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What is Structural Engineering?
Structural engineering is a discipline within civil engineering. A structural engineer focuses on linking the numerical quantities of physical forces with physical force-resisting elements. The basic problem-solving tools of a structural engineer lies in analysis, design, implementation.
Analysis is the process of understanding forces of each element as related to other defined elements. Design follows mathematical and statistical analysis by configuring elements to properly resist forces. Preliminary analysis and design are followed by implementation and testing of a new or modified structural element. Analysis is performed and additional design work is executed prior to final implementation to ensure iterations result in optimal results.
What Does a Structural Engineer Do?
A structural engineer may be hired to perform a number of critical tasks and projects. Examples of what a structural engineer does include:
- Analyze the soil composition of a project
- Write specifications for building processes
- Produce various load reports
- Develop blueprints using CAD software
- Adhere to local building codes
- Design elements of a project ad hoc
A structural engineer will need to have a number of innate skills in their proverbial quiver to succeed on the job. Engineers must be equipped with exceptional communication, detail orientation, synthesize new information quickly, solve complex problems as variables change, utilize deductive reasoning, gather information quickly and accurately, collaborate with others, work with computers, comply to exact specifications, take initiative, work independently, look to enhance safety measures, and recognize opportunities for cost savings.
What is a Structure?
Simply put, a structure is anything resisting a lateral and gravity load. Structural engineers work with structures that range from skyscrapers and power plants to windows and chairs. The analysis and design required by each structure must be calculated to exact specifications by a structural engineer to balance utility with cost.
Difference Between Gravity Load & Lateral Load
All structures are affected by gravity. In the world of a structural engineer, a gravity load can be a lateral load or gravity load. A lateral load is a horizontal force generated by such things as wind, hurricanes, explosions, and earthquakes. A gravity load, on the other hand, is a vertical force known as a permanent load or dead load. Gravity loads entail the weight of a structure such as beams, walls, floors, furnishings, electrical systems, and mechanical systems plus temporary loads such as inhabitants, rain, snow, and contents.
Structural Engineer Requirements
A program in structural engineering will focus on the physics of architectural frames and foundations, allowing an individual to learn to identify flaws in design and planning to ensure that the proposed project is constructed and built to last.
As a sub field of civil engineering, exposure to large projects relating to infrastructure are common, including sewer systems, freeways, roads and other public projects. A structural engineering degree will provide students with an education in science, architecture, mathematics, and city planning. A curriculum may include:
- Structural Materials
- Engineering Design
- Spatial Visualization
- Mechanics: Statics, Dynamics, Vibrations
- Solid Mechanics & Fluid Mechanics
- Engineering Principles
- Computing for Engineers
- Statistical Analysis, Probability, and Reliability
- Finite Element Analysis
- Composite Structures
- Design and Structure
- Seismic Design
- Foundations and Frames
Hallmarks of Top Engineering Schools
Students searching for top rated structural engineering schools should research schools offering structural and civil engineering degrees. The hallmark of top tier engineering departments are ones that will 1) maintain close to ties to local projects and government agencies, 2) offer students internship or research opportunities, and 3) invest in modern facilities with leading edge equipment and technology.
Access to reviews and contact information for such departments should be readily available. Students should research structural engineering degrees thoroughly as part of the university vetting process.
What Do Structural Engineers Learn in School?
A structural engineer must be equipped with skills, theories, and knowledge to succeed in a variety of work settings. Structural engineers must have working knowledge of a number of academic disciplines such as: statistics, hydrology, mathematics, physics, geophysics, construction engineering, chemistry, geology, computer-aided design (CAD), architecture, seismology, project management, and chemistry. Utilization of key engineering disciplines will vary by school yet the cornerstone principles of structural design and engineering will permeate all programs.
Employment Opportunities for Structural Engineers
Individuals will seek employment in public agencies or through private contractors. Individuals may seek entry level employment with a bachelor’s degree, but most supervisory and research positions require at minimum a master’s due to increasing complexity of the work. The demand for educated structural engineers is expected to increase proportionally to the number of public projects and infrastructure developments taking place over the next decade.
Where Do Structural Engineers Work?
A structural engineer can work for a variety of institutions across a number of industries. Trained structural engineers can work for private firms, public utilities, local government agencies, consulting firms, civil engineers, public companies, non-profit organizations, construction companies, sustainable energy companies, auto manufacturers, aerospace companies, and transportation organizations.
They will generally split time between field work and office work to accurately collect information and match computer-based designs with real world designs. Projects can range from small projects to large project, both internationally and domestically.
Top Employers of Structural 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 Structural Engineers
- California 38,440
- Texas 26,580
- Florida 16,390
- New York 15,450
- Pennsylvania 12,490
Top Paying States for Structural Engineers
- Alaska $120,580
- District of Columbia $107,210
- California $104,570
- Texas $99,810
- New Jersey $98,930
List of Professional Structural Engineering Organizations
- National Council of Structural Engineers (NCSEA)
- 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
- Association of Building Engineers
- International Association of Hydraulics Research, IAHR
- National Concrete Masonry Association
- National Society of Architectural Engineers
- American Public Works Association
- International Association of Hydrological Sciences, IAHS