Top 5 Reasons to Celebrate Civil Engineering

By Disa Wahlstrand, PE, LEED AP

It’s National Engineers Week, which makes this a great time to celebrate all engineers. Engineers come in many specializations, from aerospace to software and everything in between. But the engineer with the greatest impact on the public good could well be the civil engineer – designer of water pipes and wastewater plants, toll roads and traffic signals, highways and helipads, parking lots and playgrounds.

Here are five of the best reasons to celebrate civil engineering this and every week.

1. We make water behave.

One of the unwritten rules of engineering is that water always wins. If you’ve ever experienced the devastation of a flood, you know that’s true. Civil engineers help keep water in its place – channeling and redirecting it when there’s too much of it, harnessing its power at a hydro facility to generate electricity. And we also bring water to homes and businesses, keep it clean, and conserve it for the future.

2. We give cars a place to go.

Civil engineers don’t design vehicles – but we design the highways and streets they travel, making sure they’re safe and efficient. Traffic and transportation specialists also account for the needs of pedestrians, bicyclists, and other users to create complete streets that fully serve their communities. Civil engineers also design bridges, parking lots, boat ramps, airport runways, overpasses and tunnels, train crossings, bus stops, traffic signals – you really can’t get there without a civil engineer.

3. We think about what lies beneath.

Civil engineers make sure underground pipes are ready to take clean water from reservoir to tap and wastewater from drain to treatment plant. Specialized subsurface utility engineers look out below to make sure new development doesn’t interfere with existing infrastructure.We work with our clients and contractors to keep essential services functioning when being rehabilitated or replaced. It’s hard to see a lot of our finished projects because there is a building or landscaping on top – but believe me, without the work going on underneath, the buildings on top wouldn’t function. Engineers also work to capture information about that underground infrastructure and combine it with GIS maps so those expensive assets can be managed and protected.

4. We thrive on solving problems.

Engineers like to make things work – and work better. If a flood takes out a bridge – or a water main – we help put the pieces back together. We make sure hurricane-impacted roads and bridges are safe to travel. We cut a months-long analysis schedule to two weeks so a major bridge can be repaired. Engineers are first responders to infrastructure disasters.

Engineers are also there for the planned projects that make communities better, working with our clients to hold the line on budgets and keep projects on schedule. We turn brownfields into parks. We design a detention pond to reduce future flooding. We make it easier to get around big cities like Jacksonville, Florida, and find a new and safer corridor for rural roads like CTH “LS” in Sheboygan County, Wisconsin.

We help fix what’s broken or outdated and offer innovative designs to meet the needs of future generations.

5. We make our world a better place to live.

The National Society of Professional Engineers Code of Ethics states: “Engineers shall hold paramount the safety, health, and welfare of the public.” We take this pledge seriously, committing ourselves to doing all our work honestly and honorably. It’s not easy to become a registered professional engineer. It takes a college degree, several years of on-the-job training, and passing a rigorous exam. That “PE” after an engineer’s name designates an individual you can trust to solve your infrastructure challenges with intelligence, integrity, and insight.

So we’re celebrating engineers this week, but we’re also celebrating the clients who bring us problems to solve and trust us with the welfare and well-being of their community or organization. Thank you for being part of the solution!

Disa Wahlstrand, PE, LEED AP, is vice president for engineering services, overseeing municipal and water resources groups in Ayres Associates’ Wisconsin offices. She became an engineer because she was drawn to the challenge and to the importance and variety of the work – and she also took her love of word problems as a sign that she must be an engineer.

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