Leonor Valdez-Sanchez, the state’s first environmental engineering graduate, is enjoying life outside the classroom.
Just four months ago, Valdez-Sanchez graduated with a bachelor of science degree in environmental engineering from the University of Missouri-Rolla, home to Missouri’s first environmental engineering undergraduate degree program.
“We are not just engineers trying to develop solutions to protect the environment, we also develop solutions that can benefit society and protect us all." – Leonor Valdez-Sanchez
“What I loved about the UMR program was the variety of the different courses and emphasis areas you can chose from,” says Valdez-Sanchez, project engineer at Aquaterra Environmental Solutions in Jefferson City, Mo. “For example, I was able to take very interesting microbiology courses, geology courses and at the same time water and wastewater treatment courses.”
Such diversity in classes and research opportunities is possible because UMR’s environmental engineering faculty reside in many different departments. The faculty of the program consists of professors from civil, architectural and environmental engineering; geology and geophysics; geological and petroleum engineering; biological sciences; and chemical and biological engineering .
“It’s a very interdisciplinary degree, and I think it’s probably the most scientifically diverse amongst engineering degrees,” says Dr. Joel Burken, associate professor of civil, architectural and environmental engineering at UMR. “Being problem-solvers as engineers, defining the problem is the first step. If we don’t understand the science and the problem, there’s very little chance that we can come up with a good solution.”
The U.S. Department of Labor expects the employment of environmental engineers to increase much faster than the average for all occupations through 2014, citing a need for compliance with environmental regulations and methods of cleaning up existing hazards. “A shift in emphasis toward preventing problems rather than controlling those that already exist, as well as increasing public health concerns, also will spur demand for environmental engineers,” according to the department’s Occupational Outlook Handbook.
Learning how to balance humanity’s impact on the environment with the world’s growing engineering needs is key to the UMR degree program. “We are not just engineers trying to develop solutions to protect the environment, we also develop solutions that can benefit society and protect us all,” Valdez-Sanchez adds.
Fortune magazine agrees with Valdez-Sanchez. The magazine recently named environmental engineering as a “hot career for the next 10 years,” citing an increasingly health-conscious public who is eager to find engineers who can prevent environmental problems “rather than simply control those that already exist.”
About 30 students are currently enrolled in UMR’s environmental engineering undergraduate program.