may not be the world's easiest college major and its graduates
may not attain instant wealth or fame, but the thousands of
students who now populate the nation's 227 CE schools and
those who teach and mentor them share a commitment and enthusiasm
that the statistics of ENR's first-ever survey of the discipline
may not convey.
Melissa R. Ernst breezed through
high school, but her first year as a CE major at the University
of Wisconsin-Madison was another story. "I found myself in
the midst of a lot of turmoil," she says. "The calculus here
is really, really difficult. It's very overwhelming your first
year." Her freshman courses also included such "light stuff"
as engineering statistics, mechanical engineering, AutoCAD
and introductory geological engineering.
But the 19-year-old is also motivated
by enough potential returns of her chosen career path to endure
the hazards of getting there. Ernst wanted to become a construction
manager because of the "being-outside aspect of it where you're
not behind a desk all day," she says. "It's not a monotone
career. It's very dynamic."
Federal program pushed changes in teaching approaches
for civil engineering.
(Photo courtesy of Texas A&M)
With college-level courses in high
school and summer school, Ernst earned enough credits to be
considered a junior this year. She not only participated with
upper-class students last June in the American Society of
Civil Engineers' first-ever student conference at the university,
she helped organize it and found time to assist in the mix
design of the school's concrete canoe entry. And, yes, she
also paddled it.
200 years after the first civil engineering school was established
at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y., the world
of civil engineering in academia may not be well-understood
in construction circles. But participants today are engaged
in innovative curricula, state-of-the-art fieldwork and advanced
research that promises to improve the construction industry's
efficiency and revolutionize its techniques. Even so, it is
also a world coping with budget and bureaucratic pressures
and the siphoning of existing funds, faculty and student interest
to "sexier" engineering disciplines and to nontechnical arenas
has long written about civil engineering education issues
and trends but had never attempted a more thorough look at
this critical part of construction --until now. The magazine
reached out to more than 200 institutions and received responses
from 117. Our survey form queried everything from faculty
experience in the industry and student diversity to salary
offers for new graduates and innovative teaching techniques.
The results of this months-long process involved often exhaustive
research by school officials as well, and are detailed in
the tables that follow this story.
some instances, data is incomplete, but interviews with professors,
administrators and students help focus the statistics and
flesh out achievements and problems of this important sector.
statistics indicate some hopeful trends but some worrisome
ones as well. Women undergraduates are still a distinct minority
on every campus, although they are making inroads at some.
They now make up half of the undergrad CE population at Duke
University, Durham, N.C., and 41% at Carnegie Mellon University,
Pittsburgh. Minority student patterns tend to reflect urban
populations but may also be an indication of more international
students in the mix. That is especially pronounced at the
graduate levels in terms of the number of Master's- and PhD-level
students at some schools who are not U.S. citizens.
ON Carnegie Mellon students get their hands dirty
with construction training.
The good news is that among respondents
that provided numbers, 34 schools are reporting gains in their
undergraduate CE student populations for the 2001-2002 year
compared to five years earlier. Rowan University, Glassboro,
N.J., leads the pack with a 158% increase. The school, which
struggled in 1997-98, has benefitted from a large endowment
funding a new engineering program. It now has 80 students
in its undergraduate CE program.
Florida Atlantic University, Boca
Raton, started a CE program just last year to serve a population
that includes many working students, says Stephan J. Nix,
its chairman. The school is still awaiting accreditation.
But the survey also reveals trends
in the other direction. Some 64 schools are reporting enrollment
drops of at least 1% over the last five years. The University
of Pennsylvania plans to end its CE program as of 2004 and
has already stopped accepting incoming students, says Wen
K. Shieh, systems engineering department head. "This is an
unfortunate development due to low enrollment and different
thrusts that Penn is pursuing," he says. Union College in
Schenectady, N.Y., is doing likewise in 2005, as the school
focuses on a new curriculum of "converging technologies,"
says F. Andrew Wolfe, assistant professor and chairman of
the existing CE department.
Click here to view Top Enrollment Gainers/Loosers chart
The trend is disturbing to CE department
heads who worry how the discipline will compete for future
students. While construction work is appealing to the young,
"it does not appear to be the thing attracting hordes, even
mini hordes of the best and brightest high school students
who mostly want to work with technology and information systems,
to civil engineering," says one West Coast-based department
head. "The message we should be shooting to deliver to high
schools is that of an advanced, exciting, technologically
Even historically black Howard
University in Washington, D.C., struggles to compete with
prestigious mainstream schools for the best African-American
high school graduates. "We're no longer monopolizing this
market," says Errol C. Noel, director of its civil engineering
department. Compared to 15 years ago when it used to graduate
30 or so civil engineering seniors, Howard typically graduates
just 11 to 13 each year. Other students, the kind who used
to major in civil engineering, now major in computer science
or business instead.
To reduce such attrition, Howard
requires its freshmen to take Introduction to Civil Engineering,
among other steps. Of freshmen who declare themselves as civil
engineering majors, up to 80% eventually complete the major
even if they drop out temporarily because of bad grades, Noel
But too many of the nation's undergraduate
engineering programs still fail to motivate lowerclassmen,
critics complain. "Students believe that engineering is building
a bridge, designing a computer chip, or creating new solutions
to societal problems. Yet in the typical first year classroom,
students study derivatives, integrals, Newton's Laws of Motion
and other topics that, for many, appear to be at best tangentially
related to their mental pictures of engineering practice,"
according to Texas A&M faculty in a technical paper presented
in June at the annual conference of the American Society for
Most engineering curricula fail
to help students connect the dots between "math, chemistry,
physics, solid and fluid mechanics, mechanics of materials,
and so ongetting immediately into specifics, with little
or no appreciation for the common denominators that tie these
courses together," complains Virginia Polytechnic and State
University Professor Daniel J. Schneck in the July issue of
ASCE's Journal of Professional Issues in Engineering Education
Many engineering undergraduates,
whether unmotivated, bewildered or frustrated, change majors,
flunk out or drop out. At the University of Hawaii at Manoa,
for instance, 40% of engineering undergraduates eventually
drop out or change majors. "We realize there's a retention
issue," says structural engineer Wai-Fah Chen, the school's
engineering dean. But he mostly attributes that attrition
to inadequate academic preparation in the K-12 grades and
to the greater attractiveness of computer science and business
as alternative majors for students who thought that they wanted
to study engineering. Two years ago the University of Hawaii
even dropped its introductory engineering course for freshmen,
to meet a state mandate to reduce the number of credit hours
required of undergraduates to just 132 semester units.
With the civil engineering department's
enrollment down by 60% since 1994, "local consultants are
dying because they can't get enough graduates," says CE professor
Randall Akiona. To make civil engineering more attractive,
some UH students want more hands-on work. Carolyn D. Wallace,
a CE senior who will graduate this December, says her capstone
class worked on designing a nine-story, 64-unit married housing
development and a 250-seat open-air auditorium. "I think more
design projects are needed at the senior year," she says.
CE professor Norman D. Dennis Jr.
at the University of Arkansas, credits the National Science
Foundation experiment (see story, below) for insinuating design
elements into freshman-level engineering classes, and for
inspiring capstone courses in which seniors plan and design
real-life construction projects. But he complains that many
innovations died on the vine after soaking up considerable
sums of money, such as for the creation of Web-based instruction
designed to give students extra practice in solving homework
problems. "I believe that [NSF] coalition schools had a responsibility
to keep those initiatives alive, but they have reneged on
that in some areas," Dennis says. "In 10 years we're going
to be trying to reinvent the wheel, and we need to learn from
our failures as well as our successes."
Rose-Hulman Institute in Terre
Haute, Ind., benefitted from the NSF innovations and its small
size in implementing changes. While some are no longer in
use, "there are some long-lasting effects from the experiment,"
says Robert J. Houghtalen, its CE department head. "Our entire
campus launched into a lot of productive dialogue on teaching
and learning styles," he says. "Teamwork is now a hallmark
of a Rose education, and the teacher-student relationship
is being replaced by a mentor-apprentice relationship."
Houghtalen notes that every engineering
program "requires external, client-based projects in the senior
year," and that in CE, "we even have them for a freshman design
class. This has naturally led into service learning and project-based
learning." He adds that "Rose-Hulman has changed dramatically
since we experimented with the freshman integrated curriculum."
Georgia Institute of Technology
is using its size and resources to expand opportunities not
only for its own undergraduates but for those in affiliated
schools away from its Atlanta hub. "We have been making extensive
use of Web-based materials in the classroom since 1995 and
all of our classrooms are equipped with new state of the art
facilities," says Roberto Leon, interim chairman of Tech's
civil and environmental engineering school. Distance learning
is available to branch campuses in Savannah and Statesboro,
The school is also taking pains
to support students and faculty. "We have gone to issuing
mid-semester grades to freshmen and sophomore students in
order to alert them to possible problems while they can still
be corrected," says Leon. It also provides extensive tutoring,
he says. Georgia Tech makes an effort to "help both young
faculty members get started as effective teachers and older
faculty to correct teaching problems," adds Leon.
Texas A&M University, College
Station, has also invested heavily in hardware and software,
to expose underclassmen to the daily use of computers. The
school even remodeled at least 10 classrooms to provide one
computer for every two students, and to provide seating that
facilitates four-person student teams. The results include
a computer-equipped classroom for a sophomore-level course
in "principles of engineering properties," where students
use computers to graph and compare the results of laboratory
Each class session lasts two hours
at a time, yet Assistant Professor Amy Epps Martin lectures
for just a few minutes at a time, to allow for team activities.
"I think everybody is happy about the active learning environment,"
she says of the students. "I think it's a massive effort to
change the way undergraduates are taught. And I think it's
The school is also among a growing
number that have focused on integrating chemistry, engineering,
English and physics curricula for freshmen, to tie together
what previously appeared to many students as unrelated subjects
or even as roadblocks to academic survival. Previously, "students
didn't get a big picture of engineering...they genuinely didn't
know why engineers took physics," says Jeffrey E. Froyd, academic
development director in the school's electrical engineering
Click here to view Leading CE Research Schools chart
Froyd credits curricula integration
for reducing student flight to other majors. But he admits
that at many schools, faculty feel under so much pressure
to obtain research funding and publish research results that
they decline to collaborate to create coordinated courses
in which underclassmen, for instance, conduct an experiment
in engineering with a ping- pong-ball-firing cannon, and turn
in an English assignment on the experiment.
But another innovation proved highly
successful, he points out: the clustering of groups of 96
freshmen into common sections of calculus, physics and foundations
of engineering. The move provides them with greater peer support
to keep women and minorities, in particular, from feeling
disengaged and failing or otherwise dropping out.
While use of part-time faculty
may narrowly skirt minimum standards set by the Accreditation
Board for Engineering and Technology, the body that accredits
engineering departments, schools see value in tapping their
"real world" experiences. "We have had excellent success with
the use of full-time practitioners as part-time instructors
for selected courses," says William R. Knocke, head of the
civil and environmental engineering department at Virginia
Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg. "We
have a CE alumnus who also has a law degree and is involved
in full-time civil engineering practice who teaches our senior-level
required course on professional and legal issues. I can't
think of a better background mix."
At Carnegie Mellon University,
instructor Larry Cartwright's CE class mission includes designing,
scheduling, model design, formal presentations and building.
"In the real world, it's a little tougher to predict and deal
with screw-ups," he says. "The course is as much learning
about failure as it is learning about success."
While fifth-year CE graduate student
Joan Gariano had used hand tools before, many of her classmates
in Cartwright's course had not. "Some of us had never even
used hammers," she says. Gariano took the course to buttress
her knowledge of construction, the field in which she plans
to work. "The class gives you the most practical knowledge
you can get in the three months you have," she says. "And
there's no experience like being able to apply what you've
learned. It makes you realize how complicated construction
Educators are hopeful that Baltimore-based
ABET's relatively new engineering accreditation standards
known as Engineering Criteria 2000 would focus more on learning
outcomes than technicalities. The standards, adopted two years
ago, were supposed to ensure that engineering graduates actually
came away with the skills promised them by respective programs.
But old accreditation practices die hard, say some participants,
including Jeffrey S. Russell, professor and chair of the construction
engineering and management program in the school's civil engineering
department, which was recently re-accredited.
Stephen D. Mefford, a Texas A&M
graduate last spring, seems satisfied with his CE undergraduate
education and was even set to continue with graduate school
in the discipline. But he plans a different route with his
technical education so far. "I probably won't do straight
design," says Mefford. "Management is probably for me."
Reform Effort's Mixed Reviews
sponsored experiment begun more than a decade ago to
reverse alarming trends in students avoiding engineering
careers will end next year. But educators and others
are already debating the success of the so-called Engineering
Education Coalitions program, which has cost $163 million
in federal dollars and at least as much in other matching
Nearly a third of all undergraduate
engineering students have participated in the program,
many unwittingly. The effort, launched by the National
Science Foundation in 1990, involved participation of
54 schools, including several of the 227 in the U.S.
with civil engineering programs. They sought not only
to attract and retain more students, particularly women
and minorities, but to teach them to handle engineering
ambiguity with more sophistication. Many created introductory
engineering courses with substantial design and team
activities to hook students early before they become
too discouraged or disengaged in traditional weed-out
courses such as calculus and chemistry.
Texas A&M, home to the
nation's largest engineering college with more than
7,600 undergraduates, including more than 880 CE undergrads,
began managing a lead role in the national experiment
in 1993. NSF's coalition schools adopted various experimental
approaches to engage undergrads and help them see the
The University of Florida
created a one-credit-hour engineering course to expose
small freshman groups to hands-on laboratory classes
in various engineering disciplines. Its CE department,
with 420 undergraduates in all, will introduce such
a course in fall 2003 to rotate sophomores through various
Even at the very selective
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, engineering undergrads
needed help in learning to work in teams on real-world
problems with multiple possible solutions, says Herbert
Einstein, professor of civil and environmental engineering.
Last year, MIT graduated its first class of CEs educated
with the new approach. But without more time to see
how they perform in careers, Einstein hesitates to say
whether they ended up better educated.
NSF officials credit the
engineering education experiment for helping emphasize
holistic and interdisciplinary learning and for encouraging
more computers in engineering classes. "In 1991, few
engineering faculty spent time thinking about how to
engage students in active learning," says Bruce M. Kramer,
director of NSF's division of engineering education
and centers. C. Roland Haden, Texas A&M's engineering
dean, credits the experiment for improving student retention
rates. But he anticipates that the "halo effect" will
wear off as faculty enthusiasm for the experiment wanes.
While supporters say
the effort has had a ripple effect on noncoalition schools,
critics say many have failed to spread around the intellectual
wealth. "In the eyes of the schools not a part of the
coalitions, it was a case of the 'haves' and 'have-nots,'"
says Norman D. Dennis, CE professor at the University
of Arkansas, a noncoalition school. Adds John M. Niedzwecki,
head of Texas A&M's CE department: "The coalition
stuff was an experiment. Some stuff catches on. Some
Program Teaches CE Teachers to Teach
Jo S. Daniel, a civil engineering professor at the
university of New Hampshire, Durham, carries a cowbell
into a small class of peers at the U.S. Military Academy
in West Point, N.Y., instructing one to ring it every
time she says "OK" during her mock lecture. It rang
Clad in shorts and T-shirt
on a hot July day, Daniel awaits the class verdict on
her performance in explaining and demonstrating the
rheological behavior of materials. Members debate the
educational value of her lecture habit, but Daniel is
toughest on herself. "It's unconscious for me," she
says. "But I need to make it conscious." Witness an
experience in role reversal, as 24 highly degreed civil
engineering professors are pressured, analyzed and even
humiliated for a week as they voluntarilyand even
eagerlyparticipate in a program run by the American
Society of Civil Engineers to improve their classroom
teaching and interpersonal skills.
The "Exceed" program began
in 1996 through the National Science Foundation but
has been funded by ASCE since 1998. "Each site training
costs ASCE $50,000, and that doesn't include staff costs,"
says Thomas A. Lennox, the group's senior managing director.
Initially run only by West Point's crack civil engineering
staff, it has since expanded off site. After a session
next month at the University of Northern Arizona, Exceed
will have 192 graduates, he says.
"We focus on basic teaching
skills," says Lt. Col. Stephen J. Ressler, head of the
West Point CE program. "Because participants are only
here a week, we can't afford a slow learning curve.
CE instructors must apply for the selective program
and be willing to prepare for and teach three mock classes."
ASCE Education Director James O'Brien says one participant
prepared until midnight the night before his class.
At the West Point session,
Ressler, the military academy's CE staff and civilian
specialists roamed among classes, supporting and critiquing
at the same time. Kristen Sanford Bernhardt, a CE professor
at Lafayette College, Easton, Pa., lamented her "time
management problem" in not being able to complete her
instruction. But, "my board work was pretty good," she
says. West Point's own staff is not exempt from review,
as Col. Allen Estes, CE division director, found out
in a critique from Janet Sanders, a corporate body language
consultant. "In engineering education today, there's
an implicit assumption that having a PhD qualifies someone
to teach," says Ressler. "But education is a discipline
that needs to be learned every bit as much as engineering."
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