Civil Engineers Bridge the Gap

November 10, 2007
By Kate Davison, St. Clairsville, OH

Engineering may be a profession with a reputation for geeks and nerds but the truth is we could not survive with out them. Simple everyday necessities like running water, using the bathroom, walking down a road or driving over a bridge would not be possible with out the contributions of one of the oldest engineering disciplines, the civil engineer.

Civil engineers are creative problem solvers and they enjoy being challenged. They specialize in the design of roads, buildings, stadiums, airports, tunnels, dams, bridges, or water supply and sewage systems. In addition to their designs they are responsible for considering building costs and durability of a structure especially with regard to the weather and its overall lifespan. They typically work for cities, states, contractors, private practice, or as educators. Some work in administration and supervisory positions.

The profession of civil engineering is amazingly diversified with areas in construction management, geotechnical, public works, research, structural, transportation and water resources. Most civil engineers work a 40-hour week, but construction or consultant deadlines can require periods of overtime. Some engineers even have travel opportunities.

One of the most impressive structures created by civil engineers are bridges. Most of us have traveled across the Veterans Memorial (Weirton-Steubenville) Bridge, which spans from Steubenville, Ohio to Weirton, W.V. This bridge is unique because of its asymmetrical cable-stayed girder design. It took hundreds of civil engineers, 11 years, and $70 million to complete this one project. Ken Davison, P.E. worked construction for the W.V. Department of Highways at the time the bridge was being built. “I was one of many project engineers that worked on this bridge. I am proud to say that I spent over a decade of my career helping to build that incredible structure. During construction there were only three other bridges like it in United States,” stated Davison.

Do you think you have what it takes to be a civil engineer? A strong background in science and math would be a good start. Most engineers also possess qualities of being creative, curious, analytical and detail-oriented. It has also become increasingly necessary for engineers to have people skills. Because many civil engineers work more closely with the general public than other types of engineers, they must have the ability to think on their feet and keep cool in pressure situations. Having the ability to speak and write well and be able to communicate technical information to potential clients or the public is also helpful to the profession. Plan on at least 4-5 years of college, some of which will include hands-on projects, a personal favorite for students. Plan on earning your P.E. (Professional Engineer) license after graduation, required by most employers.

Many engineering schools offer co-op programs and summer internships while in college. “Take advantage of any experience that you can get before graduation,” says Davison. “Not only does it give you a chance to test drive the career but you’ll be more marketable because of the experience after graduation,” Davison commented.

Since few engineers create actual drawings by hand these days, computer skills especially knowledge of Computer Aided Drafting (CAD) is fundamental to design work. This does not replace sound engineering skills but rather enhances the engineer’s ability to be skillful with the design. Jay Wallace, P.E. a civil engineer has worked as a design engineer for the W.V. Department of Highways for well over 15 years. “I spend a big part of my day with CAD designing roadways, retaining walls, and drainage systems, ” says Wallace. “Then there are days I need to be in the field taking measurements, elevations and reviewing the proposed job site in order to design and draw an accurate set of plans. These plans are then bid on by state and local contractors,” stated Wallace. “I really enjoy this profession, every day is different. I can’t imagine doing anything else, Wallace commented.

To learn more about what civil engineers do consider talking to someone in the profession. “Consider shadowing an engineer for the day,” suggests Davison. “At least you would get a chance to ask questions and get a feel for the job responsibilities.”

Civil engineers will be able to enjoy job security for years to come with predictions of a 20 % increase needed by the year 2010. Most colleges boast of a 100% placement rate for their students. Although there can be a lot of variation salary surveys put the median annual salary for civil engineers at approximately $77,000.

Whether a civil engineering degree prepares you to be a design engineer, project manager or president of an engineering company, one thing is certain: civil engineers are the key to solving the problems of the 21st century by searching for better and less expensive ways to meet the challenges of the human race.

For more information on engineering careers contact the American Society for Engineering Education at 202-331-3500 or visit At a cost of $4 parents and high school students can also purchase an engineering guide at that highlights engineering opportunities.

Similar Articles


This article has 1 comment.

on Feb. 19 2012 at 12:27 am
StarAtreyu PLATINUM, Tucson, Arizona
20 articles 8 photos 11 comments

Favorite Quote:
I admire human beings for the wonderful and terrible things they really are.

I like this. However, I would like to know where you took that picture of the red-haired boy on the sled. It looks a lot like my boyfriend, Thomas, a few years back. I showed him and he said it looks like him when he was on vacation one year. Am I mistaken? Cause he swears it is. Please let me know.

Swoon Reads

Aspiring Writer? Take Our Online Course!