Below, we walk through some of the detail on what an environmental engineer does, as well as school and degree options that are out there to earn an environmental engineering degree at all degree levels.
Using engineering and environmental principles of the land, water, and air, as well as biology, chemistry, and science, environmental engineers are the individuals that take the research and theory from scientists and researchers to come up with real-world solutions to issues across the globe. Examples include designing solutions to limited or poor-quality drinking water in less-developed countries, designing machinery or manufacturing facilities that emit less pollution into the atmosphere, or coming up with solutions to any issues that farm chemicals might have on the land, air quality, or drinking water.
Nearly any environmental engineer needs to have at least a Bachelor’s degree, and a lot also continue their education and get their Master’s or Doctorate. Read on for more info on the environmental sciences and the specific degree options.
An Overview of Environmental Science
Environmental engineering is a fairly new field compared to some of the more historical engineering types, and it is actually considered a subset of civil engineering, combined with environmental sciences. Environmental science mostly consists of the research and study of the atmosphere, ecology (human-animal-interaction with the environment), geology/geoscience (land and water evolution), and chemistry or chemicals within the environment. There are several key specializations within the Environmental Science field:
1. Environmental Science covers a number of more specific academic areas – biology, physics, soil science, and geography, to name a few of the larger areas. Environmental science is mostly focused on studying and researching, and scientists try to relate numerous factors (physics, biology, chemical) to figure out what is affecting the environment and how severe the impact may be.
2. Environmental Studies focuses more on the social aspects as they relate to the development of the world and relationships. This field is also involved with policy-making and perceptions to help create laws that advance the care of environment.
3. Environmental Engineering combines environmental science and technology with design to work on projects that will improve the quality of life and environmental factors for the world. Environmental engineers take the results of the scientists and those in the environmental studies field, and figure out a solution for any problems.
All three subsets are extremely important, but you can see how environmental engineers are extremely import in order to come up with solutions to our world’s problems.
Specifics on an Environmental Engineering Degree
Regardless of degree level, students can expect similar content of an environmental engineering program. Each program at different universities has its own distinction, so we will just touch on what most programs have in common.
- Expect to study chemistry: Whether it is soil composition,
- Expect a lot of math: Differential Equations (DiffEQ) tends to be a staple and a monumental hurdle for nearly every engineering degree
- Expect to learn about other types of engineering:There are many other engineering disciplines that have an effect on the environment, so expect to study at least parts of them as well: civil, electrical, and even petroleum engineering.
Top Environmental Engineering Schools
There are many environmental engineering schools in the US with both campus-based, traditional programs, and online degrees. Here are few to consider.
Stanford University and the University of California – Berkeley are ranked as the top environmental engineering schools by US News & World Report, with both programs being tied for the #1 ranking.
The University of Illinois-Champaign and Georgia Tech University are both some of the top engineering departments in the country, and both are known for their environmental engineering programs. The University of Illinois’s Civil & Environmental Engineering department also offers a Master’s degree in Environmental Engineering online. Georgia Tech offers environmental engineering degrees at multiple levels (on campus).
Other schools with online environmental engineering degrees include The University of Phoenix, California State University – Fullerton, . Kaplan University has an online BS in environmental science that is closely related to those interested in the environmental sciences field.
Undergraduate & Graduate Degrees in Environmental Engineering
As one would expect, there are multiple levels of degrees for environmental engineering. The Bachelor’s and Master’s programs are by far the most popular, and there are more Bachelor’s programs than any other degree level. Considering the impact environmental engineers can have on the environment and the world’s population, universities are starting to launch more higher-level graduate degrees online. These online masters in environmental engineering degrees cater very nicely to working adults that are already in the field, but want to continue to advance their career.
Other Environmental Degrees
There are several environmental-related degrees that are closely related to environmental engineering. Environmental Science and Environmental Health and Science are the most popular. As mentioned previously, these programs focus mostly on research and policy. Environmental Education majors end up teaching others at the high school or college level on environmental subjects. Another up-and-coming and very important degree option is Public Health. Public health professionals have a great impact on the world’s population, and the overlap with the environment’s impact on the population is closely related. Most, if not all, in the public health field have their Master’s degree (MPH), and options for a Bachelor’s degree in public health are pretty limited, so if you decide to get your Bachelor’s in something else that is related, you will not be alone and you will still have the option to get your MPH later on.
Environmental Engineer Career Profile from the National Science Foundation
The video below gives an excellent overview of what an environmental engineer actual does, with an interview from a current environmental engineer. It explains the overlap of environmental engineering and public health, and goes into detail on a specific example on water testing and water project sustainability. Overall the video gives a really good example and summary of what an environmental engineer in the field actually does.
Skills an Environmental Engineer Should Have
In addition to the obvious skills, such as problem solving, creativity, discipline, and the ability to solve complex math/science/chemistry problems, environmental engineers need to have good social skills as well. They work with lawyers quite often, working on environmental cases that have impacted populations or different communities.
Environmental Engineer Career & Salary Information
Environmental engineers are not the highest paid engineering type, but they do very well for themselves, with an average salary of around $80,000 per year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Obviously salaries have a broad range – more entry level positions tend to be on the low end, and environmental engineering consultants that have years of experience working with lawyers are usually on the higher end of the pay scale.
There are plenty of opportunities for environmental engineers. Some work for private firms that are contracted by governments worldwide to perform studies on their environment or the effect humans might be having on the environment.
In the United States, the federal and state governments are some of the top employers of environmental engineers. Working for the government, you can expect a solid job with good benefits, but some of your projects might move a little slower than private companies that are on a deadline.