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Ecological Engineers Find Growing Opportunities

The hottest engineering fields in upcoming years involve finding solutions to environmental problems. Ecological engineers create and maintain sustainable systems with the least impact on the environment.

Ecological engineers typically work on projects involving restoration, conservation and reclamation, most commonly in land and water works, says Margarete Kalin. She heads an ecological research firm.

This field is about getting environmental systems to the point where they can sustain themselves without help from humans. Kalin's company, for instance, has developed a process to deal with mine waste in an ecologically sustainable way.

People will be needed to respond to growing environmental concerns, agrees engineer Bruce Campbell.

"The laws and regulations that govern environmental studies are continually being refined and occasionally expanded," Campbell says. "Additionally, the public involvement in complex public works projects is growing.

"This combination of trends ensures that the demand for environmental engineering will continue to grow."

Campbell is managing a project to expand the Peace Bridge, which connects Buffalo, New York, with Fort Erie, Ontario. Ecological engineers must determine the impact of the construction on birds and other wildlife.

"On our project, ecological engineers are involved in the collection of data regarding fish, birds, waterfowl, water quality, air quality, to name a few," Campbell says.

"One example of work on our project involves the collection of a full year of data on the flight patterns of birds in the project area. This involves both resident species as well as migratory species.

"Once the data is gathered, it is then analyzed to examine the effect of the proposed project on both the resident and migratory birds."

Erhard F. Joeres is a professor of environmental engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He says until recent years, engineers were expected to have only a solid foundation in math, chemistry and physics. Today, biology is included in this mix of knowledge.

"Biology is becoming a central building block of engineering," Joeres says.

"For any engineering or ecology program, a strong emphasis on the physical sciences as well as mathematics is important," Campbell says.

"Equally important are courses related to effective communication such as speech and English. Extracurricular activities that emphasize science or environmental stewardship will be helpful."

It's tough to find a specific university program in ecological engineering. There are plenty of programs in environmental engineering, however.

You need at least a bachelor's degree to work as an ecological or environmental engineer. For some disciplines, a master's or graduate degree is necessary for promotion to higher levels, Campbell says.

At the University of California at Berkeley, the ecological engineering program combines engineering and science. The school's website says ecological engineering involves environmental chemistry, biology, ecology, fluid mechanics and hydrology.

"Many colleges offer a core curriculum for engineers that is then built on for a specific discipline in the final two years," Campbell says. "This gives prospective engineers time to learn more about specific disciplines without having to retake classes."

"Study ecology and recycle, preserve energy and live in this fashion: not to waste energy, not to create garbage, recycle," says Kalin.

"Truly use the three R's in your life."


American Ecological Engineering Society
Find out how to sign up

Peace Bridge
Learn about this international crossing

Sustainability-Focused Engineering Programs
Learn more about ecological engineering program

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