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3 Environmental Engineering Careers

Environmental Engineer stands in a swamp.

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Environmental engineering is an impactful civil engineering field that addresses the ways in which public infrastructure can protect vulnerable ecosystems, improve public health and safeguard natural resources. Environmental engineers are innovative thinkers who solve the big problems that are increasingly a major focus today. Some common challenges an environmental engineer may face include how to minimize air, water and soil pollution and how to protect people from the negative effects of industry.

Environmental engineering careers are as diverse as ecology concerns. Environmental engineers work on some of the modern world’s most complex engineering projects: They design new technologies; assess existing processes and structures; and implement new measures that prevent, control or repair environmental damage. These engineering professionals often work in waste and water treatment, air-quality assessment, site remediation, and pollution-control technology. Using varied skills in chemistry, biology, sustainability, hydrology, mathematics and design, they make infrastructure safe while maintaining its efficiency and benefit to all.

Celina Dozier, Ph.D., a lecturer in the Department of Civil, Environmental and Construction Engineering at the University of Central Florida, emphasized that environmental careers serve to benefit people’s well-being. “Though not traditionally thought of as a ‘caring profession,’ a career in the environmental field is like that of a nurse or social worker in that it involves the care of people — just in a different sense,” she said.

There are many environmental engineering career choices. Three careers that stand out for creating a lasting impact are environmental engineering technician, engineering manager and environmental engineer. These careers have unique demands, qualifications and responsibilities.

Environmental Engineering Technician

Environmental engineering technicians execute much of the work that comes with assessing a jobsite’s unique needs and preparing the site for an upcoming project. In this environmental engineering career, professionals frequently set up and monitor equipment, execute laboratory tests, document processes, and manage data. For civil engineers who don’t want to spend much time in the office, the environmental engineering technician position may be refreshing. These professionals get to use their technical and scientific knowledge in a real-world setting that frequently changes and that has direct ecological implications.

To become an environmental engineering technician, many begin their careers by pursuing a degree program such as a bachelor’s degree in environmental engineering from the University of Central Florida Online. These majors teach foundational skills in chemistry, biology and mathematics along with their applications — all necessary bodies of knowledge to bring to the jobsite as an environmental engineering technician.

In addition to a relevant educational background, environmental engineering technicians must have skills necessary for the job. For example, they should be comfortable working independently when necessary, have technical reading comprehension skills and have clear communication skills. In an environmental engineering career, it’s important to have a strong knowledge of local law and policy to ensure compliance and safety for all. This is an action-oriented position; to be successful requires the ability to thrive on constructive criticism, think creatively in the field, problem-solve, and continually learn and adapt to new circumstances.

The future looks promising for this position within the broader category of environmental engineering careers. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects decade-long (2016-26) double-digit growth: 13% versus the 6% national average for all occupations. There are also financial benefits to the position. Bureau wage data shows that the median annual pay for the position was about $50,560 in 2018; the pay varies by experience, education, project and geography.

As the professionals who carry out the plans that environmental engineers design, environmental engineering technicians are very important to the process of maintaining land, air, and water quality. As such, many in this position enjoy a sense of purpose and are excited working on projects in the field.

Engineering Manager

Strong leadership often determines an environmental engineering project’s success. It’s important to have engineers on staff who are capable of leading others as they work together on a project. Engineering managers fill this complex, multifaceted role. These professionals balance an engineering background that gives them a nuanced understanding of the task at hand with excellent communication skills that make them ideal for management.

The engineering manager is often responsible for hiring and supervising staff, setting budgets and timelines, overseeing research and development, authoring reports, and ensuring compliance with all applicable laws and regulations. They help mitigate risks and ensure the safety of those working on the project without compromising on efficiency. These problem-solvers are vital to moving projects forward.

Just as with many environmental engineering careers, engineering managers have a demanding role that requires dedication, vision and a commitment to improving environmental outcomes for the betterment of the people living in a community.

Most people start their engineering manager career by completing a four-year university degree, such as UCF Online’s environmental engineering program, in which they achieve a strong grasp on foundational concepts such as applied mathematics and engineering design. Many go on to earn a master’s degree in environmental engineering to receive in-depth training on more specialized topics.

A lot of responsibility comes with this particular role, and the pay is commensurate with the job’s demands. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, architectural and engineering managers earned a median annual salary of $140,750 in 2018. Glassdoor data at the time of writing estimated that engineering managers on the lowest end of the salary spectrum earned $77,000.

While pay and responsibilities can vary by project and location, what remains certain is that as liaisons between designers and builders, engineering managers play a key role in seeing projects to completion and ensuring that they have a lasting impact on all.

Environmental Engineer

With so much focus and renewed emphasis on sustainability at every level, environmental engineering careers are more important than ever. It’s the environmental engineer’s role to identify infrastructure problems and apply their skills to designing environmentally sound solutions. Using foundational principles learned from studying sciences such as biology and chemistry, environmental engineers research ecological problems —waste disposal, air pollution, water resources and water pollution — and then consider how to best mitigate their negative effects. They conceive of and design structures and tools that protect the earth and the health of those who might be adversely affected.

While minimizing the negative effects of industry on public health, environmental engineers also preserve the environment for future generations. This forward-looking career path is vital to creating sustainable communities and is increasingly in demand.

Those pursuing environmental engineer careers are passionate about making positive environmental changes and have a strong interest in science, mathematics and design. Typically, environmental engineers begin their careers at a four-year university. Studying biology, chemistry, advanced mathematics and technical disciplines such as computer-aided design (CAD) prepares them for the position’s demands. Internships often provide valuable insight into how they can apply what they learn on a daily basis. It’s increasingly common for environmental engineers to also pursue a master’s degree, such as UCF Online’s Master of Science in Environmental Engineering.

A desire to adapt to and adopt evolving best practices, as well as changing laws and technologies, is important for continued success. Additionally, many environmental engineers are creative, have advanced analytical skills, have an interest in problem-solving and have a passion for structural improvement, all of which can take time, so patience is helpful.

Environmental engineers play a vital role in shaping the look of built environments as well as our shared future by safeguarding resources and mitigating public-health crises. For their advanced application of scientific principles and direct influence on many aspects of life, environmental engineers earned a median annual salary of $87,620 in 2018, according to the bureau.

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“Whether one pursues a career as an environmental engineer, technician, or manager, the common thread is taking care of people as it relates to their interaction with the natural world,” Dozier said. “In order to survive, people must have abundant and clean sources of water, air, and soil. These professions ensure people have access to these needs in the present, while also utilizing and managing resources so that people will have access to them in the future.”

Regardless of which role you choose to pursue within the growing environmental science field, environmental engineering careers offer the potential to make lasting change on the world. Find out more about how UCF Online can empower you with the skills you need to create a sustainable future. Learn more about the Master of Science in Environmental Engineering programs and how they can springboard you into a meaningful career.