companies, sustainable energy companies, auto manufacturers, aerospace companies, transportation organizations, and think tanks of all types. In terms of work environment, civil engineers will split their time between office-based work and field work. A combination of both indoors and outdoors is typically needed for projects to understand the myriad factors involved in a project coupled with the creating of detailed processes and procedures to support those projects. A civil engineer can work on domestic and international projects as part of a larger team to accomplish both large and small-scale projects.
Top Employers of Civil Engineers
- Architectural and Engineering Firms 153,310
- State Government Agencies 33,530
- Local Government Agencies 29,590
- Commercial Building Companies 18,770
- Federal Government Agencies 9,360
States with the Highest Employment of Civil Engineers
- California 38,440
- Texas 26,580
- Florida 16,390
- New York 15,450
- Pennsylvania 12,490
Top Paying States for Civil Engineers
- Alaska $120,580
- District of Columbia $107,210
- California $104,570
- Texas $99,810
- New Jersey $98,930
List of Professional Civil Engineering Organizations
- American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE)
- Earthquake Engineers Research Institute (EERI)
- United States Society of Dams (USSD)
- American Concrete Institute (ACI)
- American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE)
- ASM International
- International Society of Soil Mechanics & Geotechnical Engineering (ISSMGE)
- National Association of Corrosion Engineers, NACE
- National Concrete Masonry Association
- National Society of Architectural Engineers
- American Public Works Association
- Association of Building Engineers
- International Association of Hydraulics Research, IAHR
- International Association of Hydrological Sciences, IAHS