A Day in the Life of a Civil Engineer

The construction of the Eiffel TowerBy: Mia Myklebust
 
As a high school student, it can be difficult to fully realize the huge number of professions there are in the world. Often your perception of the job world is dictated by the professions of parents, the other adults you know and what you see in the media. Because of this many kids grow up wanting to be a doctor, lawyer, firefighter or teacher; or else they want to follow in their parents’ career footsteps. However, the fact is there are thousands of jobs out there that you have probably never heard of, one of which could be a perfect fit for you.
 
A great way to broaden your horizons is to start researching different professions. This can make it easier to choose a major that could lead to a career you are truly passionate about. One great and often overlooked job is civil engineering. These men and women literally help shape the world around us. This type of engineering pertains to designing, constructing, and maintaining both the physical and natural environment. They are responsible for roads, bridges, dams, water and energy systems and buildings. Civil engineering is a great way to apply science to everyday life and make an important impact on your community.
 
To give you a taste for the topic we interviewed two civil engineering professors about why they love engineering and what engineers do on a day-to-day basis.
 
Professor Peter Mackenzie Ph.D.
Former University of Washington Professor
Current Professor at the United States Air Force Academy
 
1. What is the most rewarding part of being an engineer?
Designing and building new things/creating solutions that have a broad impact on society.
 
2. What do you do on a daily basis as an engineer?
Problem-solving, coordination of large-scale efforts, thinking and building solutions to real-world problems.
 
3. What are things high school students can do now to prepare them for a career in engineering?
MATH, physics, MATH, chemistry, MATH, general science courses, MATH, summer internships.  Did I mention math?
 
4. Do you have any advice for students trying to decide what branch of engineering to go into?
Visit University of Washington College of Engineering “Discovery Days” – no better event to get an overview of engineering disciplines.
Another great series of events are hosted by the Pacific Science Center (at times in collaboration with UW).
*Many colleges and community centers have similar events. Do some research online to find one near you!
 
5. What inspired you to become an engineer?
I started out doing pioneering with Boy Scouts.  I loved building bridges and towers.  Later I got excited with computer programming.  So many more exciting problems involving electrical circuits, chemistry, aerospace (everything applying physics principles) were exciting that it was very difficult to decide on a discipline.  I went for Civil Engineering and kept learning and experimenting in ME, AA, MSE, CSE, and Amath to keep a broader horizon.
I just started teaching for the US Air Force Academy where every engineering student has to take courses from all engineering disciplines – they realized my dream.  It may be hard, but you can make your education broader than just one discipline at any school – and UW has great programs in all engineering disciplines.
 
Professor William F. Cofer Ph.D., PE
Current Professor in the Washington State University Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering
 
1. What is the most rewarding part of being an engineer?
Designing something that is useful to society and seeing it built.
 
2. What do you do on a daily basis as an engineer?
As a professor, I teach, deal with students (undergraduate and graduate), manage the undergraduate program, write reports and proposals, etc.  As a practicing engineer, I worked on projects that involved designing and constructing offshore facilities, occasionally wrote software, occasionally performed experimental tests, often wrote reports and produced drawings, often managed budgets for projects and wrote proposals for new projects, often dealt with clients, occasionally went on job sites, and always worked with people.
 
3. What are things high school students can do now to prepare them for a career in engineering?
Take as much math and science as possible.
 
4. Do you have any advice for students trying to decide what branch of engineering to go into?
Go to a college that has a variety of engineering disciplines.  Choose one that you think you would like, but keep your eyes open to others.  Take every opportunity to talk to professors and practicing engineers.
 
5. What inspired you to become an engineer?
My dad was an engineer.  I thought he could do anything.

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