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What is Engineering?

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Civil Engineers

Plan, design, construct and maintain structures as a civil engineer

Have you ever wondered who builds our buildings, roads, tunnels, bridges, airports, dams and reservoirs – even our sewage systems? Civil engineers, of course!

Civil engineering is a broad field that encompasses:

  • The planning, design, construction and maintenance of fixed structures, or public works, as they relate to earth, water or civilization and their processes
  • The altering of geography to suit human needs

Civil engineering: one of the oldest engineering fields

Think about ancient Rome. You’ve probably seen pictures of Rome’s magnificent architecture such as the Roman Colosseum and the Pantheon. But the Romans also were some of the earliest civil engineers. For example, the Romans:

  • Were some of the first to build roads throughout their empire; and
  • Built beautiful and functional aqueducts, a system of bridges and canals, used to redirect and bring water into cities.

Originally, there were only two fields of engineering: military and civil. All fields of engineering today have evolved from civil engineering.


There are several major specialties within civil engineering:

  • Construction and structural engineering – buildings, bridges and tunnels
  • Water resources – river control, irrigation, swamp draining, water supply and sewage disposal
  • Environmental engineering – preservation and cleanup
  • Transportation engineering – highway and railroad building and repair, and traffic control
  • Geotechnical engineering – earthworks: soil mechanics and foundations

Academic degrees and licensing

If you want to become a civil engineer in the United States, you must earn a four-year bachelor of science (BS) or bachelor of engineering (BEng) degree in civil engineering.

After graduating from college, you must become a licensed professional engineer (PE) to do any civil engineering work affecting the public, or to represent yourself legally as a civil engineer.