Civil Engineering


Civil engineering is one of the oldest and arguably the most important engineering disciplines. It involves applications of scientific principles for solving a wide range of problems related to the condition of humans and the planet. It is a profession steeped in history, with its earliest practice commenced between 4000 and 2000 BC. It is a wide ranging profession that involves elements of structural design, geotechnical analysis, transportation systems, materials science, construction practices, environmental solutions, water resources development, and more.

What are civil engineers?

Civil engineers are global leaders in building a better life for humankind. It is impossible to stand on any street corner in the world and not witness the work of civil engineers. Whether it is buildings, roads, airports, bridges, sewers, water distribution systems, water and wastewater treatment plants, cell phone towers, tunnels, off-shore oil rigs, wind generation systems, rail systems, canals or dams, civil engineers have played a role in their design, construction, and successful implementation. They design, construct, and maintain the physical fabric of cities. Civil engineers also help to protect the natural environment from stresses imposed by humans, such as water, air, and soil pollution, and humans from the power that is sometimes exerted by nature in the form of hurricanes, tornados, floods, earthquakes, fires, and more.

Why are civil engineers important?

Engineers at work photo

The importance of civil engineers has been magnified by what remains a continuing massive migration of the world’s population from rural to urban areas. This migration has placed significant strains on aging infrastructure and need for new infrastructure that is more sustainable and adaptable to the changing needs of society. Civil engineers are involved with the development of innovative new materials for high performing infrastructure, more sustainable infrastructure strategies, and cutting-edge methods for testing and replacement of failing infrastructure. Civil engineers are critical to solving all of the grand challenges that face humankind today. They are involved in many aspects of the energy sector, including energy infrastructure, alternative energy systems with low carbon footprints, and energy conservation. The latter is embedded in appropriate design of the everyday systems and infrastructure that civil engineers construct, with appropriate design and operation having a potentially enormous impact on lowering the carbon footprint of humans.

Throughout the past 100 years civil engineers have been instrumental in saving hundreds of millions of lives by assuring the delivery of clean drinking water and clean-up of wastewater before it enters the environment to be consumed by others downstream. The treatment of human and industrial wastes using systems designed and operated by civil engineers has also protected the environment and in many cases brought it back from near complete destruction. And civil engineers are now playing an important role in developing strategies for mitigating climate change through processes such as carbon sequestration in deep aquifers.

Where do civil engineers work?

Civil engineers may work in the private sector at consulting or construction firms, and for industry, or for state or local governments. Some civil engineers hold supervisory or administrative positions, while others pursue careers in design, construction or teaching. Because of their many technical skills, many civil engineers have entrepreneurial opportunities.

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What is Civil Engineering at the University of Texas at Austin?

The Department of Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering (CAEE) of the Cockrell School of Engineering offers B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. degrees in Civil Engineering. At any time there are approximately 900 civil engineering majors in CAEE, with over 10,000 alumni spread across the world. Civil engineering students are taught by over 50 internationally-recognized faculty members and supported by over 20 full-time staff members.

Undergraduate students (B.S. degree) in Civil Engineering take two years of courses that provide a strong foundation in scientific and engineering principles and begin applying those principles to a range of engineering sub-disciplines (construction engineering, environmental engineering, geotechnical engineering, structural engineering, transportation engineering) in their third and fourth years. Students have an opportunity to select courses in their third and fourth years that allow them to gain additional depth in areas for which they have a strongest interest. In many cases undergraduate students have opportunities to complete research in these areas, complete internships during the summer, and even study abroad.

Graduate students (M.S. and Ph.D.) select one of several specialty areas to gain greater depth in that area through more advanced coursework and research. Many Civil Engineering Ph.D. students eventually remain in academia as professors across the United States and beyond.