College of Engineering News Room
BS in Environmental Engineering Launches
By Brad Stager
The University of South Florida College of Engineering is building on the success of its environmental engineering graduate program by offering a new Bachelor of Science in Environmental Engineering degree. The undergraduate program’s inaugural semester was in the Fall 2021.
Adding a degree program that directly addresses how engineers design and manage systems for the protection of human health and ecological systems is a tangible investment by the college’s leadership in its 2025 Strategic Plan and associated values, such as fulfilling a commitment to promoting access to clean water, meeting the skill needs of a green economy, and developing community partnerships.
“The environmental engineering program is a natural fit for the college because it aligns with our educational pillars of community partnership,” said Robert Bishop, professor and dean of the College of Engineering. “Engineering students also have a strong desire to help people and make the world a better place. The program is designed to prepare graduates for high demand, well-paying jobs that will create the infrastructure and policies to adapt to changing climate.”
The relationship between civil engineering and environmental engineering is a close one, since wherever infrastructure and people exist, the environment is affected. Students in the new BSEV major will focus on learning how to use the tools of engineering and science to ensure that when dealing with critical infrastructure, the health of the environment and associated communities are protected.
The graduate environmental engineering degree program at USF is recognized for its excellence, with US News & World Report ranking it 35th among all universities nationally and 21st in the country among public universities.
Those who have earned an advanced degree in environmental engineering at USF have found their knowledge and skills to be highly valued in the job market after graduating. The undergraduate program is expected to have similar success, according to James Mihelcic, a civil and environmental engineering professor and one of the College of Engineering faculty members who developed the BSEV program.
“Employers already clamor for students from our graduate environmental engineering programs,” Mihelcic said. “As a recognized leader in environmental engineering, it will serve our undergraduate population, the state of Florida, and employers to offer an undergraduate program of similar caliber to our nationally recognized graduate program.”
Mihelcic said that the program and related curriculum were developed collaboratively, with input from faculty of the College of Engineering and other departments and colleges at USF, as well as from the public and private sectors of the environmental engineering profession.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay for environmental engineers is $92,201 and those employed in the field will find working situations ranging from planning and designing projects in offices or online to monitoring them onsite in urban as well as natural environments.
Better access to clean water is one of the areas that the college’s graduate environmental engineering students have had significant impact, whether it is working with local public utilities throughout the Tampa Bay area to quench the thirst of a growing population or constructing basic water delivery systems for remote communities in other countries. Sarina Ergas is a professor in USF’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering who has been involved in many of the clean water projects undertaken beyond USF’s Tampa campus. She says the new degree will help ensure there are trained engineers to ensure the vital flow of water continues without interruption.
Rain gardens are shallow depressions that are planted with deep-rooted native and non-native adaptive plants and grasses. (Photo credit Hillsborough County)
“I work closely with water utility staff because of my research on local wastewater issues, my partnerships with utilities for capstone design class projects, and my involvement with local professional organizations, like FWEA (Florida Water Environment Association)," Ergas said. "The utilities are all seeking well-trained engineers with strong water and wastewater treatment and stormwater management design skills. A lot of this need is driven by an aging workforce, new environmental regulations and increased development."
There are also expectations that the new environmental engineering major will do more than just help fulfill a workforce need, according to Associate Dean for Academic Affairs Rasim Guldiken, who is also an associate professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering.
"The demand for USF Bachelor of Science degree in Environmental Engineering graduates is expected to be exceptionally high in the Tampa Bay region, the state of Florida, the U.S., and worldwide as projected by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics," Guldiken said. "With this new offering, we will further attract a diverse and progressive group of students and contribute significantly to continue to position our college as a destination of world-class accredited degrees."
Mihelcic likewise says the new major will help grow the engineering field in a meaningful way.
“Data from the American Society for Engineering Education show that the availability of a B.S. in Environmental Engineering program will make a STEM degree more accessible to several underrepresented groups, especially women, because environmental engineering programs typically attract a much higher percentage of women students (50.6%) than the average for bachelor’s degrees in engineering (21.9%)," he wrote in an email. "Furthermore, underrepresented minority students have been found to be motivated by degree programs that integrate human connections and sustainability, which underpins the emphasis areas of this proposed program."
Adding a new undergraduate degree like environmental engineering is appropriate for the College of Engineering which is located in a region where rapid development of natural resources is creating opportunities for young people already living here, as well as for new talent and technology attracted to the area, according to Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering Chair Manjriker Gunaratne.
Engineers work with communities by decreasing environmental burdens, increasing environmental benefits, and working alongside them to build healthy, sustainable and green communities. (Photo credit U.S. EPA)
"The availability of this higher educational opportunity in Tampa itself will attract more high school students in the Tampa Bay area to consider this specialty that enjoys a currently promising and growing job market," Gunaratne said. "Furthermore, the unique setting of Tampa Bay with a major body of water, ever growing industries and a diverse ecosystem interacting with each other brings special environmental challenges that arise consistently. Thus, the consequent need for rapid intervention with environmental technology can be met by an easily tapped local pool of graduates. This would be another favorable offshoot of the establishment of this new program at USF."
You can learn more about the University of South Florida College of Engineering’s new Bachelor of Science degree by visiting the environmental engineering program.