The civil engineering track will no longer be offered for students in the class of 2017 and beyond. Prior to this decision, Brown was one of four Ivy League schools to still offer a civil engineering program.
Engineering students declare their concentration and track sophomore year. Civil engineering currently consists of two paths – structural or environmental engineering. The number of civil engineer concentrators has been in the single digits in recent years, with eight listed concentrators in 2011, according to the Office of Institutional Research.
Shifting faculty research interests led to the decision to eliminate the track.
“A lot of the research has moved toward small scale – understanding material behavior at the scale of nanometers up through microns,” said Rod Clifton, professor of engineering and former engineering concentration adviser. “Faculty members don’t see as much research opportunity for things associated with building bridges, highways.”
“I was hoping it wouldn’t happen,” Clifton added. “It wasn’t clear that we were going to have the faculty it would take to supervise and do the teaching for the civil engineering program, so in that sense I could see it coming.”
The decision to remove the civil track was discussed with alums, students and faculty boards, including the College Curriculum Council.
“Faculty research interests have evolved, and, given the research interests of the faculty, we felt that it would be best to move the civil engineering concentrators into … two new areas,” said Larry Larson, dean of the school of engineering.
While the track itself will not be an option for undergraduates beginning with the class of 2017, civil engineering courses will still be offered for interested students, said Janet Blume, associate professor of engineering, engineering concentration adviser and associate dean of the faculty.
Within mechanical engineering, there will be a new Structural Mechanics track offered, and the environmental path will be integrated into the chemical and biochemical curriculum of engineering.
“Programs are sort of just being moved into other areas within engineering, so we’ll still accommodate students with those interests, just in a different way,” Blume said. “(Students will) have more flexibility in the ways that they meet concentration requirements, and potentially more research in the structures track and absolutely more research opportunities by looking at environmental issues through chemical engineering.”
Even though many of the courses will still be offered, the news, which was announced in an email from Larson Oct. 5, was met with uncertainty.
“I’m just confused, a little disconcerted,” said Deniz Ilgen ’13, who is concentrating in civil engineering. “I love civil engineering, and I think that it’s really important for students at Brown to be able to choose that if they want to as a career option. It’s not nice news to find out first thing in the morning that your major will no longer be offered at your school in the future.”
“There are kids whose first exposure to something engineering-like goes clear back to Lego,” Clifton said. “So the first thing we learn about is structures, and many of us early in life see that as fascinating.”
Clarification: An earlier version of this article stated that civil engineering structural courses will be subsumed under the mechanical engineering track, and the environmental path will be integrated into the chemical and biochemical curriculum of engineering for students in the class of 2017 and beyond. The article did not specify that these civil engineering courses will now fit within new and existing concentration track options. Within mechanical engineering, there will be a new Structural Mechanics track offered, according to Larry Larson, dean of the school of engineering, and Janet Blume, associate dean of the faculty. For students previously interested in the environmental track of civil engineering, students can concentrate in the already existing chemical and biochemical track, selecting its program options in Energy Production and Conversion or Environmental Issues and Pollution Prevention.