Civil engineers design, build, operate, and maintain the structures and infrastructure that forms our modern society. These facilities include buildings, bridges, highways, water supply systems, environmental protection systems, ports, railroads, dams, flood control works, airports, and many others.
The American Society of Civil Engineers notes that civil engineers provide "a better world by design" because their projects improve the quality of life for mankind while being economically viable and environmentally conscious. This is the oldest branch of engineering, and will continue to be essential so long as civilization exists. Civil engineering is an exciting and rewarding profession.
Civil engineering is a very broad profession that encompasses a wide range of activities, so we divide it into various branches, as follows:
|Construction engineers oversee the actual construction of civil engineering projects. They start with the design drawings and specifications prepared by design engineers, and convert them into a physical reality. Students interested in this branch of civil engineering can major in either civil engineering or construction engineering technology. Some students also choose to do a double-major.|
|Building the Gold Line light rail system, which connects Los Angeles with Pasadena (Photo courtesy of Kiewit Pacific)|
|Environmental engineering focuses on engineering works that clean and protect the environment. These projects can include designing facilities to safely handle solid waste, industrial waste, or municipal wastewater..It also can include identifying and remediating existing pollution, such as underground contaminant plumes. It has been said that civil engineers have saved more lives than doctors, and much of this benefit has come from environmental engineering.|
|Sanitary landfills, such as this one, provide safe disposal of municipal wastes, thus protecting the environment. The pipelines shown in the photo collect methane gas from the landfill, which is then used to generate electricity.|
|Engineering management includes leading, coordinating, overseeing, and other similar management activities as applied to engineering projects. Engineering managers typically have an undergraduate degree in engineering, with additional education or experience in management..|
|Reviewing design drawings for an engineering project.|
|Geospatial engineering includes surveying, mapping, remote sensing, and other similar activities. Geospatial engineers use precise global positioning system (GPS) receivers to establish horizontal and vertical coordinates. They also participate in the design and implementation of geographical information systems (GIS), which are geographically-based computer databases.|
|Using a surveying instrument to record topographic data in the field.|
|Geotechnical engineers focus on soil, rock, and underground water, and their relation to the design, construction, and operation of civil engineering projects. This work includes providing adequate foundations for structures, preventing or repairing landslides, identifying and remediating liquefaction hazards, and other similar activities.|
|Geotechnical engineers work to prevent disasters like the 2005 La Conchita landslide that killed 10 people.|
|Structural engineers work on buildings, bridges, towers, and other structures. They are responsible for designing these structures in a way that will be safe and economical. One of the most important aspects of structural engineering in California is earthquake-resistent design.|
|Sunshine Skyway Bridge in Florida is a cable-stayed bridge.|
|Transportation engineers provide fast, efficient, and safe transportation facilities. These include highways, railroads, ports, airports, and other similar projects. Transportation facilities are essential to society, and improving our transportation infrastructure is a high priority for the coming decades, all of which requires civil engineers with expertise in transportation engineering..|
|High-speed maglev trains are one solution to intercity travel..|
|Water resources engineering includes the various civil engineering projects needed to provide safe drinking water and flood control works. These projects include aqueducts, pipelines, water treatment plants, dams, levees, and other similar works. Water is a very important topic in California, and water shortages will become an ever-growing concern as the state's population continues to grow. The implementation of desalinization plants, more efficient water usage, and new water distribution facilities are some of the solutions to these problems, all of which require civil engineers with expertise in water resources.|
|A water treatment plant purifies municipal water before it is distributed to the community.|
Civil engineers work in a variety of different settings and for a wide range of employers. Many civil engineers also choose to be self-employed. Some civil engineering jobs are primarily indoors, but many involve frequent visits to project sites during both the design and construction phases.
Public sector employers include various public agencies, such as city building and safety departments, county public works departments, water agencies, CalTrans, and many others.
Private sector employers include small, medium, and large companies that provide civil engineering services. Some are primarily design-oriented, while others focus on construction.
There is a very strong demand for civil engineers, especially in California, and not enough new graduates to meet this demand. Most recent graduates receive multiple job offers. The future also looks bright.
The best way to pursue a career in civil engineering, is to obtain a bachelor's degree in civil engineering or construction engineering from an ABET accredited program, such as Cal Poly Pomona. Civil engineers also need to become licensed by the state in which the project is located.
Although there are many excellent civil engineering jobs for those who do not go beyond the bachelor's degree, pursuing a master's degree opens more professional opportunities. In some branches of civil engineering, a master's degree is nearly essential. Over the next ten to twenty years, a master's degree might become a requirement in order to become professionally licensed.