Discussion Thread

Do advanced degrees help public agency engineers?

  • 1.  Do advanced degrees help public agency engineers?

    Posted 02-12-2021 11:30 AM

    Civil engineers who shared their experience and advice in “Explore Engineering Careers in Public Agencies” responded to 6 questions we didn’t get to during the live roundtable discussion.  Here are their answers to the third question in this series of posts:

    Today’s question:  How useful would a Master of Public Administration or advanced engineering degree be for career advancement within a public agency?  (Answers are based on individual experiences and are not necessarily representative of practices at all public agencies.)

    Greg DiLoreto, P.E., P.L.S., Pres.13.ASCE
    Retired CEO from Tualatin Valley Water District (OR)
    The benefit of an advanced degree depends on the job position.  I believe that if you wish to rise to the highest levels of public works, then a master's degree in public administration is of great value.  I have one which I earned while working in public works management.  I found my before and after work experience to be much enhanced with the MPA.  An advanced degree in engineering will be of great value if you stay on the technical track, particularly if you are involved in highly specialized fields in public works – for example, water and wastewater treatment.

    Kristina Swallow, P.E., Pres.18.ASCE
    Director, Nevada Department of Transportation
    I’m a strong believer in advanced and ongoing education.  I have a Master of Science in civil engineering but believe that any additional education you get to support your career is good.  We learn a lot in our undergraduate programs, but it is not comprehensive for all that you will encounter once you start to practice. 

    Brian Phan, P.E., M.ASCE
    Transportation Engineering Associate, Los Angeles Department of Transportation – California
    This is my own personal opinion, but I would not consider a graduate degree until after you’ve worked for a while as an engineer, as individuals often change career paths based on work experience.  In addition, one should try to obtain their Professional Engineer license prior to seeking a graduate degree.  The PE exam can be challenging if you take it too many years after graduating as there is a lot of information to retain.  There will always be opportunities to go back to school for a graduate degree, if that is what you wish to do.  Many individuals are successful in their professional careers without an advanced degree. 

    Jarred Jones, P.E., M.ASCE
    Executive Director, North Charleston (SC) Sewer District
    I think it is very important to have an advanced degree if you want to move up within a public agency where you will be managing people and aspects other than engineering/construction projects.  Our job descriptions for our C level positions (Executive Director, CFO, COO, and Capital Projects Director) require an advanced degree.  

    Edith Martinez-Guerra, Ph.D., P.E., M.ASCE
    Research Environmental Engineer, US Army Corps of Engineers- Engineer Research and Development Center
    An advanced degree can only help, but you don’t necessarily need an advanced degree to have a career in public service.  If your goal is to specialize in specific topic(s), then an advanced degree is necessary.  The combination of an engineering degree and Master of Public Administration could greatly help when getting a management position within public service.

    Related to this topic, visit https://www.asce.org/engineer-tomorrow/ to learn about ASCE’s Engineer Tomorrow initiative, which addresses the need for civil engineers to gain the necessary knowledge, skills, and experience to sustain the profession now and in the future. 

    If you missed our live session watch the recording posted on the Career Discovery web page https://collaborate.asce.org/covid-19/career-discovery.  Also register there for future roundtable sessions exploring civil engineering careers in consulting, education, construction, and industry – and bring your questions for our panelists!

    Becky Waldrup P.E., M.ASCE
    Senior Manager, Professional Activities
    American Society of Civil Engineers
    Reston VA