InTrans / Dec 14, 2012

Environmental engineering

Go! Magazine

Environmental diagramposted on December 14, 2012


Environmental engineering is an ever-growing field that addresses practical issues regarding the quality of our air, water, and land and the responsible management of waste materials. A relatively newer field of study, environmental engineering began in the late 1800s under the title “sanitary engineering” at time when people were only beginning to realize the importance of clean drinking water and basic sanitation that we take for granted today.

Not until the 1970s with the emergence of the environmental movement and the formation of the Environmental Protection Agency did sanitary engineering become streamlined into environmental engineering.

Environmental engineer and professor at Iowa State University, Dr. Jim Alleman explains that at this time, people finally began to understand the extreme importance of the environment. Dr. Alleman adds, “Those who work in this area, they genuinely like their jobs because they see, “Hey, I had an impact. I made a difference in someone else’s life; I kept someone healthy.”

Education required

To pursue a career in environmental engineering, you must have a bachelor’s degree in environmental engineering or a related engineering field such as civil, chemical or mechanical. These programs place a strong emphasis on cultivating skills in mathematics, chemistry, and biology. Environmental engineers often need to continually take classes in order to keep up to date on current issues, and, to be a practicing engineer, it is encouraged to obtain your engineering license.

Career opportunities

Higher than the national average, the demand for environmental engineers is growing by 22%. Professionals work for consulting firms, government agencies, private sector firms, and public agencies. With the employment of environmental engineers at 51,400 in May of 2010 (Bureau of Labor Statistics), the market for this career is vast.

According the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mean annual wage for this occupation is $78,740 per year, which is $37.86 per hour.

Schools with environmental engineering programs

Environmental engineering programs are offered by universities across the country from Iowa State University to Colorado State University, Columbia University, Cornell University, John Hopkins, Florida Gulf Coast, Louisiana State, Manhattan College and many more. Click here for more details.

Studying to be an environmental engineer

Haotian Bai, graduate student at Iowa State University in sustainable engineering, reveals that one of his favorite aspects of this work is gaining real world experience and interacting with professionals in the field.

Bai says, “[Environmental engineering] gives me more opportunities to get involved.”

From the research in the lab to skype conferences with other organizations involved in his thesis project, Bai has expanded his communication, engineering, and chemistry skills. In the future, Bai’s career plans include working at consulting firms that help industries apply for permits from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Bai advises that anyone interested in pursuing a similar career should develop a strong background in chemistry, mathematics, and communication skills.

Dr. Jim Alleman also advocates the importance of a solid chemistry background for future environmental engineers, and he adds, “[Students], get yourself involved in more than a class.” Participate in a science fair project, for example, and ask a chemistry teacher for suggestions.

“[Environmental engineering] is a great job,” Dr. Alleman concludes. “A lot of the work is outdoors, and you feel a quality of life. You see the impact of what you do to help your fellow humans on the face of the earth.”


By Kelly Mantick, Go! Staff Writer

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