I’ve blogged about this topic once before, but now that I’m a senior and less than four months away from starting a real job in civil engineering design, I would say that I now have an even better idea of what civil engineering is. Civil engineers are responsible for designing structures (houses, parking garages, bridges), roads and parking lots, water supply and wastewater systems, etc. We don’t usually start from scratch, but will work with architects, city planners, and the like to turn concepts into reality.

An architect might design a beautiful office building. The civil engineer will take those designs and figure out what sized beams and columns to use. A transportation planner might say that we need a road from point A to point B. The civil engineer will determine the slope of the road, the drainage scheme, the striping, and the timing of traffic signals. A city official might secure funding for a new pipeline to carry water from a reservoir to a city center. The civil engineer will figure out where the pipe needs to go, what size it must be, what slope it should be placed at, and will design pump stations, valves, and more as needed.

One of my favorite things about being a civil engineer is that there are so many different things I can do and learn about. Whether I’m working on a small family housing unit, or designing a water supply system for a community of 500, there are so many practical applications. I’ve gotten to take classes in water quality, water supply and sewer systems, pressurized hydraulics, transportation, construction, reinforced concrete, steel, geotechnical engineering (soils), and materials. I’m constantly learning new things about my field and, since civil engineering influences so much of our day to day activity, I’m constantly seeing the world in new ways. You ever wonder why certain roads are really curved, or why the elevators of tall buildings are often at the very center of the building, or what they do with the wastewater after it leaves your house? With civil engineering I’ve learned the answers to all these questions and more.

After graduation, there are generally two paths that civil engineers take — construction management or design. Design engineers work with the initial concepts and turn them into buildable plans. Construction managers take those plans and manage the building of the design. In the future, I would love to work in international development, designing water systems in developing countries, but for now, I’ve decided to start my career as a design engineer for a firm in the Culver City area of Los Angeles. I’m so excited for all the experience I will get and all the different projects I will be exposed to.

If you are thinking about studying civil engineering, or have any questions about engineering student life, leave a comment or send me an email. One of the things that has made my college experience so great was that I really loved my major. Although it took me a year and a half to figure it out (I switched from biomedical engineering to civil halfway through sophomore year), finding the best fit major for me has been a great thing.

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