The Future of Environmental Engineering Education

Article excerpt

In the 1960s, direct financial support for graduate studies in environmental (then called sanitary) engineering in the United States was available from the Federal government. Some graduate students were able to obtain US Public Health Service Traineeships for support of graduate study. With external funding, students were somewhat freed from the constraints of pursuing research on a topic for which their advisors had obtained funds and were carrying out research.

As direct support for graduate students declined, students became more dependent on funding available from their professors through grants and contracts for research projects. For new Ph.D. engineers who switch roles from that of student to faculty member, the best opportunity for successfully obtaining external funding may be to write funding proposals based on their technical strengths. This would normally be in the form of some variation of research they had recently completed for their doctorate degree. This is logical, as prior research is an important part of the track record upon which they are dependant for future funding. In addition, the classes that ''newly minted'' professors are most qualified to teach are usually those related to their recently-completed research.

When funding sources pass through phases in which certain aspects of environmental engineering and science are emphasized, a logical consequence is the execution of a considerable volume of research related to specialized topics that were funded. It also follows that a number of new faculty will have strong backgrounds in those technical areas, and this may influence the curriculum in environmental engineering programs. Examples of the concentration of funding in the past are the areas of hazardous waste management and acid precipitation. Recently, great concern has arisen over the issue of climate change and global warming, and we are also starting to see more emphasis on research related to endocrine disruptors.

While the importance of the aforementioned environmental concerns should not be overlooked, overemphasis on current issues of the day to the exclusion of the fundamentals of environmental engineering has the potential to bring about adverse results. Environmental engineers need to have a strong background in the basic principles of the discipline, including the core areas of drinking water acquisition, treatment and distribution, as well as wastewater collection and treatment. These are fundamental activities necessary for urban and suburban areas, and additionally for rural locales where individual water supply and wastewater disposal are not environmentally feasible approaches. Thus, a balanced environmental engineering curriculum has been, and will continue to be, needed by engineers entering the profession.

An important initiative for the future of environmental engineering education in the United States took place when the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES) voted in September 2006 to modify its Model Law licensure requirements to require additional education for licensure, which was reported in an NCEES news release dated 25 September 2006 (http://www.ncees.org). The language approved at the 2006 Annual Business Meeting states, " ... an engineer intern with a bachelor's degree must have an additional 30 credits of acceptable upper-level undergraduate or graduate-level coursework from approved providers in order to be admitted to the Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE) examination." The effective date for this provision in the Model Law is 1 January 2015. Details of that which constitutes acceptable additional education still need to be worked out by NCEES. Based on language added to the Model Law definition of minimum satisfactory evidence that an applicant is qualified for licensure, a master's degree in engineering from an institution offering programs accredited by the Engineering Accreditation Commission of ABET, Inc. …