What is Environmental Engineering?

what is env

Imagine that you are enjoying a warm afternoon in Austin. After swimming at Barton Springs, you refresh yourself with a drink of cold tap water. Then, you head downtown to meet friends for dinner in an outdoor cafe.

This scene has been touched by environmental engineers in familiar ways: providing an adequate volume and quality of water for recreation, producing safe drinking water, and ensuring clean air. However, environmental engineers also touch our lives in a myriad of other ways.

Environmental engineering is a broad discipline dedicated to addressing environmental issues in air, water, and soil. The early roots of this discipline are evident in Roman use of fresh water aqueducts and wastewater collection systems. The field of sanitary engineering, the predecessor of environmental engineering, was born in the mid-1800s; its name reflects the goal of protecting human health through drinking water and wastewater treatment.

In the United States, the modern environmental movement started in the mid-1900s, when the public clamoured for reform to stem the acute and immediate threats from environmental pollution (such as the Cuyahoga River catching fire).

Present-day environmental engineering includes a variety of sub-disciplines, such as water quality engineering, water resources engineering, outdoor and indoor air quality engineering, ocean engineering, and hazardous waste management. Sustainable engineering concepts are infused into these sub-disciplines and include the long-term environmental, economic, and social consequences of engineering practice.

What is Environmental Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin?

In the Department of Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering (CAEE) in the Cockrell School of Engineering, undergraduate students follow the environmental engineering curriculum (B.S. degree) and are taught by tenure-track faculty members who are renowned educators, researchers and thought leaders.

Beginning in the first year, students will address local and global topics through active engagement in project- and service-based learning. Students can specialize in one of four areas: air, climate and energy; sustainable water systems; water resources and the environment; or contaminant fate and transport. The breadth of the curriculum allows students to earn 18 semester hours of approved technical coursework within the environmental engineering areas of most interest to them.


Our undergraduate students participate in honor societies, engineering outreach groups, research projects, internships, co-ops and study-abroad programs. After graduation, many undergraduate students go on to work for environmental consulting firms orgovernment agencies or attend graduate school.

Students in the Environmental and Water Resources Engineering (EWRE) graduate program in CAEE can earn an M.S. in Environmental and Water Resources Engineering or in Civil Engineering, and they can earn a Ph.D. in Civil Engineering. Students choose from a wide variety of environmental engineering courses taught by CAEE faculty.

At any given time, approximately 100 M.S. and Ph.D. students are in the EWRE graduate program. They specialize in particular areas of interest through advanced coursework and research, and they develop professional skills by presenting at national/international conferences and networking with colleagues from around the world. Many of the Ph.D. students continue in academia as postdoctoral fellows and professors or work in industry and government research labs. A view of environmental engineering at the University of Texas at Austin in the words of our students, faculty, and staff.

Questions? Please contact Academic Advising.