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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
    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 10:14 AM
    Edited by Tirza Austin 09-23-2018 10:13 AM
    Personally, I think it is best to keep the exam as inclusive as possible
    even if you "do not intend" to work in a different area.

    Times may come when work in one specialty is hard to get and an
    applicant with wider experience may win out over one with many years of
    narrrow experience.

    My background was as a research aeronautical engineer and mostly in 
    automatic control and computer simulation. In 1984, I wanted to get out
    of a frustrating government position and become a consultant. I decided
    that getting a PE would help my business. I had no steady work at the
    time so I signed up for a "crash review course" in mechanical
    engineering that lasted for about four months.Then I immediately took
    the full eight-hour PE exam. I remember leaving the exam room with my
    boots full of sweat. However, I passed the first time.They do not give
    scores, but I felt that I did well.

    The famous Chinese military Strategist Sun Tzu said about 2000 year ago
    "The more you sweat in peace, the less you bleed in war"

    This must also apply to getting and maintaining the engineer license.

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

    Posted 09-24-2018 07:53 AM
    Edited by Tirza Austin 09-24-2018 07:53 AM
    The exam should be inclusive.  Structures can be hybrids.  The new University of Rhode Island College of Engineering building is essentially designed to appear as a bridge and allows students to walk under to enter the quad.  The concepts of generating design loads, checking the load path, and analyzing the members and connections are the same.  Knowing the methodology of both fields of practice is required to have some standing as a structural expert.

    The biggest shift we are facing is the introduction of the SE license.  A civil engineer's field of practice/expertise does not always fit in a box.  And if it does, we are tying our hands.  Where do stair structures fit into the code?  Pedestrian bridges?  Walkways?  I won't claim to be an expert on anything, but I will research and consult with the best resources available to see if I am comfortable with stamping something or not.  Why confine myself to a box and just say no on the onset?  Is there already a misunderstanding of the SE license in the field of practice already?

    Chad Morrison P.E., M.ASCE
    Professional Engineer
    Greenville RI

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

    Posted 09-25-2018 10:30 AM
    Edited by Tirza Austin 09-25-2018 10:29 AM
    I think the power of the exam is being inclusive.

    Abdalkader Alsabawy S.M.ASCE
    Lawrence KS

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

    Posted 09-26-2018 03:36 PM
    Edited by Tirza Austin 09-26-2018 03:35 PM
    Greetings to all for an interesting topic for discussion.

    I think in professional practice, design, construction and maintenance of buildings should be separated from that of bridges. Actually, where I come from buildings is totally separated from bridges, while the latter is always associated with roads and airports.

    The design parameters are different for both, so are the construction techniques. Why do they have to be grouped together?

    Ala Al-Kazzaz C.Eng, M.ASCE
    Procurement Consultant
    World Bank
    Holly Springs NC

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

    Posted 09-27-2018 10:44 AM
    Edited by Tirza Austin 09-27-2018 10:43 AM
    I'm going to argue the opposite.  I understand that bridge engineers don't usually operate in the building realm and vice versa, but that isn't enough of a reason to completely separate out the two.  If that is the argument, why not separate out every discipline of civil engineering?  I had to study open channel flow, stopping sight distance, and economic depreciation for the PE, none of which I use in my daily career. For the SE, I had to learn the IBC, masonry design, and timber design for the morning questions.  If we didn't have to study to pass the PE, would it retain its value?

    There are a few reasons that I don't think we should separate the licenses out any farther.  First, you may change careers and end up in a different but related part of civil engineering.  What you do today may not be what you do in 15 years.  Second, almost every civil engineer will have to coordinate with other disciplines.  Coordination is much easier when you have a basic understanding of what the other discipline is trying to do.  And third, part of the PE and licensure in general is commitment to lifelong learning.  Studying to take the PE is just part of that commitment. 

    The SE already separates out building and bridges for the afternoon sessions.  Personally, I don't see a benefit of separating out the PE.  The value of being licensed isn't in how easy it is to pass. We are all expected to have general civil engineering knowledge in all areas.  The few building or bridge specific questions aren't an insurmountable obstacle.  But they may require more of a personal commitment to study and I fail to see how that is a bad thing.

    Sam Kevern P.E., S.E., M.ASCE
    Sr. Project Engineer


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

    Posted 09-28-2018 11:58 AM
    Edited by Tirza Austin 09-28-2018 11:57 AM

    ​I have to agree with Samantha I believe she raises some good points, especially about how your career may change and cross team coordination.

    I would take the argument even further perhaps to a more philosophical level.  PE's are supposed to be broad based professionals and at ASCE they speak of things like "raise the bar" in that regard. The PE should be able to contribute in many ways, related to some of the points Samantha raises, but also be a leader professionally and in general. We need to think about being broad based, knowledgeable professionals, and not narrow technicians. So I think we need to keep categories as broad as possible with the PE and pursue additional certifications to demonstrate specific competence. Again ASCE is pursuing these certifications through their CEC initiative.

    A big purpose of licensure is to protect the public health, safety and welfare. Again I would argue broad based professionals are better able to do that than narrow technicians. So there is a need to be specific enough in the exam to ensure that but I do think that having to handle a few extra problems in studying will only reinforce that.

    Finally I would note there are many recent challenges to licensure, some of them ongoing in many states. These often take the form of saying a PE restricts the free practice of trade. I would respectfully submit that only reinforces my point, we are not licensed to do one narrow job and keep others out but we are licensed to protect the public at a professional and high level.

    Just my two cents.

    Michael Buechter P.E., D.WRE, M.ASCE
    Program Manager
    Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District
    Webster Grvs MO
    (314) 968-9723

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

    Posted 09-28-2018 11:59 AM
    Edited by Tirza Austin 09-28-2018 11:59 AM
    ​I agree 110% with Samantha Jo. What are we trying to do by separating out parts of the exam?  It looks to me like we are trying to make it easier to pass which is not a very good reason at all. What happened to the mantra to "Lead by Example?" It went by the wayside when corporations ignored traditional values of hardwork to accomdate the changing landscape of generational differences.  Hard work transcends generations, and we need hardworking leaders to take the baton and keep us moving forward. My generation blames our parents for "kicking the can up the road," but what are we actually doing to stop that from happening today?  Do our leaders and policy makers, or our engineers for that matter truly understand what it takes to stop that vicious cycle? The fundamental issues we deal with today that prevent us from moving forward are not caused by those who came before us, they are actually the same issues our parents faced and couldn't figure out how to solve.  Making the PE exam easier is not going to remedy that issue.  Giving them the chance to take the exam right out of school, putting in on the computer, separating disciplines... I would argue all of these things are to try and make it easier to pass. But why? We ware just going to have twice as many engineers that have half the skills and technical know-how.

    Larry Tortuya ENV SP, P.E., M.ASCE

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

    Posted 10-31-2023 10:25 AM

    I would like to suggest we step back a bit.

    If you are a structural engineer, you know how to apply the principles of Structural Engineering to the problem at hand. One needs to be knowledgeable in the application of the structural principles whether the problem is static, dynamic, moving loads, etc.. If you do not possess the technicle knowledge, then you either research and study and also find someone experienced in the specific problem. If you have never designed a highrise building and you do not understand the nuances, your ethics would tell you not to do it.  You would lack competency. In our business, I always reminded myself that if I don't get it right, people get hurt/killed. That would in itself always get me to make the correct path forward. In any engineering/building profession, our ethics should always guide us to do the right thing. We should always understand what our level of competency is. By the way, I have taken the following examinations to obtain my license. Architectural (5 days long, 11% pass rate). Structural Engineer (1 day, 13 % pass rate), Professional Engineer (1 day, 70% pass rate). I never thought that passing these exams made me feel more competent. My competency came with my continuing  education and continuing work experince and by associating with knowledgable and experienced collegues.

    Vito Rotondi, (Retired)
    Arch. S.E. P.E. Life M ASCE
    Westmont Illinois

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

    Posted 11-01-2023 10:09 AM

    Building on this response, I think the structural engineering profession runs the risk of strangling itself due to the complexity of the codes and the increased requirements for licensure and certification that are being foisted on the profession by well-intentioned groups and leaders. Licensure and certification are only leading indicators of success, not guarantees. The most important part of being a civil engineer is the ethical responsibility we assume to protect the health, safety, and welfare of the public and work within our competency areas. The code complexity will not go away, but we need to find a way where less is more with respect to evaluative exams or talented individuals will vote with their feet. With our quest for more and more testing, we are not necessarily making things safer.  

    Mitch Winkler P.E.(inactive), M.ASCE
    Houston, TX

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

    Posted 11-02-2023 08:04 AM

    In addition to this discussion, making PE testing more discipline-specific is potentially driving the profession in the opposite direction of its future role. In the future, engineers will be tasked with problem-solving at many levels. Finding solutions to new problems will require broad skills and thought processes. The role of the engineer will not be delegated to calculations/number crunching. 

    The development of AI will be improving to the point that these functions will be performed by sophisticated algorithms (the Tools). Therefore engineering should focus on the big picture and the application of the tools in generating problem solutions.

    Vito Rotondi, (Retired)
    Arch. S.E. P.E. Life M ASCE
    Westmont Illinois