Civil Engineers design and maintain buildings, roadways, bridges, tunnels, airports, dams, and more. The daily life of a Civil Engineer is full of variety. One day, a Civil Engineer may be putting together proposals, budgets, and plans on their computer. Other days, they may be wearing their hard hats at a work site!
Meet Emma, a Civil Engineering Student at Drexel University
Emma is a Civil Engineering student with a minor in Construction Management. She is in her last year at Drexel University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Her main focus is in Transportation Engineering.
What made you decide to study Civil Engineering? How did you first become interested in STEM?
I decided to go into Civil Engineering because my uncle was an engineer. I also loved science and math from a young age. I first became interested in STEM by joining the FIRST robotics team at my school and building a robot.
What are some really cool things that Civil Engineers get to work on?
Civil Engineers build some of the biggest buildings in the world like the Burj Kalifa in Dubai. They might design some of the longest roads in the world like the Pan-American Highway that goes all the way from Alaska to Argentina. Civil Engineers have designed the longest bridges in the world like the Danyang–Kunshan Grand Bridge in China. These are things that push the boundaries of what Engineering can do for us. Like all engineers, Civil Engineers make these things that seemed impossible into something real.
Can you describe a “day in your life” as a Civil Engineering student? What kinds of projects are you doing now?
I am currently working at an engineering firm called RK&K this summer. I have been working on widening roadways to fit more cars on the road so that less traffic is on the road. I am also working on creating new roads for trucks to get onto highways easier.
Another interesting project that I am working on is studying why people speed through construction zones and how to design a system that stops that driving behavior. Speeding through construction zones is very dangerous. It risks the driver, the construction workers, other drivers on the road, and the construction project. If we can understand why people speed and how to stop them from speeding, we can determine the best way to design the road and construction zone to keep people from speeding. That is the goal of this project.
What do you love most about Drexel and its Civil Engineering program?
Drexel University has an amazing engineering program! They give you tons of opportunities to learn and even get hands-on experiences in a lab as a freshman at Drexel. What I love most is the co-op program. This program is required by the university. If you were to participate in a similar program, you would work at a job in your field during your studies. During this time, the school helps you find a job!
Have you encountered challenges as a woman studying Civil Engineering? How did you overcome them?
I have definitely had some challenges as a woman studying engineering. The challenge of impostor syndrome is something that many women struggle with in their field. Impostor Syndrome means that you doubt yourself and compare yourself to others negatively.
One thing I did to overcome this was to work hard, get good grades, and most importantly focus on me! There will always be someone faster or smarter, and that is okay. As long as I do my best, that’s what matters.
Meet Lily, a Civil Engineering Student at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
Lily is a Civil Engineering student at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. She plans to graduate by May of 2023. She is studying structures, safety, and foundations.
What are some really cool things that Civil Engineers do?
How did you come to decide that Civil Engineering was the right career for you?
I didn’t know too much about Civil Engineering when I was young. I thought it was just about construction, but civil engineering includes much more. I first became involved in STEM through my science and math classes. I enjoyed learning about the planets and eventually about how to make robots! I learned a lot more about what engineering is during High School and more about my major when I came to college.
I really like seeing the impact Civil Engineers have on the things we see every day. I like that they help to make the buildings and roads safe in a community. Upon learning more about Civil Engineering, I was inspired to change majors to Civil Engineering.
What is your day like as a student studying Civil Engineering?
In the morning, I typically have a couple of lectures including structures and fluid dynamics. In the afternoon, I attend the labs for these classes which gives us hands-on experience. After my lab classes, I usually have a meeting with one of my clubs, including SWE, where we will plan out future events and projects. Last year I helped plan a 5K Fun Run for a charity! After my meetings, I will grab a snack and sit down to study or hang out with my friends.
During the school year, my days are really busy, but I try to find time to hang out with friends even if I am just walking to class!
What are your favorite things about your school and its Civil Engineering Program?
I really like that my program is small. It helps to make my larger school smaller. Smaller departments with fewer students allows you to build a strong relationship with your professors, so you are not just another face in the classroom.
I really like the location of my university, too. During my free time, I really enjoy exploring the surrounding city with my friends!
What kinds of challenges have you had to handle as a woman studying Civil Engineering? What did you do to get through it?
In one of my engineering labs, I was the only girl in the class. This can be very intimidating, but I didn’t let it get in my way. I was able to find a community in SWE. My SWE organization helped me to grow and find people with similar experiences. It connected me with friends.
Meet Jenna, a Civil Engineering Student at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
Jenna is a Civil Engineering student at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. She plans to graduate by May of 2023.
What inspired you to study Civil Engineering?
I don’t think I had ever heard of Civil Engineering until my sophomore year of High School. My High School physics teacher inspired me to become a Civil Engineer. Before teaching, my teacher used to be a Civil Engineer.
Can you tell us about any struggles you have had throughout your studies? How have you overcome them?
During Covid, things got to be overwhelming. Between virtual classes, research, working, and extra work for student organizations, it was all very stressful. I had to give up a few fun things for my own health. Becoming too stressed and tired to participate in things that I enjoy was really hard for me. I knew that continuing to do the things that were overwhelming me was not fair to me or anyone else. I had to learn that taking breaks when needed is really important.
Pushing yourself until you become fully burnt out eventually makes it hard to do the essential things too, like classwork, working, and your health. When you feel stressed, it is okay to take a step back and do what is best for you.
How does diversity benefit Civil Engineering?
Cultural diversity is a good thing in Civil Engineering. This is true in all disciplines in any workplace. Diversity of thought is what makes a good team. Engineers work closely on a project within a team and outside of their team to solve problems that affect people in different ways. Bringing people together with different perspectives can lead to a unique solution that would not be found by one person on their own, or the same group of people with the same backgrounds.
What do you like most about your university’s Civil Engineering program?
I love being a part of a small department in a large university. It means you get many opportunities for interdisciplinary learning. You also have a close-knit community directly related to your major. This mostly ensures you can pick and choose what kind of experience you want to get from your degree. The University of Michigan is very supportive towards students. There are many research opportunities, engineering design organizations, study groups, professional societies, and more.
What advice can you give our readers who might want to study Civil Engineering?
I would recommend shadowing an engineer if possible. It may be good to speak with alumni about their career paths after graduating. It can be easy to overlook what Civil Engineers do, and who they work for.The best way for anyone to decide whether Civil Engineering is for them is to hear the experiences and stories from real engineers.
This post was assembled by the FY22 SWENext Programs Publications Workgroup.