Photo courtesy of USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.
UNESCO defines sustainable engineering as “the process of using resources in a way that does not compromise the environment or deplete the materials for future generations.” Sustainable engineering includes food production, waste disposal and restoring natural resource environments. For the fall 2022 semester, the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE) introduced a new minor that addresses this critical topic.
The environmental and sustainable engineering minor is designed to broaden the academic background of all undergraduate students seeking a career in sustainable environmental fields, while providing required fundamentals to pursue graduate studies in environmental engineering or related fields. Students who have completed one semester of chemistry and two semesters of calculus are qualified to declare the minor.
“I believe that offering the minor was motivated by both faculty and students,” says CEE Associate Professor Joseph Flora. “Some students come to our department because they want to emphasize on environmental engineering. But students from other disciplines such as chemistry or chemical engineering could have a strong background for an environmental engineering job.”
The courses for the minor were already offered, but some were specifically revised to appeal to a broader audience. Chemical engineering major Brandon Beck and marine science major Neve Steger are the only two students enrolled in the minor this semester. But according to Flora, the number of electives that qualify for the minor would be expanded and possibly be made a major if student demand increases.
Beck was already pursing a concentration in environmental engineering and since it was already a significant focus of his studies, the minor only required only one additional class. Beck has learned to view design decisions through a wider environmental lens, a skill he believes will be applicable regardless of his career aspirations.
“Environmental systems exist at an intersection between nearly every branch of science and influence almost every aspect of life. This makes solving environmental problems both challenging and important,” Beck says. “This minor has helped enhance my undergraduate studies by encouraging me to take a course on life cycle assessment, which is a powerful technique for understanding the environmental impacts associated with an engineered system.”
Steger decided to pursue the environmental and sustainable engineering minor after she began working as an undergraduate research assistant under CEE Associate Professor Nicole Berge this past summer. She is excited to add the new minor to her degree and study environmental engineering without changing or adding another major.
“I have found a surprisingly strong connection between earth and marine science and environmental engineering, and the courses have been incredibly similar in content and focus," Steger says. "I’m looking forward to pursuing a graduate degree focused on environmental engineering by combining engineering with my passion for earth conservation. Being able to pursue this path may not have been possible or nearly as attainable without it.”