The Pitt News

Pitt adds new engineering major

By Krithika Pennathur / For The Pitt News

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Pitt students can now focus on tackling major environmental issues in their engineering studies.

Because of strong demand from students, Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering has expanded its environmental engineering minor to a major. The new environmental engineering major will prepare students to come up with creative solutions to domestic and international environmental problems, according to Radisav Vidic, professor and chair of the department of civil engineering.

Rising senior Naomi Anderson switched from a civil engineering major to the new major as soon as she could.

“When the environmental major became available, I jumped at the chance to study what I was actually interested in,” Anderson said.

Leonard Casson, an associate professor of engineering and the academic coordinator for the department of civil and environmental engineering, said that the major comes at a good time.

“There are environmental problems that need solutions,” Casson said. “With a rapidly evolving job market, we needed this major.”

After select members of the School of Engineering faculty deliberated with a committee of local industries and agencies as to whether they would hire environmental engineers, the committee went forward with developing the major.

Both local industries and students wanted an environmental engineer major at Pitt, Vidic said.

“The industries expressed a need for environmental engineers,” Vidic said. “We had a lot of students interested in environmental issues. We had to meet those demands.”

According to a release, students are able to begin enrolling in the major now for the 2016-2017 academic year.

Rising senior Nicole Cimabue looks forward to how the major will prepare her for a future career in engineering.

“I hope to gain an understanding of how and why nature works like it does and also the skills to be able to solve real environmental problems in the world,” Cimabue said.

According to recent data, the Bureau of Labor Statistics expects the employment of environmental engineering to increase 12 percent from 2014 to 2024, faster than the average rate of all occupations. Pennsylvania is the second leading state in the employment of environmental engineers, with California being the first.

Currently, there are 67 other environmental engineering programs — including Columbia University, Drexel University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology — in the country that the Accreditation Board of Engineering and Technology has accredited.  An ABET accreditation represents that a program meets the high standards of the profession, helping graduates find success in jobs related to their field.

The School of Engineering plans for the major to be ABET-accredited after the first students with the major graduate April 2017.

“The degree needs to be accredited,”  Vidic said. “This shows that a student has an appropriate skill set.” 

Students who plan to take the new major will have to take more chemistry and biology courses than civil engineering students do. Three new classes will provide the fundamentals for the major — a class on how elements move between states like air and water in environmental systems, a class on fundamental chemical principles and a laboratory-based class in which different faculty members will conduct environmental engineering experiments with students.

The School of Engineering already offers several environmentally focused courses, such as Hydrology and Water Resources, Drinking Water Treatment and Distribution System Design and Engineering and Sustainable Development.

“There are a lot of classes based around water systems, the way natural systems function and how to treat and distribute drinking water and wastewater,” Cimabue said. “I’ve learned how to design things like green buildings, surface drinking water treatment plants and green infrastructure systems.” 

Beside adding new core classes that enhance the existing curriculum, the major also includes a new, personalized lab, Anderson said. 

“I’m also really excited for the environmental engineering laboratory, which is a hands-on course that cycles through experiments with various environmental engineering faculty in their area of expertise,” Anderson said.

According to Vidic, there is a “wide range of jobs and opportunities for these students,” with graduates able to eventually work in consulting firms, solid waste management and government agencies in Pennsylvania, to name a few.

Casson said graduating students will be the ones to solve future environmental problems.

“They’ll be solving these problems in an energy-conscious way, but keep from polluting the environment,” Casson said. “They’re coming up with a new, sustainable way to do so.”

Anderson said she hopes what she learns in the major will give her confidence in her career.

“The main thing that I want is to develop a broad enough base of environmental engineering knowledge that I can go into any job with confidence — at least confidence that I can learn whatever I need to learn, and be competent,” Anderson said.

Cimabue encourages other students to study environmental engineering.

“People should study environmental engineering to learn about how the water, air and soil systems of the earth work, and to make an impact by being able to develop solutions to environmental problems,” Cimabue said “And because it’s fun.”

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Pitt adds new engineering major