College of Engineering establishes new major

College of Engineering establishes new major
R. Edward Beighley, a professor in the College of Engineering, is one of the co-authors of the proposal for the new major environmental engineering. / Photo by Riley Robinson

By Emily Sandstrom, news correspondent

Northeastern is now offering students the chance to obtain an undergraduate degree in a new field, environmental engineering, which was previously offered only as a concentration within the civil engineering program.

The major will be approved by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, or ABET, by Spring 2019. It is currently being offered to undergraduate students. ABET is the organization that accredits post secondary-education programs in applied and natural science.

R. Edward Beighley, a professor and associate chair for undergraduate studies in the College of Engineering, said the college has been discussing the transition from a concentration to a bachelor’s program for a long time.

“Talks about developing the environmental engineering major had been in conversation for about a year before proposals were being drawn up,” he said. “Then a more serious discussion started taking place about a year ago.”

Advocates for the transition like Beighley, who co-authored the proposal along with other colleagues in the department, recognized the high demand for the major.

“It has high demand relative to the other disciplines within civil engineering,” Beighley said. “Also, based on the recent hiring, we had the staff to make this possible.”

Environmental engineering will still be offered as a concentration within the civil engineering major. But the major will offer a more in-depth focus of the interconnectivity between the built and natural world beyond the scope of the civil engineering degree.

Beighley explained the difference between the curriculums for the concentration and major in greater detail.

“Civil engineering students study more detailed mechanics and structural analysis,” he said. “In the environmental program, we dropped those kinds of courses and now we’ve added an additional engineering chemistry and engineering microbiology and and an additional laboratory class that measures these types of things.”

Madeline DuBois, a third-year undergraduate student who is one of the first five environmental engineering majors at Northeastern, said she was eager for the new class offerings.

“This semester I am taking Engineering Ecology and Microbiology and also Climate Science Engineering Adaptation and Policy,” she said. “I was really excited about these classes being offered as these are my interests.”

Beighley said multiple committees looked at the proposal for the major before it began its approval process.

“The proposal had to be approved on a department level, college level and then university level,” he said. “We are all set up to be accredited. We just need one student to graduate with the major now to actually gain the ABET accreditation.”

There are currently five students expected to graduate as environmental engineering majors at Northeastern in Spring 2019; however, Russell Rakouskas, the first year & Civil Engineering Academic Advisor for the College of Engineering, said he expects the number of students enrolled in the program to significantly increase.

“I imagine it’s going to be a growing major, and we’ve seen a large amount of interest expressed so far, and particularly from our current civil engineering majors in my GE1000 introductory course,” Rakouskas  said.

Environmental engineering is not a particularly common major at universities in North America. Beighley said there are currently 67 environmental engineering courses offered in the country, compared to 247 civil engineering programs.

Despite the present lack of programs across the country, Rakouskas said he thinks Northeastern’s new environmental engineering major could serve as an example to other universities and help similar programs become more prominent.

“I could see other universities similar to Northeastern who, if they had the model to develop it into a major they would, because there is so much happening right now in terms of climate change, so it’s topical and relevant to them,” Rakouskas said.

In terms of Northeastern’s institutional values, Beighley said he thinks the field of environmental engineering is a great fit.

“When you think of the themes of Northeastern being sustainability, resilience, health and security for future generations, this program really supports the direction of the university,” he said.

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