Environmental Engineering New Major

Cokie Thompson

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Derek Williamson, director of the AERO program and an environmental engineering professor, has been involved throughout the process of instituting the new degrees. He said the college took course accreditation and model programs into account.

Although the department has just made the programs available, Williamson said many students have already expressed interest.

“By last year, the literature was out and the recruiting was going strong because all indications were that it was going to come through,” he said. “We got all those I’s dotted and T’s crossed and it hit DegreeWorks about two weeks ago.”

The civil engineering department houses degrees in civil, construction, environmental and architectural engineering. Williamson said the structure of the department allows students to find what they are interested in without getting stuck down one path.

The senior associate dean for administration in the College of Engineering, Kenneth Fridley, said although the two degrees are specialized, they also have breadth. Williamson said part of this breadth is prevalent during courses in students’ freshman and sophomore years.

“The real genius of that is that the first two years are identical for all four degrees because it comes of the base courses in civil engineering,” 
Williamson said.

Williamson said the blanket design is appearing more and more in various degree programs, where degrees are becoming increasingly more flexible.

“However, the absolute is you have to maintain accreditation,” he said. “You can’t just say ‘well we’re going to loosen up everything,’ nor would we want to because we are a profession.”

The University approved a double major in civil and construction engineering, and Williamson said he expects students will soon be able to combine the new degrees as well.

“As long as that degree plan is met, then there is not an issue with double majoring within the college, as long as the requirements of each degree are met in total,” he said.

Environmental, architectural and construction are subsets of civil engineering. Although many students often shy away from specialized majors when 
looking for a degree, Williamson said the specificity is not a detractor. He said the field of civil engineering is becoming more and more specialized 
and colleges must adapt.

The new programs use courses and instructors the college already has. Fridley said the new degrees are a repackaging of available offers.

Williamson said the degrees will help serve the state and national economies as well. The Board of Labor currently projects both degrees to have a 19-20 percent growth in the next several years.

In addition to meeting the needs of the field, the changes in the department meet various student needs and were chosen specifically for their recruitment value. Nationally, the two degrees have a broader appeal to female students. Fridley said the college discovered this factor after they had already decided to move forward with the project.

“Both of these programs are very strong for diversity,” he said. “Even now as students are changing their majors, we’re seeing that.”

Alex Seay, a freshman majoring in civil engineering, now has the opportunity to choose one of these specializations as a minor or change his major entirely without falling behind. He said the programs were pivotal in his decision to come to the University.

Seay said other universities had similar programs, but Alabama had the best combination of depth and environmental engineering specifically caught his eye. In addition to his interest in environmental studies, the concept of change influenced Seay’s 
perception of the University.

“It is good to see that a long standing university like Alabama is willing to change and add programs to improve the education of students,” he said. “With the constant advance in technology it is always important to expand the program to accommodate all of the new students, and also to appeal to 
perspective students.”

The four specializations within the civil engineering department lead to different careers, but Williamson said they meet similar needs of looking at society’s infrastructure. He said all engineering degrees are about problem solving and they allow students to go on to a variety of fields outside of engineering.

With the addition of these degrees, the civil engineering department will continue to grow and change with the field. In the meantime, Fridley said the 
college is sending students into the workforce prepared for the variety of challenges they will face.

“I think we produce a really strong graduate because of the appreciation they have of 
other engineers’ roles,” he said.