New Environmental Systems Engineering Major allows more freedom in course selection

May 11, 2015, 2:57 p.m.

The Environmental Systems Engineering major, which recently replaced the old Environmental Engineering major, will allow students to use engineering techniques to confront real-world issues while exercising increased freedom over course choices.

According to Steven Monismith, Professor and Chair of the Civil & Environmental Engineering Department, the old Environmental Engineering degree was ABET accredited. Such accreditation is necessary to call oneself an engineer in the state of California.

Unfortunately, in order to fulfill the accreditation requirements, the old degree had a very high number of required courses, something that Monismith says typical Stanford students find unappealing.

In addition, according to Monismith, following the accreditation process may be limiting to student exploration.

“The accreditation process … isn’t quite at the cutting edge of the field. Stanford students, being pretty smart, would like to do things that are at the cutting edge of the field,” said Monismith.

The department looked to recent changes by the computer science and electrical engineering departments. These departments have found an effective balance between the required set of core classes and specializations outside the core.

In an attempt to incorporate more cutting-edge learning and to allow for more specialization, the new environmental systems engineering major will not be ABET accredited.

Monismith notes however, that the degree still puts students years ahead in the process of earning ABET accreditation. In addition, the department will continue to offer a civil engineering major for those who specifically want ABET accreditation.

Three specialties are currently available for the environmental systems engineering major. Students may choose to focus on urban, freshwater or coastal environments.

Zaha Masri ’15 is pursuing the major with a focus on urban environments. Masri was initially enrolled in the old environmental engineering major, she says, but was required to take a number of classes that she was not interested in taking.

Masri appreciates the flexibility of the new major and the clarity of the different options available. When she heard about the new major, she was intrigued by the urban track.

“I feel like it combines all of these different interests in one, and you can be as specific as you want, but also if you don’t want to be too specific in one field — like for example if you don’t want to be too specific in solar — you can explore renewables … it gives you the options,” Masri said.

Monismith hopes that students who take the major will be able to confront modern-day problems, such as those surrounding water, as well as the rise of “mega-cities” which are responsible for a majority of the world’s carbon dioxide output.

“I hope it will get more students interested in environmental and urban issues, [and] trying to apply technology to it,” Monismith said.

According to Monismith, there are about 15 students currently enrolled in the new major. He estimates the department last year included about 40 students, twenty of which majored in environmental or civil engineering.


Contact Skylar Cohen at skylarc ‘at’

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