What is civil, construction and environmental engineering?

What is Civil, Construction and Environmental Engineering?

Our department offers distinct undergraduate degrees in both civil and construction engineering. What’s the difference between these fields? View the video to the left, check out the publications below, or see our detailed descriptions of careers in civil or construction engineering to make an informed decision as to which major you wish to pursue. Your adventure in engineering starts at ISU CCEE!
Careers in civil engineering
Would you like to make the world safer and cleaner? Civil engineers make sure people have safe places to live and work. They provide clean drinking water and find ways to re-use garbage.

Civil engineering has four specialties:

  • Environmental/water resources engineers remove contaminants from water, reduce non-hazardous solid waste volumes, eliminate pollutants from the air and develop groundwater supplies.
  • Geotechnical/materials engineers develop projects below ground and determine ways to support structures on and in the ground. These engineers perfect mixtures for pavements and other structures by developing methods to stabilize soil conditions. Materials engineers develop concrete and pavement systems for construction and soil stabilization methods.
  • Structural engineers face the challenge of designing structures that can withstand gusting winds, extreme temperatures, hurricanes, earthquakes and other natural forces. They design structures for bridges, buildings, airplanes and more.
  • Transportation engineers determine ways to meet the increasing travel needs of people, goods and materials on land, air and water.

Environmental and Water Resources Engineers
Environmental engineers improve water quality, turn wastes to useful products, protect the environment and provide engineering solutions to environmental challenges.
With the world’s growing population and our limited natural resources, the work of environmental engineers is extremely important in ensuring sustainable development of resources, providing clean water for everyone and protecting the environment from pollution.

Geotechnical and Materials Engineers
Geotechnical and materials engineers investigate and plan support systems for buildings, bridges, dams and pavements and plan concrete and asphalt mixtures for use in construction. Because the ground supports civil engineering projects, almost all projects require some geotechnical engineering.
Geotechnical engineers investigate rock and soil at a project site and determine the most efficient way to support the desired structure. They plan and design foundation systems.

Materials engineers design Portland cement and asphaltic concrete mixes for construction and soil stabilization methods. They also monitor the quality of material mixes used for construction, study concrete deterioration/repair methods and design and analyze pavement systems.
Geotechnical and materials engineering requires a good background in mathematics, physics, chemistry, engineering mechanics and a strong fundamental knowledge of the behavior of materials subjected to various kinds of forces.

Structural Engineers
Structural engineers ensure that bridges, buildings and dams withstand natural and man-made forces, such as earthquakes, hurricanes and the weight of cars. They develop practical, economical, innovative and safe solutions to these complex issues, using advanced technology like mathematical modeling and computer simulation to support their design decisions. They also can design airplane structures.

Transportation Engineers
Transportation is a broad and growing field, giving transportation engineers many options. In the United States, transportation accounts for roughly 16 percent of the gross domestic product and 65 percent of all investments in public infrastructure. Plus, transportation is necessary for most economic and social activities.
Civil engineering graduates pursuing a career in transportation typically do one of the following:

  • Support the delivery of transportation infrastructure, operational improvements and transportation services by conducting special studies and research as a consultant to governmental agencies and the private sector
  • Plan, develop, operate and maintain transportation systems and services as a staff member for a local, state or regional government
  • Administer and consult on transportation programs and services delivered by state and local governments as an employee of a federal agency
  • Conduct special studies and provide education and training to students and existing transportation workers as a teacher or researcher at a university or trade organization
Careers in construction engineering
Construction engineers usually focus on a certain type of construction project. With a major in construction engineering, you will be prepared for work in any of the following types of projects.

  • Building: These construction engineers usually focus on commercial building construction—houses or business buildings.
  • Heavy/Highway: These construction engineers manage highway, bridge, airport, water and wastewater treatment plant projects. The work can be in remote locations. Much of the work is excavation and underground work so the curriculum emphasizes geology and soil mechanics.
  • Mechanical: You can manage the installation of heating, ventilation, air conditioning and plumbing systems. Many of the mechanical projects on buildings are construction projects in their own right. Mechanical contractors often do their own design on smaller projects.
  • Electrical: Electrical construction engineers manage the construction of electrical systems. You’ll take the same circuits courses as electrical engineers but also learn about the construction side of the business.

Construction Engineers Career Track Positions

Vice President/Operations Manager
Manages staff of senior project managers, project managers and superintendents. Responsible for financial profitability of construction operations. May be involved in marketing and business development and client relationships.

Senior Project Manager/Project Manager
Responsible for total project performance: cost budgets, project schedules, contract with clients, contracts with subcontractors, bidding and awarding subcontracts and purchase orders. Manages staff of superintendent, project engineers, office engineers, assistant project engineers, field engineers and support staff for each project.
A project manager is the main contact person with each client and the designers (architects and engineers). The project manager has overall responsibility for the project safety plan, profits, quality and schedule. Position leads typically to senior project manager, then to project executive and possibly to an officer position such as vice president or operations manager as a career develops.

A superintendent is responsible for day-to-day scheduling and supervision of all construction operations on the project. This person monitors quality of construction, enforcement of all safety policies and performance of subcontractors. The superintendent provides support to the project manager as required.

Project Engineer/Assistant Project Engineer
A project engineer is an entry-level position reporting to the project manager. This position assists the project manager and superintendent as required. Responsibilities increase with experience, starting with shop drawings, requests for information, document control and field operations support to the superintendent. Position typically involves a career track that includes construction cost estimating and construction site field engineering.

Careers in environmental engineering

Cutting-edge careers

Graduates of this program will be prepared to work in environmental engineering positions within the private and public (e.g., federal, military, state and community) sectors that deal with pollution and contamination in all aspects of the built and natural environment. Examples of this work include:

  • Analyzing and designing systems for water supply and distribution.
  • Collecting and processing waste.
  • Controlling air quality.
  • Recycling residuals.
  • Protecting public health.