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Does Civil Engineering Need to be made more Zoomy and How?

  • 1.  Does Civil Engineering Need to be made more Zoomy and How?

    Posted 06-09-2022 01:02 PM
    My limited data suggests there is an enrollment problem in undergraduate programs. I'm also under the impression that there is a fairly large number of graduates that never work in the profession. I'm curious if these views are correct and how to fix? I love civil engineering and think that if offers some incredibly challenging and rewarding problems to be solved. But at the same time, I can see how the seemingly ordinary nature of many civil engineering problems can seem mundane compared to other engineering disciplines.

    Mitch Winkler P.E., M.ASCE
    Houston, TX

  • 2.  RE: Does Civil Engineering Need to be made more Zoomy and How?

    Posted 06-13-2022 07:52 AM


    I just graduated from my Masters program for structural engineering so I feel I may have some insight on this issue. I don't believe the issue is whether or not civil engineering is considered mundane. I think generally students are at least somewhat interested in the topic when they see unique buildings, structure failures, etc. The issue instead is the future outlook on civil engineering as a profession. Especially in this period of social media, the pandemic, and the "Great Resignation", there are numerous posts on tik tok, instagram etc about how to pivot into the tech industry to chase that higher compensation and greater work-life flexibility. For all the education and similar skill set it takes to be a civil engineer, one can be a software engineer and earn 4-5x the starting salary. The nature of civil engineering generally leads us to be consultants, making us further away from the money but if we don't find a way to not only attract but also retain talent - we will be hurting in the end. 

    But great insight to bring up - we need to be talking about this!

    Disclaimer : I love civil engineering which is why I'm still in the field but I do want to see the profession grow and take care of its own people! 

    - Jason 

    Jason Ko P.E., M.ASCE
    Los Angeles CA

  • 3.  RE: Does Civil Engineering Need to be made more Zoomy and How?

    Posted 06-13-2022 10:22 AM
    I can't say whether or not your views are correct, as I have very little data myself. I can say that many years ago I was fortunate to have two recent civil engineering graduates seek employment with my company (not at the same time). Both were questioning whether or not they really wanted a career in civil engineering. I am happy to say that both did continue, and both seem to have satisfying careers. It happens both were women.

    As far as civil engineering being mundane, perhaps I was guilty of that view while an undergraduate. That view is, of course, way off the mark. I have been fortunate in my career (nearly over) to have designed many things that, hopefully, have had a positive impact in peoples lives. Some are readily visible, such as sidewalks, drainage systems, even homes. Others out of sight, like reinforcing a critical building in a waste treatment plant, to withstand hurricane winds. But isn't that a metaphor for civil engineering? What we do is usually out of sight, but the impact falls on nearly everyone.

    Martin Pinckney M.ASCE
    American Engr. Consultants Marco Is.
    Marco Island FL

  • 4.  RE: Does Civil Engineering Need to be made more Zoomy and How?

    Posted 06-13-2022 01:43 PM
    I think your perceptions are correct.  I have observed about half of the CE graduated stay in the profession and become PE's, while the other half end up in fields not related to engineering but where their analytical skills are valuable and they develop successful careers.  To follow a CE career takes a level of perseverance that only half seem to possess.  As for attracting students into CE there needs to be a better image for the profession which shows how CE combines technology and engineering skills to design, rehabilitate and manage the world around us.  I have had a great SE career combined with teaching at USC.

    Gregg E. Brandow, PhD, PE, SE, M.ASCE
    Los Angeles, CA

    Gregg Brandow P.E., M.ASCE
    South Pasadena CA

  • 5.  RE: Does Civil Engineering Need to be made more Zoomy and How?

    Posted 06-14-2022 10:14 AM

    Interesting thread - at least for me (now) as an educator. I think some of the comments already touch on the virtue and strength of civil engineering that as the same time is also it's dilemma (fall?). Civil engineers are inherently great problem solvers with a broad set of skills borrowing from other engineering disciplines. I wouldn't characterize this issue as necessarily bad.

    I grew up in my father's CE office (back in Austria), covering everything from commercial buildings to (smaller) bridges, tribunes, sewage treatment plants, etc. - and I wanted to study anything else but CE. My mind was set on EE, since computer engineering wasn't there yet. Until I heard in a keynote lecture at a conference that I attended (on my dad's behalf) that CE is the most versatile degree that allows you to do practically anything (technical), citing a similar number of 50% of top industry professionals being civil engineers, you wouldn't have guessed that this was their core degree. Now mind that this was already well back in the last century.

    While working first strictly in structural engineering, I found my passion in bridging simulations with problems in architectural engineering, and in the end wound up in academia. I still enjoy the technical diversity the major provides and how a universal understanding of applied physics allows us to do so much with it.

    Now we can (and should) recruit more talent into this major, but I would not consider graduates going into other careers a failure per se ...

    Georg Reichard P.E., M.ASCE
    Blacksburg VA

  • 6.  RE: Does Civil Engineering Need to be made more Zoomy and How?

    Posted 06-20-2022 10:47 AM
    In 1974 I graduated with a BSCE from Michigan State University. After my first job with a consulting firm designing industrial waste water treatment plants, I went on to a general civil firm, a local sanitary district, a suburban O&M department, several major CE firms, a few local CE consultants and ended up helping to create a start-up doing transportation planning & design for my state DOT, counties & cities. Along the way I managed projects for two of the largest theme parks in Florida! As an ASCE Fellow, and officer over the last 30 years, I have encouraged many younger members and reached out to secondary & primary students to tell them about the variety of ways we use our expertise to plan, design, build & maintain the infrastructure we depend on. I was thrilled with Dream Big and have shown the trailer to many students. And Future World Vision shows potential futures that civil engineers could bring to reality to adapt to an uncertain and challenging world. The 21st century will be a great time to be a civil engineer!

    Fraser Howe P.E., F.ASCE

  • 7.  RE: Does Civil Engineering Need to be made more Zoomy and How?

    Posted 06-20-2022 11:56 AM
    I retired from a successful career in CE with an advanced degree from MIT and having been Colorado DOT secretary and founding chairman of KCI Technologies. CE is a tremendously rewarding and important profession offering all kinds of opportunities. Perhaps not as sexy as computer or space engineering but affects the well being of society as no other. Sadly many engineering grads are being enticed to more lucrative positions in finance. A loss to humanity.

    Jack Kinstlinger P.E., F.ASCE
    Chairman Emeritus
    KCI Technologies Inc
    Towson MD

  • 8.  RE: Does Civil Engineering Need to be made more Zoomy and How?

    Posted 06-20-2022 05:19 PM
    I'm retired after a 48 year career in engineering. I have been primarily engaged in heavy construction field supervision, but also for brief periods in facilities design, highway traffic control, and planning. The engineers that you have described are confined to a rather narrow area of practice. In my experience, the real test of an engineer is where the rubber meets the road. that is where the computer and paper plans are converted to steel, concrete asphalt and stone. It is then that the omissions and discrepancies of the office design might be discerned and it is the engineer's job to realize when this has happened in time to take corrective action; either to cal for a timely design correction or if necessary come up with the correction himself/herself. Usually this occurs with stringent time constraints. I had on experience where a designer produced plans for resurfacing and widening approximately 1.5 miles of asphalt mountain highway. The contract had already been let and the plans included only 1500 feet of profile. The "widening" was indicated as varying between one shoulder and the other with a resulting added traffic lane. As you might imagine, the failure to account for the required change in profile with a varying center line resulted in a massive underestimate in the actual requirements of providing a safe finished product. If built to the original plans, the properly graded and super elevated roadway would end up with very unsafe cross slopes and a massive cost overrun for the owner I represented. I had to redesign the entire roadway profile as best I could in about 3 or 4 days while preliminary construction was already underway. This type of engineering can not be done by the type of engineer that you have described.

    Irving Schlinger, P.E., M. ASCE

    Irving Schlinger P.E., M.ASCE
    Consulting Engi
    Irving Schlinger P.E.
    Chester NY

  • 9.  RE: Does Civil Engineering Need to be made more Zoomy and How?

    Posted 06-21-2022 10:06 AM
    In my first engineering job, working for a large engineering design firm, I designed steel beams for stairwell in a multi-story building that was to be built four states away. I was bored to tears. Several years later, having left the engineering profession, I moved to said state following love. (Still in love with her 45 years later). Anyway, I finally got to tour that building and observe what I had designed.

    Partly because of the pending marriage, I re-entered the engineering profession. For the last 33 years I have been managing, then owning, a design firm on an island where 98% of our projects are within four miles of the office! I am blessed to see what we design taking shape before our eyes.

    Martin Pinckney M.ASCE
    American Engr. Consultants Marco Is.
    Marco Island FL

  • 10.  RE: Does Civil Engineering Need to be made more Zoomy and How?

    Posted 06-21-2022 12:03 PM
    I would say that low enrollment would be a problem because it does not seem enticing to be a civil engineer.  We have to deal with the truth of where we are socially and understand that today most people are concerned with making a lot money and for some with notoriety.  We also need to take note of what attracts people, particularly children, to even consider their future profession.  If you want to get children to become interested early we have to do more than building popsicle stick bridges.  Create video games or alter existing ones that require players to create tunnels, bridges, etc. to reach their destination.  Or design buildings structurally to protect their loot, a safe house, or world's most impenetrable building or something.  Challenge the IT lovers to create or enhance structural software.  Challenge the adventurous ones to design the tallest rock climbing wall. Could even include IT gurus to make it more true to life with virtual reality or holograms and it be in a theme park.  In short, reach them early in their interest and make it appealing.  Some may get intrigued by subsurface tours of bridges/tunnels under construction.  Some may like to "solve" real life structural challenges and those rewarding problems.  The earlier, the better.

    It is very common for many graduates to never work in the field.  I graduated in 2007 and it was difficult to get a job because many PE's were accepting entry level positions.  After the industry recovered they wanted new graduates.  It was extremely easy to change career paths, that would even offer more money.  Today, the need for civil engineers has not diminished and this will continue to be the case, but how many of the larger companies that pay well with great benefits have the capacity to employ them all?  Some companies will have job postings for civil engineers for years, and not because the applicants are not there.  How realistic is it for all new graduates to have 1-2 years related experience for that entry level position?  I was fortunate enough to co-op but not everyone has that opportunity/ability, yet that experience is often non-negotiable.  So sometimes, the industry is doing itself a disservice.

    Alvena Williams A.M.ASCE
    Project Manager
    Tuskegee AL

  • 11.  RE: Does Civil Engineering Need to be made more Zoomy and How?

    Posted 06-23-2022 10:05 AM

    I've been following everyone's responses with great interest and appreciate the insight and honesty of the views that have been shared. I don't know how strategically this subject has been explored but hope that those charged with maintaining the health and sustainability of the field are following. Below is a framework - that for me - starts to put issues facing civil engineering into perspective and I hope will invite further comments as well as ideas that might help to help ensure that CE remains attractive and competitive.


    • Essential for society as we know it
    • CE degree provides skills that can be applied across wide range of fields 
    • Lower salaries relative to other engineering fields 
    • Lower profit margins / not producing a novel product
    • PE required for responsible charge / advancement 
    • Scale of projects means few involved in creative side 
    • Not seen as high tech 
    • Research focus of many faculty hinders practical learning 
    • CE grads chose other fields of employment 
    • CE programs wither as enrollment declines 
    • Challenging projects 
    • Research grants, particularly for faculty 
    • Great field for those wanting to make the world a better place - outlet for altruism

    Mitch Winkler P.E., M.ASCE
    Houston, TX