McKelvey School of Engineering introduces new Environmental Engineering major

| Senior News Editor

The McKelvey School of Engineering’s Department of Energy, Environmental & Chemical Engineering (EECE) now offers a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Engineering.

EECE previously only offered Environmental Engineering as a minor in addition to their current Chemical Engineering major programs and minors, which include Energy Engineering and Nanoscale Science & Engineering.

The first four-year cohort of students in the Environmental Engineering program will be the class of 2023, but current students can switch into the program.

“[For] a student who is finishing up their first year right now, it is very easy for them to move into [the Environmental Engineering major],” the Walter E. Browne Professor of Environmental Engineering Daniel Giammar said. “And then [the] class of 2021, so students finishing up their second years right now, it is also possible for them to do that. There may be a couple of additional courses that they would need to take, so with a slight overload in one or two semesters they could still do it.”

According to Chairman of the Department of Energy, Environmental & Chemical Engineering Pratim Bismas, EECE had several motivations to introduce the program.

“There are several faculty working in [Environmental Engineering] and doing cutting-edge research, [there’s] significant student interest – we have a minor currently in Environmental Engineering – and third, programs that are ranked nationally … rank Environmental and Chemical separately,” Biswas said.

“Another big motivation was the world actually needs environmental engineers. There are plenty of problems out there that environmental engineers are going to be well-qualified to go and solve,” Giammar said.

Giammar said that EECE had been thinking about offering a major in Environmental Engineering for about a decade, but the department needed the resources for it to happen.

“If we’re going to offer two degrees in one department, we have to have the people to teach all of those classes, so our numbers of tenured and tenure-track faculty have increased a little bit, Giammar said. “We’ve made some very good hires. We now have three full-time lecturers or teaching faculty who were recruited here because they’re outstanding instructors. Two of them are chemical engineers, [and] one of them is an environmental engineer. So with that group of people here now, we can robustly offer two degrees, not doing it on a shoestring, but really doing it and knowing that we have confidence to offer, year after a year, a strong curriculum in both Environmental Engineering and Chemical Engineering.”

In contrast to universities that group Environmental Engineering with Civil Engineering, Washington University’s Environmental Engineering program will have similarities to its Chemical Engineering program.

“As we were designing [the Environmental Engineering major], we talked about it sometime as a tree with a trunk and branches,” Giammar said. “So the trunk is the common curriculum between Environmental Engineering and Chemical Engineering. There’s a lot of overlap for the first two years of study, which is actually nice, so a student could keep options open for chemical or environmental in the department for about two years. And then, by needing to start taking certain courses in their third and fourth year, they would go off to do Environmental Engineering or Chemical Engineering.”

Bismas said the Environmental Engineering major will also include interdisciplinary training for students.

“While we are in the School of Engineering, we would have connections to Arts & Sciences of course, but also Social Work and Law and even Business, so pretty interdisciplinary,” Bismas said. “There would be some courses which would create teams of students in these areas … Sustainability Exchange is one example, Climate Change is another that we already offer, and these would become elements of the degree program”

Outside of the major program, students can engage in research and activities related to Environmental Engineering.

“We have a very robust research program in this department which is legitimately energy, environmental and chemical engineering. So students can get involved in environmental engineering research; they’re already doing that,” Giammar said. “There are different extracurriculars, or I would say professional societies, that we’re affiliated with, like the Water Environment Federation. We have a student chapter. It hasn’t been particularly active, but I think with an Environmental Engineering program we’ll have more students getting involved in that.”

Students will also have off-campus experiences through global programs and internship opportunities.

“We have a very strong international network through the McDonell Academy, a program called MAGEEP (McDonnell Academy Global Energy & Environment Partnership). There are 34 other universities,” Bismas said. “So we could give them an option of global, hands-on experience through one of our partners. Their faculty would take a group of students and expose them to some global challenge issue and maybe address it on the ground, so that’s another unique aspect… We would, of course, have ties to industries for internships in the summer, in addition to research internships with us.”

Sophomore Madison Larkin, an Environmental Engineering minor, said that the introduction of the Environmental Engineering major is a great addition to the School of Engineering.

“I think it is essential for the future of engineering to have such a major, and I’m excited to see the school opening out to bigger things,” Larkin said.

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