Civil & Environmental Engineering

Every day, as you brush your teeth, drive to school or mail a package, you are benefiting from the work of civil engineers. Civil engineers design and build pipelines that bring fresh water to our homes and treatment plants that purify wastewater. They build roads, buildings, tunnels and bridges, railways, seaports and airports that carry people and products to destinations throughout the world. They even help make our communities more efficient and attractive. If these are the kinds of contributions you'd like to make to society, then WPI's Civil and Environmental Engineering Department is where you want to be.

For more than 130 years, WPI has prepared civil and environmental engineers to lead the way. Our innovative, project-based curriculum ensures that our students not only understand the theory of their discipline, but also can put that theory into practice through professional-level projects with real-world implications and applications. WPI is the only school in the nation that provides this unique educational experience.


There is substantial flexibility within the civil and environmental engineering major to pursue individual interests and goals. Students may specialize in a number of subdisciplines, including structural engineering, transportation engineering, geotechnical engineering, environmental and hydraulics engineering, urban and environmental planning, and construction management. They work closely with academic advisors to plan a major that's tailored to them--one that will provide many opportunities for exploration and for expanding their educational horizons.

They build a major on a solid foundation in mathematics, basic sciences (chemistry and physics), engineering science and design principles, and gain extensive laboratory experience. In a capstone design project, they bring a civil engineering design from concept to completion.

Civil and Environmental Engineering Subdisciplines

Structural engineering involves the analysis and design of buildings, bridges or other structures. Undergraduates who wish to prepare for careers in structural engineering or geotechnical engineering will complete in-depth studies in the mechanics of materials, structural analysis and design, computer applications, and engineering properties of construction materials.

Geotechnical engineering principles are applied to all of the other disciplines of civil engineering. Knowledge of the ability of buildings and highways to reliably transmit their loads to the soil or rock beneath them is crucial. Environmental engineers must consider the flow of groundwater and its potential contamination. Since all engineering works are constructed on or in the ground, a competent construction manager also would need to study aspects of geotechnical engineering.

Environmental engineering focuses on environmental quality control, groundwater hydrology and contamination, and contaminant transport. Environmental engineers are concerned about such areas as water-quality-control systems, wastewater collection and treatment, solid waste management, air pollution, and public health. WPI's program emphasizes water-quality aspects of environmental engineering.

Urban design is an important element of urban and regional planning, architecture, and landscape architecture and geography. At WPI, the principal emphasis of urban design is the spatial arrangement of neighborhoods, communities and regions, expressed through comprehensive site and development plans that show recommended land uses, as well as the preservation of open space.

Transportation engineering includes traffic engineering, highway materials, and safety and transportation structures. It involves a broad cross-section of activities that are united by the need to build safe systems to move people and goods. Transportation engineers design, build, maintain and operate a variety of transportation facilities such as highways, railroads, airports, shipping networks, and even pedestrian and bicycle facilities. Students may explore a wide range of important societal problems that fall within the broad scope of transportation engineering.

Construction engineering and project management is directed at individuals whose interests lie in the design engineering process and who are also concerned with the challenges of bringing a project to fruition. This multidisciplinary program equips students with a broad range of skills developed in a variety of courses outside civil engineering (including management, public policy, labor relations and information systems) that they will use to orchestrate and manage major civil engineering projects from start to finish, and to bring them in on time, on budget, and within all codes and regulatory requirements.

Combined B.S./M.S. Degree Program

While it is possible to enter the professional work force with a bachelor's degree in civil engineering, students may wish to consider integrating a B.S. with an M.S. WPI's five-year combined degree program is perfect for anyone with well-defined career objectives. Underraduate and graduate courses may be incorporated into a program--with potential savings in cost and time.


Project work is an important element of WPI's civil and environmental engineering program. CEE majors will work on projects in many of their courses, and will also complete a Major Project that is equivalent to three courses on a topic related to their subdiscipline of emphasis. A project might be part of a sponsored research program.

It might involve laboratory investigation or fieldwork. It might be sponsored by government agencies or a corporation.

Some recent project topics:


WPI's emphasis on hands-on learning ensures that all students spend a significant amount of their time in laboratories, where they can put what they've learned to the test and discover how and why things work. The Civil and Environmental Engineering Department maintains five specialized labs to meet students' needs; three computer labs in Kaven Hall are also available to CEE majors and other WPI students.

Asphalt Laboratory

This lab contains an asphalt pavement analyzer, extraction equipment to recover aggregates and cement from mixes, an ignition furnace to determine the asphalt content of mixes, equipment for preparing and testing hot-mix asphalt samples, and an oven for short- and long-term grading of asphalt.

Environmental Laboratory

This lab was designed primarily for standard water and wastewater analysis. It has testing capabilities for a full spectrum of physical, biological and chemical measurements.

Geotechnology Laboratory

This lab provides students and faculty with equipment and facilities to perform detailed soil tests and for dynamic loading of soils to determine their suitability for carrying the weight of buildings, bridges or roads.

Structural and Materials Laboratory

This lab is equipped with several hydraulic presses and a 30-metric-ton structural test frame, which are used in studies of material properties. Understanding the strengths and limitations of construction materials like concrete, asphalt, and fiber composite is critical to successful structural design.

Structural Mechanics Impact Laboratory

This lab is used to explore the behavior of materials and components in collisions. Equipment includes an Inston Instrument Test System (drop tower) and a Redlake high-speed video system. With a grant from the National Science Foundation, the SMIL is being augmented with new equipment, including a benchtop pendulum impact tester, gas-gun and impact plane, and two additional high-speed video cameras.


Professional career opportunities for civil engineers are varied and abundant. It is valuable to become a registered professional engineer as early in one's career as possible. The traditional route to the P.E. involves obtaining a degree from an accredited program; passing the Fundamentals of Engineering Examination (FEE); acquiring the professional-level engineering experience; and passing the professional engineers examination of the appropriate state licensing board. WPI helps students prepare for the FEE, which we recommend be taken in the senior year.

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Last modified: November 08, 2006 14:06:06