Civil engineering returns as a major; College also adds major in environmental engineering

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Union will launch two new majors, in civil and environmental engineering, after the faculty recently voted convincingly to approve the plan.

The College will now register the majors with the New York State Department of Education and begin a national search for a chairperson for a new Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

The goal is to make the offerings available to students who matriculate at Union in fall 2023. They would be the first new majors created by the College since Chinese was elevated from a minor in 2012.

Students in front of a computer screen

The move to add the two new majors has been in the works for nearly four years. It aligns with a key goal of the College’s latest strategic plan, which aims for Union to “strengthen its vibrant community of learners, scholars and teachers, so that we can more fully blend the liberal arts and engineering, transcend disciplinary boundaries, bridge classroom and immersive experiences, and engage and embrace diverse experiences and perspectives.”

The introduction of the new majors followed the launch of a comprehensive initiative designed to strengthen the College’s engineering and computer science offerings. In identifying strengths and gaps in engineering, an ad hoc committee of faculty, administrators and alumni determined that restoring civil engineering as a major and adding environmental engineering would attract more top students to Union, particularly women interested in those fields.

One of the oldest and most popular engineering fields, civil engineering involves designing and creating roads, bridges, water systems, buildings and other constructions.

Currently, students can choose among four majors in engineering: biomedical, computer, electrical and mechanical.

“This marks a pivotal step forward in our Engineering and Computer Science Initiative, through which we are strengthening our offerings and growing the ways in which we are integrating these fields and the liberal arts,” said Michele Angrist, the Stephen J. and Diane K. Ciesinski Dean of the Faculty and Vice President for Academic Affairs.

Restoring civil engineering as a major may also appeal to alumni who were disappointed by the College’s decision in 2001 to eliminate the Civil Engineering Department to focus on Converging Technologies. This included bioengineering, nanotechnology, mechatronics and intelligent systems, and pervasive computing.

The push to add the two majors also corresponds with the recent creation of the Templeton Institute for Engineering and Computer Science, which aims to develop innovative coursework and co-curricular programming that integrates engineering and computer science with the liberal arts, offer students high-impact experiential opportunities and recruit and retain a diverse student body in these fields.

The institute, supported by a historic gift in 2020 of $51 million from 1980 graduates Rich and Mary Templeton, will transform engineering and the liberal arts at Union.

In addition to the institute, the gift will be used to recruit and retain women pursuing a degree in engineering or computer science, enhance the curriculum, support faculty and further develop spaces and facilities.

“The addition of these two majors to our outstanding engineering programs and environmental science, policy, and engineering program will provide more opportunities for students to address one of humanity’s grand challenges, the environment and sustainability in our cities and communities,” said Jennifer Currey, interim director of the Templeton Institute and chair of the civil and environmental engineering working group.

As the first liberal arts college to offer engineering in 1845, Union holds a distinctive place in higher education. Since 2008, the College has hosted an annual symposium on integrating a liberal education with engineering that attracts leaders from top schools and companies from across the country.