Civil Engineering

What is a Civil Engineer?

Civil engineers are the primary designers and builders of a nation’s cities, transportation, supply and energy systems. They design and manage construction of large buildings, highways, bridges, foundations, railways, canals and locks, tunnels, airports, water supply and sewage systems, dams and power plants. Considered by many to be the oldest engineering discipline, civil engineering encompasses many specialties:

  • Construction
  • Environmental
  • Geotechnical
  • Structural
  • Transportation
  • Urban planning
  • Water Resources


Civil engineers often work jointly with architects, urban planners, economists, biologists, and geologists, applying the latest technology in computer-aided design, geographic information systems, construction, project scheduling, cost control and management, and simulation modeling.

Why Become a Civil Engineer?

Spurred by general population growth and an increased emphasis on infrastructure and security, more civil engineers will be needed to design and construct safe and higher capacity transportation, water supply and pollution control systems, and large buildings and building complexes. They also will be needed to repair or replace existing roads, bridges, and other public structures. In addition to those arising from job growth, openings will result from the need to replace civil engineers who transfer to other occupations or leave the labor force.

Results of a 2003 salary survey conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers indicated that bachelor’s degree candidates in civil engineering received starting offers averaging $41,669 a year, master’s degree candidates had offers averaging $47,245, and Ph.D. candidates were initially offered $69,079.

Our future as a nation will be closely tied to efficient design and use of space, energy, the environment, and our ability to interact with and compete in the global economy. Civil engineers perform a vital role in linking these themes and in improving the quality of life for the 21st century. There is no limit to the personal satisfaction gained from helping make our world a better place to live.

Who Hires Civil Engineers?

According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Outlook Handbook, civil engineers held about 228,000 jobs in 2002. More than 4 in 10 were employed by firms providing architectural, engineering, and related services, primarily developing designs for new construction projects. Almost one-third of the jobs were in federal, state, and local government agencies. The construction industry accounted for most of the remaining employment. About 15,000 civil engineers were selfemployed, many as consultants.

Civil engineers usually work near major industrial and commercial centers. Some projects are in remote areas or in foreign countries. In some jobs, civil engineers move from place to place to work on different projects. The spectrum of opportunities for a civil engineer range from work in an office setting, doing computer design or project management, to work outdoors, performing construction supervision and job site management. Many civil engineers become the CEO of engineering design and construction firms or open their own company.

Where are Our Alumni?

The following illustrates the diversity of careers that can evolve from a background in CEE.

Barry Thacker - President of GEO/Environmental Associates, Knoxville, TN and winner of the prestigious Hoover Medal in 2003.

Everett Cowan - President & COO of Gresham Smith and Partners, Nashville, TN

John Huber - President of Louisville Water Co., Louisville, KY

Civil and Environmental Engineering at Speed School

The civil and environmental engineering curriculum is an integrated five-year program, with a cooperative education component, culminating in a Master of Engineering degree. Both the Bachelor of Science and the Master of Engineering degree programs are accredited by the Engineering Accreditation Commission of ABET,

As freshmen and sophomores, students develop a solid foundation in engineering design and science principles along with a background in the arts, humanities, and social sciences. Courses include mathematics, physics, chemistry, field measurements, and materials testing. In the third and fourth years, theory and analytical skills are put to practical use during a series of design-oriented classes that emphasize open-ended problems. Three semesters of on-the-job learning through the Cooperative Education Program give students hands-on experience.

Research opportunities for upperclassmen and graduate students include projects such as improving aesthetics and reducing potential health hazards in local streams and rivers, assessing earthquake and flood hazards, preventing roadway collapses by detection of underground cavities, and uses for biosolids from wastewater treatment.

Through the student chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers students socialize with classmates and faculty, network with practicing civil engineers, tour industrial sites, and participate in regional professional meetings.

Department Highlights

Three research centers are part of the Civil and Environmental Engineering department. The centers develop partnerships between industry, government agencies and utilities to research, educate, and solve problems and issues in specific areas of civil and environmental engineering.

  • Center for Infrastructure Research
  • Center for Transportation Innovation
  • Institute for Stream Research
Additional Information

J. B. Speed School of Engineering
University of Louisville
Louisville, KY 40292

Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering
WS Speed Hall 101
University of Louisville
Phone: (502) 852-6276
Visit department website

Office of Admissions
Phone: (502) 852-4672