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BS Environmental Systems Engineering

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Environmental Systems Engineering Major

The Environmental Systems Engineering degree combines a technical engineering foundation with a broader vision of the political, social, and economic aspects of the challenges in the hands-on design of environmentally sustainable strategies, practices and infrastructure.

Climate change and population increase in the 21st century will impact urban environments in many different ways — water scarcity, global sea rise, more frequent and severe storms and hurricanes And the impacts of global warming and urban pollutant discharge/runoff on the ocean and its health are especially enormous — ocean acidification, desertification, destruction of coastal ecosystems. A major engineering challenge facing us is how to create and rebuild cities-of-the-future to be fully sustainable.

By 2050, 70% of the world’s population will live in urban areas — this represents an increase of 3.5 billion people over today. Already, in the continental U.S., counties adjacent to the coast account for 39% of the total population, even though they constitute less than 10% of the total land area.

The EnvSE degree is intended as a “launch pad” for 21st-century engineers. A systems approach to addressing the world's sustainability challenges is needed. Engineers with deep technical and analytical skills who can function effectively in a policy and decision-making world are essential. 

Students in the EnvSE major can choose to specialize in sustainable coastal systems, energy systems, freshwater systems, or urban systems:

  • Sustainable Coastal Systems focuses on the impacts of urban areas on coastal waters, and vice versa.  Topics include physical oceanography, sources and control strategies for coastal contaminants, and issues in coastal planning and policy.
  • Sustainable Energy Systems focuses on urban-scale energy challenges, ranging from optimization of renewable energy systems to the impacts of energy use on climate and urban air pollutants.
  • Sustainable Freshwater Systems focuses on incorporating sustainability into the design, management, and protection of water supply systems. Areas include water resources, water treatment processes, aquatic chemistry/biology, and design principles for urban waterways.
  • Sustainable Urban Systems focuses on sustainability in the constructed urban environment, ranging from building-scale to urban-scale issues. Considerations include sustainable construction practices, integration of energy and water supply systems, and urban planning.

How can students explore EnvSE as a major?

Students can easily explore the EnvSE major early on, via selected IntroSems which can count towards the major. In addition, the class “Introduction to Environmental Systems Engineering” (CEE 1), offers interested students an opportunity to explore the EnvSE major out in the real world. CEE 1 involves field trips for example to the San Francisco Transbay Terminal, the Ox Mountain landfill gas to energy facility, and the Palo Alto wastewater treatment and reclamation plant, with CEE faculty members serving as tour guides. A bike field trip follows an urban waterway to estuaries in the South Bay, allowing students to see, up close, the urban policy, planning, and flooding issues faced by our local cities.

What can graduates do with this degree?

EnvSE should appeal to students with a wide variety of career goals. Graduates can:

  • Focus on urban infrastructure design and renewal, as consulting engineers
  • Go on to graduate school, for example in civil and environmental engineering, or in scientific fields such as hydrology and oceanography
  • Work for NGOs and foundations focusing on solving environmental challenges (and perhaps ultimately go on to law or business school)

What’s the difference between this major and the Civil Engineering major?

  • Professional Considerations: The Civil Engineering B.S. degree is ABET-accredited, while the Environmental Systems Engineering major is not.
    • A degree accredited by ABET (Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology) is a first step toward a professional engineering license. In California, you must accrue 6 years of work experience under the supervision of a licensed professional engineer before being allowed to take the licensing exam. An ABET-accredited B.S. degree counts as 4 years of this required work experience. Earning a M.S. degree from a department (like our CEE Dept.) that offers an ABET-accredited B.S. degree will give you credit for a total of 5 years of work experience in California, regardless of whether or not your B.S. degree is ABET-accredited. This policy regarding the M.S. degree can be found in the official document issued by the California Board for Professional Engineers, Land Surveyors, and Geologists, titled “Board Rules and Regulations Relating to the Practices of Professional Engineering...” (PDF, see p. 20, item (b)(4) for policy, and p. 2, item (h) for definition of term).
    • If you envision a career providing, supervising, or managing professional engineering services (e.g., engineering design, investigations), you will likely need to become a licensed professional engineer and should aim, via your chosen B.S. and/or M.S. (coterm) degrees, to earn ABET credit for 4-5 years of work experience.
  • Pragmatic Considerations: The Civil Engineering major (116 units) provides a structured curriculum that ensures both depth and breadth across different areas specified by ABET. The Environmental Systems Engineering major (96 units) offers more flexibility in choosing courses while also providing an ability to focus on a specific topic area.

Requirements for the major are provided in the Handbook for Undergraduate Engineering Programs