Civil Engineering

What is civil engineering?

Civil engineering is the design, construction, and maintenance of the built environment. From the skyscrapers and sewage system of New York City, to the seaport, airports, and overpasses of Anchorage, Alaska, civil engineers have been responsible for creating the foundation—and walls, support beams, and just about everything else—of our modern infrastructure.

The American Society of Civil Engineers recognizes 9 sub-disciplines of civil engineering, including several that form the core of UAA’s Bachelor of Science degree.

bridgeStructural Engineering

This is probably what comes to mind when you think of civil engineers. Structural engineering is the analysis and design of buildings, bridges, and other structures that support heavy loads. It is perhaps the first type of engineering that existed, dating back to the pyramids and palaces of the ancient world.


Geotechnical Engineering

Tunnels, mines, foundations, and the risks associated with natural disasters like earthquakes and landslides are what make up the field of geotechnical engineering. By studying soil and rock mechanics, geotechnical engineers ensure that manmade structures are built on solid ground. 

Wind turbines at sunsetEnvironmental Engineering

This sub-discipline is all about creating conditions that fit the needs of human communities while also preserving the natural world. Environmental engineers analyze and design infrastructure that affects or is affected by soil quality, air quality, water quality, public health, and climate change.  

Water Resource Engineering

Water Resource Engineering

This sub-discipline, sometimes called hydraulic engineering, is all about supplying clean water to our homes and ensuring the safe disposal of wastewater when we’re done with it. Water resources engineers also develop flood plans, design coastal facilities like harbors, and assess the effects of erosion on our infrastructure.

Transportation Engineering

Transportation Engineering 

Transportation engineers concern themselves with the design, planning, and construction of facilities related to most modes of transit. Whether you’re traveling by road, by rail, by air, or by water, you can thank the practitioners of this sub-discipline for your safe and efficient passage.

What do civil engineers actually do?

In general, civil engineers work as part of a team in office environments, occasionally spending time at construction or field sites. Some common duties that you might find in a civil engineering job description include:

  • Analyzing and designing projects using engineering software
  • Writing cost reports, environmental reports, and regulatory reports
  • Submitting permit applications to the appropriate government agency
  • Overseeing or managing projects in the field
  • Presenting reports or findings to interested parties, such as clients or the public

What do civil engineers need to learn?

Like other engineering degrees, to complete a Bachelor of Science in civil engineering you need to learn advanced calculus, physics, statistics, and chemistry. Civil engineering students also need to learn about material properties, about project planning, and how to use several engineering computer programs, such as AutoCAD and MATLAB.

In the Department of Civil Engineering at UAA, you will follow a specific set of courses that are designed to teach you everything you need to know to pass civil engineering professional exams and to enter the job market as a competitive candidate.

How much do civil engineers make?

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics says the median annual wage for civil engineers is $86,640—which is more than double the national average. In Alaska, wages are even higher, with a median of over $120,000, according to the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

In the next 10 years, the need for civil engineers is expected to grow by 11%, which is 4% above the national average. Due to population increases and an aging infrastructure, the future for civil engineers looks very promising.