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SE/PE exams - should buildings & bridges be separated?

  • 1.  SE/PE exams - should buildings & bridges be separated?

    Posted 09-22-2018 11:00 AM
    Edited by Tirza Austin 09-22-2018 11:00 AM
    Hi all,

    I had a discussion the other day with a colleague studying for the PE exam. He, like me, has only ever worked (and only ever plans to work) in the building structures world. Many of my bridge-designing friends say the same thing about bridges. It seems like firms and people generally don't do both, at least here in PA. Yet, both types of questions are covered on the PE exam. Particularly for the code-specific questions, this seems to be creating an undue burden (both in cost and time) on engineers who will never use that material. For example, I've never worked in an office that had an AASHTO code, and had to personally purchase one when I took the test; the local library only carried it as a "reference" which meant you could not check it out. 

    Are buildings and bridges designed by different specialists where you live? Do you think it would be beneficial if buildings and bridges were entirely separated in the exams?

    Stephanie Slocum P.E., M.ASCE
    Engineers Rising LLC
    State College PA

  • 2.  RE: SE/PE exams - should buildings & bridges be separated?

    Posted 09-23-2018 10:08 AM
    Edited by Tirza Austin 09-23-2018 10:07 AM
    I am a retired PE, which probably automatically puts me in the "old fashioned" group, but my answer is no, I don't believe there should be separate exams. Although building structures and bridges are designed with different codes, the underlying design is still structural with either one. I have practiced using both codes during my career.

    Stacey Morris P.E., M.ASCE
    ETI Corporation
    West Memphis AR
    (901) 758-0400

  • 3.  RE: SE/PE exams - should buildings & bridges be separated?

    Posted 09-23-2018 10:10 PM
    Edited by Tirza Austin 09-23-2018 10:10 PM
    ​I too am now semi-retired and agree with Stacey.  My early career was working for a Chicago based company in their Sydney Australian office designing bridges and expressways in both Sydney and Perth.  Later I became heavily involved in building and process (including Mining) equipment.  The training I received in designing bridges was very much of use in seeing how structures should be designed as there is nothing forgiving in them.  Then I became involved in the design of high-bay racking and crane building structures.  Structural Engineering is a very diverse career and the skills gained across a very broad spectrum stands one in a very good stead.  Being too specialized can be limiting and PE Exams should cover the full spectrum.

    Allan Fozzard P.E., M.ASCE
    Fozzard's Consulting Engineers
    61612 94893709

  • 4.  RE: SE/PE exams - should buildings & bridges be separated?

    Posted 09-25-2018 10:29 AM
    Edited by Tirza Austin 09-25-2018 10:29 AM
    As a semi retired Civil PE with more than fifty years of engineering under my belt, I say ABSOLUTELY no.  Engineering is engineering, regardless of one's specific interests at any given time.  I originally pursued a job to do buildings.  However, the field I started off in (and have remained in ever since) is structural engineering design, analysis and field work associated with steel offshore structures that vary in size from under one ton to more than 10,000 tons.  During that time I have also been responsible for concrete structural design, both onshore and offshore.  Mixed with that, I have done steel design for onshore structures, bridges, buildings, towers, etc.  In all cases, all it takes to tackle a particular application is to refer to the associated codes.  Carrying this a bit further, I have also done hydraulic drainage engineering for subdivisions, streets, parking lots, bridges, culverts, etc., which are also part of my Civil Engineering field.  I haven't done extensive work in the leg of civil engineering associated with sanitary engineering but, again, if I should elect to do so, all that would be needed is to review the special aspects of that field, which was part of my original engineering curriculum that I elected not to pursue in detail.  I would hate to think that I would be required to go to the trouble and expense to obtain other  licenses just to address these other aspects of the same discipline. 

    Now, taking this even further, two other engineering branches in which I have done significant engineering work include mechanical and electrical.  The mechanical work was associated with hydraulic machines, fluid transfer, vibrations and long distance pipelines, and pumping and gas compression stations.  The electrical work included single and three phase power for a store build-out in a strip shopping center that fell under the jurisdiction of the city of Houston.  Of course, for work beyond my expertise, I rely on appropriately trained engineers.  For this reason I question the need to separate the various engineering branches into different specific licenses as is done in some states.  

    In order for engineers to fulfill the responsibilities they are entrusted with by the general public, they must refer any work beyond their expertise to the appropriate branches.

    Frank Domingues, PE
    Cypress, Texas

  • 5.  RE: SE/PE exams - should buildings & bridges be separated?

    Posted 09-26-2018 01:01 PM
    Edited by Tirza Austin 09-26-2018 01:00 PM
    In an economic standpoint if bridges are getting older and the need to repair in the next ten to twenty years plus the construction of new ones a better level of sophistication might be important to consider for a structural engineer. 150B dollars increase since 2009 of budget has been added in regards to bridges. I believe that the bridge questions in the exam should be more challenging or increase the amount of questions. At least the questions must be up to date with the real problems of bridges at hand and in the future.

    Carlos Torralbas EIT, A.M.ASCE
    San Juan

  • 6.  RE: SE/PE exams - should buildings & bridges be separated?

    Posted 09-24-2018 07:55 AM
    Edited by Tirza Austin 09-24-2018 07:54 AM
    As another retired professional engineer, I agree with Stacey on that bridge and building exams don't need to be separate.

    Over the course of my 47-year career, I worked with firms specialized in tall buildings as well as with firms specialized in bridges. Some transition was needed with reasonable effort. the value of that combination came to light in my latest project: a Light Rapid Transit (LRT) project spanning across a major city: it had bridges, underground stations and buildings on top. It would have been impossible to lead the Structural team of the project without covering both bridges and buildings; and subway stations as well.

    Neil Kazen, M.Eng., M.Sc., P.Eng.
    Retired Structural Engineering Manager, Transportation Division, SNC-Lavalin
    Toronto, Ontario, Canada

  • 7.  RE: SE/PE exams - should buildings & bridges be separated?

    Posted 09-23-2018 11:24 AM
    Edited by Tirza Austin 09-23-2018 11:24 AM
    I don't think they should be separated.  If so, there would probably need to be separate SE license designations.  I have been a practicing Structural Engineering for almost 30 years and my exams had both buildings and bridges on them and I think that it is valuable that building SE's know a little bit about the bridge code and that bridge SE's know a little bit about the building code.  The principals of the two codes are generally the same and many times throughout your SE career you may need to be more broadly aware of both specialties and their related codes and standards.  

    David Swanson, PE, SE

    Principal/Director, Structural Engineering 

    Reid Middleton, Inc.

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  • 8.  RE: SE/PE exams - should buildings & bridges be separated?

    Posted 09-23-2018 11:25 AM
    Edited by Tirza Austin 09-23-2018 11:24 AM
    I think the intent is that since the subjects are similar an engineer who has the SE license could potentially work on both types of structures during their career. Therefore they should have a basic knowledge of both building and bridge codes. Similar to the Civil PE exam where you can choose between Structural, Geotech, Water Resources etc. With that said, NCEES is slowly transitioning to a computer based exam where they provide all of the reference books for the exam taker. This will reduce the burden of purchasing so many different codes.

    Eric Wilkins P.E., S.E., M.ASCE
    Lead Structural Engineer
    Oakland CA

  • 9.  RE: SE/PE exams - should buildings & bridges be separated?

    Posted 09-24-2018 10:05 AM
    Edited by Tirza Austin 09-24-2018 10:04 AM
    ​To answer the original questions:

    1. In my experience in our area (Great Lakes) - buildings and bridges tend to be designed by different specialists.  Structural engineers seems to go one route or the other after graduation and most (again, my experience) don't change lanes.

    2. Personally I've never understood the reasoning behind expecting people to be experts in both sets of codes, especially if they never intend to work in the other field.  I'm not sure how the tests are currently configured, but I'd suggest that giving the option to pick one 'track' or the other would be the way to go.

    This isn't to say that engineers should be cognizant of other codes outside of their primary lane.  Personally I've dealt with the AASHTO code and the AREMA code (for instance) where they've overlapped with buildings or structures I've designed.  If I had a major bridge project, though, I'd probably defer to an engineer who designs them on a daily basis because they not only know their codes better than me (and are likely more familiar with the current version), but they are also familiar with the unique design considerations that AREN'T in the code.

    The structural engineering field is becoming more complex and specialized every year.  There are codes and guides other than the AASHTO code that may be far more relevant and important to structural engineers practicing in non-bridge specialties such as tower design, process structures, and buildings with heavy 400-ton travelling cranes.  I'm not sure where you draw the line, other than the caveat that you shouldn't practice outside the limits of your expertise.  

    Greg Thein, PE
    Cleveland, OH

  • 10.  RE: SE/PE exams - should buildings & bridges be separated?

    Posted 09-24-2018 10:05 AM
    Edited by Tirza Austin 09-24-2018 10:05 AM
    Two SE's

    1.  Basic - Everything - Buildings, Bridges, Dams, Towers, Marine, Tanks, etc., all quite generic loadings and materials interactions for general demonstration of broad spectrum structural design competency.

    2.  Advanced - ICC Code Sructures.

     2.1.  Earthquake Emphasis.

     2.2.  Wind Emphasis.

     2.3.  Both.

     2.4.  The ICC Code jurisdiction decides which credential(s) required for the project at hand.

    Robert Bullard P.E., M.ASCE
    Ahimsa Technic Inc
    Ponce Inlet FL

  • 11.  RE: SE/PE exams - should buildings & bridges be separated?

    Posted 09-24-2018 10:25 AM
    Edited by Tirza Austin 09-24-2018 10:25 AM
    Structural design, as an engineering process involves estimation of the anticipated loads and actions on a structure, and observing the ability of a structure to sustain them over a period of time (design period). Basically structures are load bearing substance, which includes building, bridges etc., and therefore must be designed adequately to function as expected. 

    Buildings and bridges belong to the same category of structural classification, comprising of structural components, such as, floor slab (primary load bearing), beams, columns, foundations (as a substructure). But the requirement for bridges could sometimes be higher, especially when located in challenging terrain/water. 

    Bridge design can therefore be a specialized examination, and not necessarily a general SE/PE examination. 

    Olusegun Afolabi P.E., M.ASCE
    University of Lagos
    234803 4248600

  • 12.  RE: SE/PE exams - should buildings & bridges be separated?

    Posted 09-24-2018 10:55 AM
    Edited by Tirza Austin 09-24-2018 10:55 AM
    I completely agree with you.  The current state of engineering consulting is for either buildings or bridges and most engineer are not cross-trained.  It is not reasonable to expect a building designer to obtain and learn AASHTO for an exam that is supposed to be testing your expertise in the subject matter.  I have passed the newer 16 hour NCEES SE exam, but would not attempt to design a bridge.  The questions spent testing for the bridge could be better put to use testing additional material for building design.  It is a shame to think of how many building designers have failed the exam due to bridge questions (and vice versa.)

    Matthew Hammond P.E., M.ASCE


  • 13.  RE: SE/PE exams - should buildings & bridges be separated?

    Posted 09-24-2018 10:56 AM
    Edited by Tirza Austin 09-24-2018 10:56 AM
    When I designed support of excavation for the Baltimore Subway, the Steel met AISC requirements but the deck met AASHTO because we ran buses on it.  I confess, that was a long time ago, but I still think SE should know all things structural in the built environment.

    Thomas Basham P.E., M.ASCE
    Sr. Resident Engineer
    San Diego CA
    (202) 577-4837
    Chula Vista VA Clinic

  • 14.  RE: SE/PE exams - should buildings & bridges be separated?

    Posted 09-25-2018 10:55 PM
    Edited by Tirza Austin 09-25-2018 10:55 PM

    Keep in mind the licensing exam covers minimum requirements.  I don't think it's unreasonable to expect a SE to have some knowledge of AASHTO and the ability to navigate the code.  In addition, the test for the SE is already separated in the afternoon portion.  So I think they have acknowledged the difference between the two and allow test takers to pursue either focus.  Ultimately, passing the SE gives you a license but your ethical obligation is to practice within your area of expertise.  Thus, whether bridge, buildings, both or neither, it's an individual's choice that should be made in accordance with the ethical obligations of the license.

    My personal opinion is that testing on both ensures more well rounded candidates who will not be limited in the future if their path changes.  I'm for keeping them together.

    Cliff Jones P.E., S.E., M.ASCE
    Jensen Hughes
    Portland OR

  • 15.  RE: SE/PE exams - should buildings & bridges be separated?

    Posted 09-26-2018 07:49 AM
    Edited by Tirza Austin 09-26-2018 07:48 AM
    So far, most everyone has the opinion that the exam should cover both bridges and buildings.  I agree.  Here's my opinion.  There is a difference in practice between designing  buildings and designing bridges.  Mostly, the difference lies in understanding the means and methods of how a structure is to withstand forces and how construction can be accomplished.  Different construction methods are used to achieve the finished structure for the different types of projects.  An engineer who designs houses is not typically exposed to all the nuances that a high rise engineer learns in order to achieve what really boils down to is a more complicated building.  As designs get more complicated (like a roof over a sports arena), it takes even more understanding of how construction can be achieved while designing larger and larger members.  In every case, the design must follow the principles of engineering we all learned in college and on the job.  Keeping track of forces, and following the loads from the top to the bottom and side to side, are required in every type of design.  Whether it's a small roof, sports arena roof, or even a long bridge span, the engineering calculations all end up the same:  designing so that the capacity of any member or connection exceeds the demand on that member or connection.  Learning a little bit of bridge design for the exam isn't going to add on a new subject like learning how to design thin shelled concrete domes, but it will expose you to additional loading considerations (that was the main part of the test) and additional factors of safety that go in to highways and bridges.  The bridge code is full of information that provides design minimums to cover many nuances specific to the construction of bridges (as you would expect), and if you ended up being a bridge engineer, you would use this as your main reference.  But as a bridge engineer, you would still need concrete manuals, steel manuals, etc.  As a building engineer, you may not need the AASHTO code ever again, but you would know that to design something approaching a span similar to a bridge, it would not be a bad idea to consult an AASHTO to see if there's anything worth considering.
    I've designed houses that needed a fire department turnaround as part of the driveway which was located over a basement...the loading was in the AASHTO.
    If you are going through the effort to be a PE, then learn everything you can about every kind of structure...it will be your life's work.

    Joseph Hoffmayer P.E., S.E., M.ASCE
    Richmond Hoffmayer, Inc.
    Woodland Hills CA
    (818)347-7008 EXT 1

  • 16.  RE: SE/PE exams - should buildings & bridges be separated?

    Posted 09-27-2018 11:10 PM
    Edited by Tirza Austin 09-27-2018 11:10 PM
    The PE is a very general type of exam.  It makes perfect sense to include both types of structures.  The SE is very specialized.  It makes sense to distinguish the two, but not entirely.  For what I have seen from colleagues who carry the SE, they eventually find opportunities that make them shift accordingly to either bridges or buildings.  It would be difficult to determine a clear-cut percentage of one discipline going into the other for the exams, but nonetheless, I believe that a small percentage should probably be there.

    Jason Charalambides P.E., C.Eng, R.A., M.ASCE
    Assistant Professor Morgan State University
    Avant Garde Engineering LLC
    Baltimore MD

  • 17.  RE: SE/PE exams - should buildings & bridges be separated?

    Posted 09-28-2018 12:00 PM
    Edited by Tirza Austin 09-28-2018 11:59 AM
    I believe that structural engineering is the design of structures against loads whether the loads are common to houses, high rises retaining walls or bridges.  I have been lucky enough in my carrier to design most structures (except high rises).  At this stage of my career I use knowledge gained from designing bridges in design of houses or buildings and vice versa.

    I would not separate the SE/PE exam for bridges or buildings.

    David Thompson P.E., M.ASCE
    KTA Structural Engineers Ltd.
    Calgary AB
    (403) 246-8827

  • 18.  RE: SE/PE exams - should buildings & bridges be separated?

    Posted 10-05-2018 11:02 AM
    Edited by Tirza Austin 10-05-2018 11:02 AM
    I don't believe they should be separated. I am still early in my career, and I've had the opportunity to use both codes. Using AASHTO and building design codes have made me a better engineer. I get to see the differences between the two codes, and better understand the rationale for how a particular code is intended to be applied.

    Additionally, the morning session (multiple choice) on the SE exam is majority building questions. This could be perceived as an unfair burden on examines who are taking the "bridge" exam. I think there is a reason NCEES asks questions in both subjects.

    Brian Winger P.E., M.ASCE

  • 19.  RE: SE/PE exams - should buildings & bridges be separated?

    Posted 10-28-2018 04:33 PM
    Edited by Tirza Austin 10-28-2018 04:32 PM
    ​Not applicable to Principle and Practice (PE) test which is a generic test in nature, but Bridge and Building topics are already separated in the afternoon modules of specialized 16 hrs NCEES SE exams.

    Hope this helps.

    Mehedi Rashid P.E., S.E., M.ASCE
    Moffatt and Nichol
    Baltimore MD

  • 20.  RE: SE/PE exams - should buildings & bridges be separated?

    Posted 09-12-2019 11:45 AM