How do I Become an Environmental Engineer?

D. Jeffress
D. Jeffress
Scientist with beakers
Scientist with beakers

Environmental engineering is a broad field that ties in principles of civil engineering with environmental science and protection. Professionals design systems to manage wastewater, pollution, irrigation, and other factors that impact the surrounding land and wildlife. They also provide consulting services to businesses to help them make smart decisions regarding land development and construction. A person who wants to become an environmental engineer usually needs to earn at least a bachelor's degree in civil engineering, gain professional experience in internships or entry-level positions, and pass licensing exams. With the appropriate credentials, an individual can become an environmental engineer in one of many settings.

There are relatively few accredited colleges that offer environmental engineering degrees at the undergraduate level, so most prospective workers decide to pursue civil engineering majors and science minors. In a civil engineering program, an individual learns about the principles of blueprint design, surveying, and construction site management. Coursework in biology, chemistry, and environmental science is important to develop a strong understanding of how industry and construction affect ecosystems. An undergraduate who wants to become an environmental engineer might be able to obtain an internship with a local government or private research firm to gain practical experience.

Most future environmental engineers choose to enroll in graduate programs after earning their bachelor's degrees. A two- to three-year master's program can provide a student with the expert skills needed to become an environmental engineer. A standard environmental engineering curriculum includes courses in computer-aided drafting, chemical engineering, physics, ecology, and geology. Many schools require students to complete independent research projects regarding environmental issues or design hypothetical environmental management systems. After earning a degree, a graduate can take the first of a two-part licensing examination administered by a national governing board.

Newly licensed engineers can pursue entry-level opportunities at consulting firms, construction companies, and environmental protection organizations. Most new workers receive practical on-the-job training from experienced professionals. Junior engineers work under close supervision for several weeks or months, and gradually earn more responsibilities with ongoing experience.

After gaining about four years of experience and passing the second part of the exam, an individual can officially become an environmental engineer and start working unsupervised on important projects. With licensure, there are generally many opportunities for advancement. Some professionals become senior engineers, directing activity and overseeing the work of other employees. In addition, a successful engineer may be able to open his or her own firm in time.

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      Scientist with beakers