Discussion: View Thread

Will Changing the Message Make Civil Engineering More Attractive?

  • 1.  Will Changing the Message Make Civil Engineering More Attractive?

    Posted 05-14-2024 10:11 AM

    Has anyone seen a pathway to becoming a civil engineer that starts with community college and/or an associate's degree? My prompt for this question is my high school teaching experience and the recent article "Change the Message-Change the World" in the May-June issue of Civil Engineering. I think there's more to it than messaging. and we need more tools in the tool kit if we really want to move the needle and attract more to civil engineering. 

    I tutor Algebra 1 at a high school where most students are economically disadvantaged, and English is not their primary language. Last week, as I have done for the past four years, I talked to the students in the classes I tutor about engineering in general and civil engineering in detail. Unfortunately, their interest level was low. We can all guess the reasons. I can factually say the math skills of many in the class are poor, and this is not for want of trying. I also know that my math skills were poor at the end of ninth grade.I told the students not to give up on math - their aptitude towards abstraction will evolve as mine did - and to recognize that there are alternative pathways, including community college and technical training, as low-barrier ways to step into engineering. 

    The ASCE could do me and these students a big favor by developing pathways beyond the conventional four-year degree and, in return, provide another tool to help grow the profession. It would be great to hear from others who share similar experiences or have different viewpoints and those in positions of influence. 

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

  • 2.  RE: Will Changing the Message Make Civil Engineering More Attractive?

    Posted 05-17-2024 10:56 AM

    Mitch, you have hit upon a topic - expanding pathways into engineering - that is of growing interest to many.  This topic has arisen repeatedly in discussions over the past 18 months involving representatives of ASCE, AIChE, ASEE, ASME, IEEE, and other organizations about Shaping the Future of Engineering Education (a series of meetings led by ASCE and sponsored in part by a grant from the United Engineering Foundation).  These discussions have revealed initiatives that aim to double-down on efforts to strengthen pathways from community colleges into engineering.  ASME, for example, has a program "Community College Engineering Pathways" (www.asmefoundation.org/programs/careers-that-matter/community-college-engineering-pathways/).  Individual engineering schools have programs focused on community college students, such as the "Engineering Pathways" program at the University of Illinois (grainger.illinois.edu/admissions/undergraduate/pathways).  Here in the Pittsburgh area various colleges and universities have relationships with the engineering program at the Community College of Allegheny County (www.ccac.edu/_staging/academics/programs/engineering-electronics-and-design/engineering.php).  These programs involve engagement and preparation of community college students for engineering technology studies as well as conventional 4-year engineering studies that have more emphasis on mathematical analyses.  The bottom line, as you note, is that community colleges are insufficiently utilized sources of talent for the engineering workforce. The American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) will soon release "The Engineering Mindset Report", a comprehensive analysis of the state of engineering education in which the need to expand pathways into engineering - including better engagement with community colleges - is emphasized.  Collaborative initiatives from the ASCE-led discussions on Shaping the Future of Engineering Education are in development.  I anticipate that efforts focused on community college students are likely to be part of these initiatives.  But ASCE members and other engineers don't need to wait to move forward on engagement with and support of community college students.  Your efforts in Houston serve as an excellent model of personal initiative.  Thanks for your work on the front lines in supporting community college students and helping to make them aware of career possibilities in civil engineering and other engineering fields.

    David Dzombak, PhD, PE, Dist.M.ASCE
    Hamerschlag University Professor Emeritus
    Dept of Civil and Environmental Engineering
    Carnegie Mellon University
    Pittsburgh, PA 15213

  • 3.  RE: Will Changing the Message Make Civil Engineering More Attractive?

    Posted 05-19-2024 12:25 PM

    During my PhD studies and while employed at a State College I was a Co-PI on a NSF grant funded "engineering pathways" program. The grant specifically focused on pathways into engineering from a 2 year degree and including advanced studies from rising HS seniors. That program was very successful. I found Engineering and specifically ABET to be much more accommodating of students from a 2 year program in creating pathways with on/off ramps as they needed to exit for employment or life events. The key was early identification of the specific requirements and guidance on ABET programs to align their 2 year steps towards the 4 year goal.

    When compared to NCARB for architects for example and I found it to be much less accommodating to alternative pathways. 

    Jesse Kamm PhD, PMP, A.M.ASCE
    Vice President of Engineering

  • 4.  RE: Will Changing the Message Make Civil Engineering More Attractive?

    Posted 05-20-2024 10:41 AM

    Hi David, Thanks for your response and the information on the various programs. I quickly discovered that the Houston Community College has likewise created pathways into engineering. See https://www.hccs.edu/centers/engineering/. What can we do to speed up the process in the ASCE to acknowledge and visibly show these alternative pathways to becoming a civil engineer? At a minimum, this type of information should appear under Career and Growth on ASCE.org. I'm happy to help with ideas.

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

  • 5.  RE: Will Changing the Message Make Civil Engineering More Attractive?

    Posted 05-19-2024 12:27 PM

    You make at least two excellent points, Mitch.

    A 2-year college program can produce students that successfully complete engineering degrees. When I taught at Mississippi State University, we had arrangements with many community colleges to prepare their students specifically for direct entry into our Civil and Environmental Engineering program. I saw the majority of those transfer students not only succeed, but excel. 

    I also struggled with math. When I speak to younger students, I stress that "liking" math is not necessary to succeed in engineering. Persistence is more important.

    William McAnally Ph.D., P.E., BC.CE, BC.NE, F.ASCE
    Columbus MS

  • 6.  RE: Will Changing the Message Make Civil Engineering More Attractive?

    Posted 05-20-2024 11:35 AM
    Edited by Tirza Austin 05-20-2024 11:34 AM

    After High School I wasn't sure what I wanted to do.  I found a full-time job as a draftsman right out of High School.  The following Spring Semester I enrolled in the local Community College.  That went well, so I enrolled in the University Civil Engineering program for the following year.  After one semester I realized how unprepared I was for the rigors of university study.  I left school and went back to my drafting job.  After a while I got back into the Community College and eventually received my Associates Degree in Civil Engineering.  Even that many years ago I was able to transfer all of those units to the University toward my BS. Two years later I did receive my BSCE.  What I learned and what I've tried to help young people with is that the 4-year University degree may not be the best path for all right out of High School.   The Community College path was more affordable, and I was able to work full time while taking a few classes each semester.  The extra benefit was that the work I was doing was all relative and helped me tremendously when I graduated with my BS because I already had many years of relative work experience.  Whenever I get a chance, I try to explain to the young people I get to talk to that there are different paths and we all should look at our options.  As I've tried to over the years; we need to talk to our youth in High School and let them know the options available.  For me it certainly wasn't a standard 4-year degree pathway.

    Mark Woodson P.E., L.S., Pres.16.ASCE
    Flagstaff AZ

  • 7.  RE: Will Changing the Message Make Civil Engineering More Attractive?

    Posted 05-21-2024 10:49 AM

    When I was in school about 10 years ago, there was one option similar to what you and others in this thread are describing. I do not know if it still exists, but for a while, the NJ Stars program allowed students leaving high school who were either of a certain class rank or GPA to attend community college for free. From there, they could transfer into a 4 year institution (I forget what the rules were regarding transfer feasibility and if it had to be in-state after that). 

    I don't know all the devils that were in the details here, but I can say that a small group of my graduating class did go this route. Their advisors were sometimes able to either waive certain classes or replace one class for a (somewhat) related class where the previous 2 years of school courses diverged. However, I recall that at least one or two of the students had to stay for an extra semester to take a final class or two due to scheduling conflicts while getting caught up during year 1 of transfer (aka year 3 of the 4 year program).

    From the social acclimation perspective, most of these students were hard working and friendly, and thus able to assimilate into the class.

    It brings to question the value of time vs money here. Is essentially a 4.5 or 5 year program plus a less-than-seamless transfer worth the discount on tuition vs the opportunity cost of a few months of work after graduation? Could the transfer process have been better? 

    This is a good question for many majors, and one that raises further questions about academic institutions and intentional inaccessibility. - it becomes very difficult to join a program halfway through when that program wants your tuition dollars for all 4 or more years. 

    Christopher Seigel P.E., M.ASCE
    Civil Engineer

  • 8.  RE: Will Changing the Message Make Civil Engineering More Attractive?

    Posted 05-22-2024 02:51 PM

    Back to the original question, Will changing the message make civil engineering more attractive?  It seems to me that the attractiveness of the civil engineering profession is based on what a career in civil engineering looks like compared to other career choices.  Thinking about my career and the directions I took, my choices were based on three questions: (1) Am I having fun? (2) Am I learning something?, and (3) Am I making enough money?  For the latter, it wasn't about getting rich.  Instead, it was about having enough resources to live comfortably and giving my kids a good start in life...college, whatever.

    Having worked in the civil engineering industry for 30+ years, it seems that the message we're giving to potential civil engineers is, "Yeah, the math and science are hard, but when you finish, you get to build really cool stuff."  That message may work for some, but the opportunities for the rank-and-file civil engineer to "build really cool stuff" are limited.  One reason I say this is because when I was active in Engineers Without Borders-USA, we experienced a surge of interest from practicing civil engineers to participate in projects to help poor communities--seemingly a break from having to work on yet again another road or sewer design.

    Actually, we have a message that will make civil engineering more attractive, but the profession doesn't recognize it yet.  Ready or not, civil engineering is about to undergo a major overhaul, one that will visit every aspect of this engineering discipline related to climate.  Increasing atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases (GHGs) are trapping more thermal energy, raising the Earth's temperature, and significantly disrupting the Earth's climate regulating systems. As a result, climate conditions are changing in ways and at a pace that was never contemplated nor incorporated into civil infrastructure design.  Climate change is overturning a foundational civil engineering assumption: past conditions are good predictors of future conditions. 

    If climate conditions are no longer stationary, then many, if not most, of the climate-related civil engineering standards, especially prescriptive standards, are no longer reliable.  Civil infrastructure must be revised: designed or refurbished to handle changing climate and weather conditions through avoidance/retreat, accommodation, and adaptation.  In addition, civil infrastructure must be made carbon neutral, shifting to renewable energy sources and reducing embodied carbon in materials.

    Here is the attraction.  Designing civil infrastructure for a changing climate represents an opportunity of a lifetime.  Civil engineers will get to revise the profession.  New approaches are needed to handle the deep uncertainties of future climate conditions.  Engineers with a sound understanding of what works and does not work will be sought after for their expertise and judgment as new technologies and methodologies arrive.  That answers my three questions.

    [Bill] [Wallace] [F.ASCE]
    [Wilsonville] [Oregon]

  • 9.  RE: Will Changing the Message Make Civil Engineering More Attractive?

    Posted 05-28-2024 10:24 AM

    Bill has a great point -- Climate Change is one of the most important changes we are already experiencing. But "Change" in general is going to be an important factor for all engineers. Progress toward improved Diversity-Equity-Inclusivity, change in politics (both good and bad), change in international relations, change in public health concerns, and change in human influence on the planet overall: All of these are opportunities for those entering engineering to make a difference. Not only are the pathways to enter engineering becoming more diverse, but the ways engineers can help the world are becoming more diverse, and the knowledge engineers need is becoming more diverse. Lifelong learning is a key. Thus, one of the most important things we can do is to improve our education system at all levels. Countless exciting opportunities exist for young people to take an interest in engineering today, and we need more engineers to face the accelerating changes in front of us. We must keep publicizing these opportunities.

    Cliff Davidson F.ASCE
    Syracuse University
    Syracuse NY

  • 10.  RE: Will Changing the Message Make Civil Engineering More Attractive?

    Posted 06-04-2024 10:17 AM

    Great contribution seeded with valuable practical experiences. Thanks for sharing. I like to add a little to your comment penned down in the 4th para on climate change . . . If climate conditions are no longer stationary . . . climate-related civil engineering standards. . . are no longer reliable . . .

    • Here is something relevant, I picked up from the 2nd Chapter of the 2021 IPCC WGII Sixth Assessment Technical Summary Report – that conveys a message in unambiguous terms – on the non-stationarity of climate conditions. . . Cumulative stressors and extreme events are projected to increase in magnitude and frequency (very high confidence) and will accelerate projected climate-driven shifts in ecosystems and loss of the services they provide to people (high confidence). These processes will exacerbate both stress on systems already at risk from climate impacts and non-climate impacts like habitat fragmentation and pollution (high confidence). Increasing frequency and severity of extreme events will decrease recovery time available for ecosystems (high confidence). Irreversible changes will occur from the interaction of stressors and the occurrence of extreme events (very high confidence), such as the expansion of arid systems or total loss of stony coral and sea ice communities . . .

    • While many have different opinions about causes and conditions, the climate change with its associated consequences is what it is – as being experienced and measured by many – as being corroborated by many national and international organizations.

    • On climate-related civil engineering standards – the 2015 ASCE book – Adapting Infrastructure and Civil Engineering Practice to a Changing Climate spells out . . . The requirement that engineering infrastructure meets future needs and the uncertainty of future climate at the scale of the majority of engineering projects leads to a dilemma for practicing engineers. This dilemma is a gap between climate science and engineering practice that must be bridged . . .

    • Indeed, bridging this gap – incorporating the uncertainty of scientific observations and future projections to something as a CE standard – is a challenge (this is despite the fact that jurisdictional guidelines do exist in different states/provinces). The burden is often with the consulting engineers – who must find a way to incorporate scientific non-stationarity and uncertainty to something workable and defensible.

    • This burden is like (as in Standards, Codes and Manuals). . . Standards, codes and manuals usually lag behind the advances in research in science and engineering. Therefore – the applicators need to look for materials beyond the customized materials . . . Compliance with environmental, wildlife protections – and conservation of Nature and the interests of indigenous communities – and the effects of engineering interventions on them – cannot be relied upon the entirety of standards, codes and manuals. Because these areas of engineering works – are rather fluid as new information and assessments are continually coming to light . . .

    • But a caution from the Coastal Engineering Manual (USACE 2002) must be heeded to. It is regarding our misconception of rare extreme events or combination thereof . . . It is important to bear in mind that the most extreme record of event may not merely be an intensified version of lesser extreme events . . . This type of event is difficult to anticipate, but it should be recognized that such things can occur. They may appear as outliers in extreme data distributions.



    Dr. Dilip K Barua, Ph.D

    Website Links and Profile

  • 11.  RE: Will Changing the Message Make Civil Engineering More Attractive?

    Posted 05-23-2024 03:05 PM

    Great discussions seeded with glimpses of useful practical experiences. I like to add a little to these lively discussions based on my read of the 2016 NAP Book #21739 – Barriers and Opportunities for 2-Year and 4-Year STEM Degrees.

    Highlights of some messages or observations – the authors of this book have listed.

    On Chapter 2 – Multiple STEM Pathways:

    Interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) credentials continues to grow . . . Students are taking complex pathways to earning STEM credentials, often transferring among institutions, entering and exiting STEM pathways at different phases of their studies, and concurrently enrolling at more than one institution . . . The make-up of the student body is not the same as 25 years ago: students are more likely to be from minority groups and to be single parents . . . "On-time" completion of a credential is infrequent: only 22 percent of students aspiring to earn a STEM degree in 4 years achieve their goal . . . The completion rates for students who aspire to a STEM degree continue to be lower than those for students in many other fields, which has led to questions about the quality of the educational experiences for STEM students.

    On Chapter 3 – The Culture of Undergraduate STEM Education:

    The culture of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education has an effect on many students' interest, self-concept, sense of connectedness, and persistence in these disciplines . . . New research is needed to understand whether STEM "gate-way" courses continue to negatively impact STEM student persistence due to the culture of the classrooms and a heavy reliance on lectures, as research from over a decade ago has revealed.

    The discerned messages of the STEM education pathways (4-year college, community college, for-profit sector) and gate-way courses, led the authors to come up with some 6 conclusions and 9 recommendations.



    Dr. Dilip K Barua, Ph.D

    Website Links and Profile

  • 12.  RE: Will Changing the Message Make Civil Engineering More Attractive?

    Posted 05-24-2024 11:11 AM

    My journey's path towards civil engineering began in 1957/59 at SUNY/Farmingdale.

    President Eisenhower recalled the advantage the Germans had with their extensive highway system to move people and goods quickly.

    So, he initiated the Interstate Highway System, and that created the need for CEs.

    SUNY/Farmingdale started with the A.A.S. in Highway and Bridge Construction Technology degree program.



    p.s. I seem to recall that a major constraint to moving goods on the highway were their overpasses that were NOT at least 14'-6" clear.

    William M. Hayden Jr., Ph.D., P.E., CMQ/OE, F.ASCE
    Buffalo, N.Y.

    "It is never too late to be what you might have been." -- George Eliot 1819 - 1880