Name: Brian Shell
Year: Class of 2012
Hometown: Aberdeen, NJ
Major: Environmental Engineering
WHAT’S YOUR MAJOR?
For this entry, I thought I’d talk about my major: Environmental Engineering. I feel very fortunate to be in the program here at Hopkins, which is absolutely one of the best in the country. Many people know of our strengths in other departments, but environmental engineering is not usually one of the programs that immediately come to mind.
So I thought first I’d try to dispel a couple myths about our major. A common reply after I tell someone my major is “Oh, that’s a good thing with the green revolution and all” or “So you want to save the planet?” What we do as environmental engineers isn’t really focused on the consumer green revolution, considering the Romans and ancient Harappans practiced environmental engineering. And saving the planet is quite a lofty goal – instead we focus on using engineering skills to develop technologies that will help solve environmental problems, one step at a time.
Now that you know a little about environmental engineering in general, let’s talk about some of the specific aspects of our department here at JHU:
- Environmentally-focused department Our department here is actually the Department of Geography and Environmental Engineering, affectionately referred to as DoGEE (pronounced just like our canine friends). At most other schools, environmental engineering is grouped with civil engineering. While I don’t have anything against civil engineers, grouping our department with the study of geography makes so much more sense than the department that focuses on roads, bridges, structures, etc. Our department still collaborates with faculty in the civil engineering department who are working in areas similar to ours. The benefit is that every member of our department has a clear environmental focus.
- Faculty to student ratioOur department has 19 faculty members, and only 42 undergraduates. Having a nearly 2:1 undergrad to faculty ratio means a lot of attention and plentiful research opportunities. (Here’s a picture of me in the lab last week!)
- Great peopleEveryone in our department is helpful and kind. When my Mom and I visited in the summer before my senior year, I had contacted Dr. Bouwer, now our department chair and my advisor, about seeing the department during our visit. Since he was out of town, we were warmly welcomed by several of Dr. Bouwer’s PhD students who gave us a guided tour of all of the facilities in the department. I am actually now working with one of those students in our lab. At several of the schools that I visited, professors did not even reply to my emails about visiting their departments. Nothing like that would happen here.
- Surrounding areaThe Chesapeake Bay area is a great place to study environmental engineering. The unique ecosystem presents research opportunities and a real-life example of what we study in our classes. Consequently, some of our classes involve field trips!
- Deeply rooted in historyOur department is full of history. Abel Wolman, considered the “Father of Sanitary Engineering” established the Department of Sanitary Engineering, our department’s predecessor, in 1937. He essentially figured out the modern process of drinking water chlorination, which has saved so many lives. Wolman Hall and Baltimore’s municipal building are named after him, in recognition of his many accomplishments. His son is actually a professor in our department today. Click on his picture to see a cool video about Abel Wolman.
- Well-knownSince our department has such diverse history, it is very well known among those in the environmental engineering field. Many of our graduates have started their own successful firms. I can only imagine that this will be a benefit to me once I am out in the field looking for a job. Also, as we know, rankings aren’t everything, but our department has been consistently ranked as one of the top in the country – I believe we are #3 for graduate students and #6 for undergrads in the latest set.
As I mentioned, our department has great research opportunities. When I met with my advisor this fall, I mentioned that I wanted to get involved with research. He suggested one of his PhD students. She is studying pharmaceuticals and personal care products (or as we call them, PPCPs) in wastewater. Just last week we were in the lab, and I got to observe and help her out with some analytic techniques. I really enjoyed being involved with research once again and am looking forward to continuing the work. The fact that I am involved with research after only being here for a couple months is quite remarkable.
The class requirements for our department have been carefully planned out so that we can have a lot of freedom of choice, while still getting an ABET-accredited engineering degree. For the first two years, most engineering majors are taking essentially the same core classes. Our department also has a couple specific classes for us to take during this time. In the later years, students choose one of four “focus areas” to become their concentration. These include Environmental Management & Economics, Environmental Engineering Science, Environmental Transport, and Environmental Health Engineering.
As far as classes in the department, I only have one under my belt thus far: Introduction to Environmental Engineering, taught by Professor Hedy Alavi. I have really enjoyed this course, and Hedy (he prefers we call him by his first name, because “otherwise he would have to call us all as Mr. and Ms.”) actually received an award from the Whiting School of Engineering’s alumni as one of the best professors in the engineering school a year or so ago. Next semester I am taking either two or three classes in the department: Current and Emerging Environmental Issues (which is essentially an environmental chemistry class), Introduction to Computation and Math Modeling, and possibly a new class on engineering ethics called Unraveling Error: Moral Explorations of Technology.
So the inevitable question is… “What are you going to do with this degree?” A recent report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated that from 2004 to 2014 the number of environmental engineering jobs will increase by a staggering 40.5%. While I am not sure what route my future studies and career may take, I am confident that having a degree in environmental engineering will leave many doors open for me. I know that I want my future career to involve research, and I am considering either a marine or environmental health engineering focus. But I am sure that this will change as I continue to experience all that our department has to offer.
I hope this entry has taught you a little more about environmental engineering here at Hopkins. Feel free to post questions for me on the message boards.
Click here to access more information about the Environmental Engineering Undergraduate Program of Study.
To further your exploration of this academic program and ask any question you may have of current students, be sure to visit the Hopkins Forums’ Academics: The Insider Perspective and the Environmental Engineering question thread.