New environmental engineering major is a natural fit for undergrads

// Civil & Environmental Engineering

Photo of Lake Michigan

The new BSEnvE program has a strong focus on water, and students will learn about approaches for protecting natural water resources such as streams, lakes, wetlands or groundwater. Photo of Lake Michigan by Renee Meiller.

A new engineering bachelor’s degree at the University of Wisconsin-Madison will prepare students for a lifetime of work as leaders in environmental engineering through exposure to multidisciplinary work and building communication and team skills.

The BS in environmental engineering degree, or BSEnvE, is now available to first and second year students in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at UW-Madison. Greg Harrington, a CEE professor who oversaw the program’s creation, says it builds upon previously existing environmental engineering offerings and provides students deeper specialization that was not previously available through the environmental engineering option in the civil engineering major.

Photo of Greg Harrington
Greg Harrington

Ultimately, the major will include approximately 150 students at any given time; in addition to a strong foundation for careers in environmental engineering practice, it will also prepare students who want to advance into graduate school for environmental engineering or pursue other graduate majors, including the environmental chemistry and technology and environmental science programs at UW-Madison.

“We’ve had quite a few students who have wanted to focus solely on environmental engineering as well as employers seeking graduates with such a focus,” Harrington said. “We’ve also had quite a few inquiries from prospective students about it while they’re considering us against other institutions. This now allows our students to focus on the disciplines within environmental engineering and get more depth in the field that they couldn’t get otherwise.”

Students in the program will learn about the design, construction and operation of systems or facilities that treat and distribute water; manage solid waste; protect natural water resources such as streams, lakes, wetlands or groundwater; manage stormwater to minimize flood risks; and treat and minimize industrial and agriculture waste and air pollution.

“It’s got a very strong water focus,” Harrington says. “In environmental engineering, water is a large segment of the industry, so we need to prepare students for that kind of work. Students also have the opportunity to explore systems to prevent and clean up air pollution and soil contamination. These are all inextricably linked to energy and climate change, so we also need to prepare students for these challenges.”

Due to the urgent threat climate change poses to communities around the world, the environmental engineering program will also include a focus on sustainability—emphasizing meeting today’s needs while allowing future generations to achieve their needs for environmental health, public/societal health, and economic health. As such, the program will empower students to design solutions that prepare society to face the impacts of climate change, and allow students to explore ways to slow down or reverse climate change by implementing sustainable energy sources and recovering greenhouse gasses from industrial air emissions.

Harrington says these experiences will allow students to contribute immediately in the workplace when they graduate. “For example, they’d work with engineering firms to design and implement the sustainable and resilient strategies needed to manage the environmental problems that are here now and on the horizon,” he says.

In addition to new students, the major also is open to students who enrolled as undergraduates in fall 2020 or those who will graduate no sooner than December 2023.

Author: Alex Holloway