July 2011 » Departments

Online master’s degree
Thanks to John Laskowski, city of Sycamore, Ill.; Andrew Barnebey, P.E., STEM Engineering Inc.; Craig Thompson; Ron Santini, CEP, Geosyntec Consultants; Madeleine Bodin, civil engineering student at University of Louisiana at Lafayette, and others for providing information about the following schools that offer online graduate degrees in civil engineering or related disciplines and were not included in the June 2011 CE News article, “Master’s degree: For here or to go?” Check out the article online (http://tinyurl.com/Online-Civil-Masters) for the complete — and growing — list.
Bob Drake

Columbia University

  • Master of Science, Civil Engineering — Concentration Areas: General and Construction Engineering and Management
  • Master of Science, Earth and Environmental Engineering

Illinois Institute of Technology

  • Master of Environmental Engineering

Iowa State University

  • Master of Science, Civil Engineering — Concentration Area: Construction Engineering and Management

Kansas State University

  • Master of Science, Civil Engineering

Missouri University of Science and Technology

  • Master of Science, Civil Engineering
  • Master of Science, Environmental Engineering
  • Master of Engineering, Geotechnics

Southern Methodist University

  • Master of Science, Civil Engineering
  • Master of Science, Environmental Science
  • Master of Science, Environmental Engineering

University of Colorado Denver

  • Master of Engineering, GIS

University of Idaho

  • Master of Engineering, Civil Engineering
  • Master of Science, Geological Engineering

University of Illinois

  • Master of Science, Civil Engineering — Concentration Areas: Construction Management and Transportation Engineering

University of South Carolina

  • Master of Science, Civil Engineering
  • Master of Engineering, Civil Engineering

University of Tennessee-Knoxville

  • Master of Science, Civil Engineering — Public Works Option
  • Master of Science, Environmental Engineering

University of Washington

  • Master in Construction Engineering
  • Master in Sustainable Transportation

University of Wisconsin-Platteville

  • Master of Science, Engineering — Concentration Area: Structural/Geotechnical Engineering

Worcester Polytechnic Institute

  • Master of Science, Environmental Engineering

Service opportunities
We would very much appreciate being listed [in the CE News CivilSource (March 2011)] with organizations that offer service opportunities. El Porvenir (www.elporvenir.org) is an international non-profit organization that assists people in rural communities in Nicaragua to improve their living standards through sustainable development in clean water, sanitation, reforestation, and health education. El Porvenir has 20 years of experience helping rural Nicaraguan communities build appropriate technology — wells, latrines, community washing stations, and fuel-efficient stoves — as well as providing communities with the tools they need to manage their water, sanitation, and forestry resources.
Jo Buescher

See the complete list of service opportunities at http://tinyurl.com/ServiceOpps. Are you involved with or aware of other national or international organizations that offer service opportunities for civil engineers? If so, please e-mail a brief description of the organization to Bob Drake, editor, at bdrake@zweigwhite.com.

Transportation and energy policies
Why do so many engineers think that challenging conventional wisdom and fighting for changes in energy, environmental, or transportation policies to solve real problems is forbidden political speech? This point of view is repeatedly expressed by engineers who express skepticism about climate change and mass transportation. Unfortunately, this perspective is naïve, at best. It reflects a failure to understand the role of government policy in defining the bounds of both the political and market economy (Adam Smith, 1776) as well as good engineering practice.

Far too many engineers think their civic responsibility ends when they do what their clients pay them to do. With respect to energy, transportation, and environmental issues, and subsequent economic (a.k.a. political) impacts, far too many engineers fail to think beyond the comfortable certainties of their direct experience and their spreadsheets. Many of my engineering friends place far too much emphasis on well-understood, but short-term, cost-benefit analysis when evaluating and commenting on government policy decisions that have significant, but uncertain, macroeconomic impacts.

Case in point are letters critical of editorials on high-speed rail and energy-climate policy. One writer claims that driving is cheaper and more convenient than riding a train and will always be so; another cites poor fiscal performance of Amtrak and opines that investment in rail will increase our $14 trillion national debt. Neither short-term analysis recognizes the fact that much of this debt is the direct result of government policy that subsidizes continued total dependency on “cheap” oil produced in the Middle East. Exhibit A is the unfunded $1 trillion current cost to the U.S. taxpayer of our military efforts to sustain the flow of “cheap” oil to global markets. Exhibit B is the $1 trillion to $2 trillion taxpayer liability over the next 10 years created by the consequences of the Iraq Occupation and our massive military presence in the Persian Gulf. Neither writer recognizes the fact that this oil subsidy is not reflected in the price of “cheap” motor fuels. Nor were these wars properly funded with tax increases.

It is a fact that an oligopoly controls the supply of the “cheap,” highly subsidized liquid petroleum-based motor fuels that makes it difficult for rail to compete with automobiles. Yet mere mention of incentives for “clean energy” raises shrieks of socialism from otherwise rational businessmen and engineers; “get government out of the way” or “let the market decide,” they say. Remember Adam Smith? Perhaps it is a failure of business and engineering education; do business and engineering economics courses cover basic principles of macroeconomics, let alone mention advanced concepts such as internalizing the external costs of pollution?

It is an inconvenient truth that American motorists are totally dependent on liquid petroleum-based motor fuels controlled by heavily subsidized oligopolies and that consumers do not pay the external costs of economic damages caused by this addiction.

It is irresponsible for engineers to make statements based on the assumption that Americans can afford to continue our total reliance on automobiles powered by petroleum-based motor fuels. Consider the facts:

  • political instability in oil-producing regions,
  • well-documented shortfall in recoverable North American oil reserves, and
  • traffic congestion on all urban roadways.

Too many engineers apply the same short-term thought process to the clean energy and climate debate. Exhibit C: Some of my engineer friends cite statistical analysis of atmospheric temperature data to explain that emissions of greenhouse gases from the combustion of fossil fuels are having no impact on Earth’s climate. At the same time, these engineers ignore 600,000 years of compelling physical evidence derived from ice and sediment cores that document three critical facts:

  1. increased levels of carbon in the upper atmosphere have been caused by fossil fuel combustion,
  2. the average temperature of the global oceans has increased significantly over the past 50 years, and
  3. the acidity of the global oceans has increased significantly over the past 50 years.

These increases have been caused by transfer of heat and carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to the oceans by well-understood processes. The impact is real and measureable.

Skeptics choose to ignore comprehensive studies that attempt to interpret all collected data through the application of fundamental laws of physics and thermodynamics in favor of anomalous data sets such as short-term temperature data from a single source. This data is then used to create uncertainty, which is then cited as “evidence” that observed phenomenon are “naturally” occurring events. While challenging uncertainties created by one data set is a necessary part of the scientific process — not to mention an interesting academic debate — engineers should not overlook the preponderance of the evidence.

Energy and climate policy should not be a short-term debate about cost and benefit, profit and loss for one energy source, one technology, or one industry; this debate should be about serving the greater good — the health, safety, and welfare of the public.

The “political” response of engineers to these issues will have a major impact on the lives of those who follow us. Short-term thinking is inappropriate; uncertainties in data sets are cause for caution, but uncertainties are not a basis of total rejection of fact and the laws of physics. Engineers respond to uncertainty by incorporating safety factors into their designs; they do not seek absolute certainty before accepting the challenge of building a bridge.

I am distressed that so many engineers fail to apply safety factors to their analysis of human actions that perturb climate — that many engineers fail to understand the fact that the probability of anthropogenic-induced climate chaos is real; climate chaos is not an abstract political debate about ideology or economics. The climate debate is about understanding and respecting the physics, thermodynamics, chemistry, and biology of the Earth’s oceans and atmosphere. It is about anticipating Earth’s response to the climate forcing actions of 6 billion intelligent people who are working hard to enjoy the same quality of life as Americans.

The impacts of climate chaos on human civilization or the relative merits of high-speed rail versus automobiles are not political issues. These are technical issues that demand that engineers consider all the facts and interpret those facts in accordance with the laws of science and the conservative principles of best engineering practice, not short-term profit and loss based on assumptions, religious beliefs, personal preference, or political ideology.
David E. Bruderly, P.E.

Facts of civil-engineering life
[John Bachner’s] May 2011 CE News article, “Facts of civil-engineering life” (“Facts”), is, from my perspective, written 40 years too late. “It may be ‘old news’ to well-run firms,” but had I seen the article, and had my engineering college counselors imparted an understanding, I would not have pursued a civil engineering degree or career. Despite awards for outstanding engineering student, my quality of life would have been better had I chosen to live on the dole. When I consider the events and finances of my life and that of some of my classmates in light of “Facts,” it leads me to the conclusion civil engineering is not a profession, but rather a luxury dependent upon having the capability to pay for professional liability insurance, being judgment proof, or both.

In times past, I do not think the situation was quite so bleak for civil engineers as that painted by “Facts.” Society had a different attitude, a different sense of responsibility and accountability, a different set of values, and definitely a lesser inclination to litigate. There was — at least it seemed — a sense and accompanying practice that professionalism and competition were mutually exclusive. That is no more. Instead, a young person contemplating or entering the civil engineering life must be capable, and very capable at that, of navigating between the facts. The paradox of this is that it brings people into civil engineering who are capable of navigating the facts, but who may not be as capable of practicing the discipline. On the other side, and to society’s detriment, those more capable in the practice may not necessarily be capable of navigating the facts. There are two kinds of thinking involved and few, being the humans that they are, have the capability to excel at both.

The ramifications for civil engineering and society are many. Thought and reflection are in order. Given a choice between rigorous studying four or five years to become a civil engineer subject to reduced compensation and the facts or entering the drug market with its quick and huge profits, why would a young person select the former? It is one thing to profess the ideal, but reality must be acknowledged. For those in the field who discover the facts, how many may decide the compensation is not commensurate with the risk and as a consequence depart? For those needing the services of a capable engineer, where will they find [them]? India? China? Perhaps the person selected, although calling himself or herself an engineer, is adept at navigating the facts, but is not capable of designing or managing a project. Too, hopefully the author realizes not everyone has the opportunity to work for or with a “well-run firm” and that the number of well-run firms is significantly less than the opposite — the classic idealism versus reality.

I would add one more fact to the list — a corollary to the first: Facts in court or in the defense process play a very small role, if at all, in the judgment process and even less in the “justice.” A plaintiff’s allegations, be they false or not at actual issue, will stand with the court, and the defendant — the civil engineer — must prove his innocence.

Thank you for presenting [the] article. I hope those contemplating entering the civil engineering field are presented with these facts so as to aid them in making wise career choices. Reaching to the lowest common denominator, within the context of society and engineering, “Facts” is a statement revealing the price of competition and dishonesty.
Maurice L. Schumann

Repurposing Midwest flood waters
I received my June issue of CE News [and] there on page 8 is your “Corps Conundrum” comment. ... Yearly, we watch helplessly as the Missouri, Mississippi, and Ohio River valleys and their tributaries display the enormous power of water by flooding, destroying lives and property. News reports today, May 31, are about people along the Missouri River valley packing up their possessions and moving to higher ground before the high water hits. We, as taxpayers, spend millions and billions of dollars every year doing clean up and re-building to see re-occurrences in following years. Rather than repeatedly spending money as a reaction to a common, destructive occurrence, [I suggest] we spend that money once as a proactive measure to significantly minimize that common occurrence through the repurposing of an existing infrastructure.

I understand the lower 48 states are crisscrossed with thousands of miles of abandoned, buried pipeline infrastructure. These abandoned pipelines provide pathways to pump and siphon flood waters from the above mentioned river valleys and other flood-prone areas to the arid, higher elevations in Western states for surface storage in facilities like Lake Mead, other river systems, and injection into aquifers.

[At] a time [when] we need to create employment opportunities, this project will create numerous operational jobs plus manufacturing jobs for supplies and repair parts. The system will, at least, require the following items:

  • Existing contract review to determine if this venture should be public-private cooperation, public-sector investment, private-sector investment, Corps of Engineers involvement, use of other existing public right of way (such as the Interstate system) for new primary or tributary pipes to create shortcuts, or use of existing grades for a more productive system
  • Pipeline inspection equipment manufacturing and use
  • Plastic liners to prevent the water from contacting residue materials previously carried by the pipeline
  • Repair of pipeline sections and pump station repair or construction
  • Creation of river valley reservoirs that may be used as water collection points as the “headwaters” for the pipeline system
  • Hydro power stations to retrieve some of the energy used to pump the water to higher elevations
  • Low-level operation during non-flood times to keep system in a good state of repair

These are some high points that would need to be considered to put this into working order. We could minimize yearly flooding and use that water to a benefit rather than creating a disaster.
Merlyn Nyght

In the June 2011 issue of CE News, the author information for the article, “Surveying old transportation assets,” was incorrect. The author, John Edwards, is a freelance writer in Gilbert, Ariz.

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