The hottest engineering fields in upcoming years involve finding solutions
to environmental problems. Ecological engineers create and maintain sustainable
systems with the least impact on the environment.
Ecological engineers typically work on projects involving restoration,
conservation and reclamation, most commonly in land and water works, says
Margarete Kalin. She heads an ecological research firm.
This field is about getting environmental systems to the point where they
can sustain themselves without help from humans. Kalin's company, for instance,
has developed a process to deal with mine waste in an ecologically sustainable
People will be needed to respond to growing environmental concerns, agrees
engineer Bruce Campbell.
"The laws and regulations that govern environmental studies are continually
being refined and occasionally expanded," Campbell says. "Additionally, the
public involvement in complex public works projects is growing.
"This combination of trends ensures that the demand for environmental engineering
will continue to grow."
Campbell is managing a project to expand the Peace Bridge, which connects
Buffalo, New York, with Fort Erie, Ontario. Ecological engineers must determine
the impact of the construction on birds and other wildlife.
"On our project, ecological engineers are involved in the collection of
data regarding fish, birds, waterfowl, water quality, air quality, to name
a few," Campbell says.
"One example of work on our project involves the collection of a full year
of data on the flight patterns of birds in the project area. This involves
both resident species as well as migratory species.
"Once the data is gathered, it is then analyzed to examine the effect of
the proposed project on both the resident and migratory birds."
Erhard F. Joeres is a professor of environmental engineering at the University
of Wisconsin-Madison. He says until recent years, engineers were expected
to have only a solid foundation in math, chemistry and physics. Today, biology
is included in this mix of knowledge.
"Biology is becoming a central building block of engineering," Joeres says.
"For any engineering or ecology program, a strong emphasis on the physical
sciences as well as mathematics is important," Campbell says.
"Equally important are courses related to effective communication such
as speech and English. Extracurricular activities that emphasize science or
environmental stewardship will be helpful."
It's tough to find a specific university program in ecological engineering.
There are plenty of programs in environmental engineering, however.
You need at least a bachelor's degree to work as an ecological or environmental
engineer. For some disciplines, a master's or graduate degree is necessary
for promotion to higher levels, Campbell says.
At the University of California at Berkeley, the ecological engineering
program combines engineering and science. The school's website says ecological
engineering involves environmental chemistry, biology, ecology, fluid mechanics
"Many colleges offer a core curriculum for engineers that is then built
on for a specific discipline in the final two years," Campbell says. "This
gives prospective engineers time to learn more about specific disciplines
without having to retake classes."
"Study ecology and recycle, preserve energy and live in this fashion: not
to waste energy, not to create garbage, recycle," says Kalin.
"Truly use the three R's in your life."
American Ecological Engineering Society
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Sustainability-Focused Engineering Programs
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