Civil and Environmental Engineering

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Civil and Environmental Engineering, Rensselaer

Civil and environmental engineers are responsible for providing the world’s constructed facilities and the infrastructure on which modern civilization depends. These facilities can be large and complex and require that the engineer be broadly trained and able to deal with the latest technologies.  Both civil and environmental engineers work to ensure that the impact of these facilities on the environment is considered and minimized.

Civil and environmental engineers focus on the analysis, design, construction, maintenance, and operation of physical systems both large and small. To ensure the proper construction and care of these complex systems and environments, Rensselaer civil and environmental engineers develop a full range of skills in design, analysis, fabrication, communication, management, and teamwork. The current rebuilding of the world’s roads, bridges, water and sewer systems, and other physical facilities has heightened society’s awareness of the profession and given it added prominence. The growing panoply of sensors, instrumentation, intelligent facilities, and new materials is also highlighting the high-tech character of the discipline, creating new educational challenges and redefining the skill set that civil and environmental engineers need to succeed.

At Rensselaer, civil engineering has a long and distinguished history. In 1835, the Institute became the first U.S. school to issue a civil engineering degree. Among its graduates are William Gurley (1839) and Lewis E. Gurley (1845) partners in W&LE Gurley, Troy, N.Y., one of the first manufacturers of precision surveying instruments. Other world-renowned Rensselaer civil engineering graduates include:

  • Francis Collingwood, Jr. (1855), honored by civil engineering’s Collingwood Prize
  • Washington Roebling (1857), builder of the Brooklyn Bridge
  • Seijiro Hirai (1878), a president of the Imperial Railways, Japan
  • George Ferris (1881), designer of the Ferris wheel
  • Frank C. (1880) and Kenneth H. Osborn (1908), founders Osborn Engineering and designers of major-league, municipal, and collegiate stadiums producing many major league baseball stadiums, including  Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox, which celebrated its centenary in 2012 and is the last surviving example of Osborn era of sports stadia
  • Milton Brumer (1923), construction manager for the Verrazano Narrows Bridge
  • Werner Ammann (1928), former partner, Ammann and Whitney
  • Clay Bedford, Sr. (1925), general supervisor of the construction of the Bonneville and Grand Coulee Dams
  • Ralph Peck (1934), co-author with Karl Terzaghi of the internationally-known book Soil Mechanics in Engineering Practice
  • James Mitchell (1951), international soils mechanics expert

Today, Rensselaer civil and environmental engineers continue to be found at all levels in both private and public sectors throughout the world.

A long-standing tradition at Rensselaer is educational programs in environmental problem solving. An early contribution to this field was the water analysis work of William Pitt Mason (1874), the pioneer of such activities in the U.S. in the late 1800s. Edward J. Kilcawley, a Rensselaer civil engineering professor who introduced environmental engineering as an option in the mid-1940s and as a degree program in the mid-1950s, contributed visionary environmental engineering concepts.

In addition to those in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, there are faculty members with teaching and research interests in environmental problem solving in the Departments of Chemical Engineering, Chemistry, Earth and Environmental Sciences, and Mathematical Sciences.