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Guide to Careers in Environmental Engineering

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How to Become an Environmental Engineer

Environmental engineers use basic engineering principles to ensure certain projects and processes are safe and environmentally sound. They might work in water or air pollution control, public health, waste disposal, and mining. Environmental engineering degrees with specialty tracks and subsequent professional certification offer targeted training in one’s area of interest.

Degrees, Certifications & Licensing

  • Minimum education requirement: A bachelor’s degree in environmental, civil, or general engineering from an accredited program that includes classroom, lab, and cooperative studies.
  • Popular professional certification(s): Licensed environmental engineers can pursue board certification from the American Academy of Environmental Engineers and Scientists (AAEES). Several organizations also offer specialized professional licenses in areas like environmental sustainability, environmental planning, and waste management. One can visit O*NET to review a more comprehensive listing of environmental engineering certifications.
  • Licensing: Most entry-level environmental engineering positions do not require licensure, but candidates may need Professional Engineer (PE) licenses to advance. Licensing candidates must hold accredited environmental engineering bachelor’s degrees; achieve a passing score on the lower-level Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam; and have a few years of work experience before they can sit for the PE exam.

Salary, Career Outlook & Resume-Builders

  • Median annual salary: $84,490 (May 2016)
  • Projected job growth: 12 percent between 2014 and 2024
  • States with the fastest expected career growth:
    • Colorado
    • Idaho
    • Nevada
  • Resume-boosters: Professional experience, certification, and PE licensure give candidates an edge in the job market, as do master’s degrees.

How to Become a Water (or Wastewater) Engineer

Water and wastewater engineers manage major water projects like potable water provisioning, flood damage prevention, and sewage disposal. Their work can be highly technical as they might be tasked with designing pumping stations or water treatment plants; overseeing environmental documentation; and ensuring regulatory compliance. Water and wastewater engineers also perform hydraulic modeling, conduct feasibility studies, complete field work, and analyze data. In some cases, environmental engineers create plans to prevent erosion, build bridges, or stabilize earth surrounding waterways.

Degrees & Certifications

  • Education requirement: Bachelor’s degree (or higher) in environmental engineering or a related field.
  • Popular professional certification(s): Certified Professional in Stormwater Quality from EnvironCert International.
  • Licensing: See entry for environmental engineers.

Salary, Career Outlook & Resume-Builders

  • Median annual salary: $84,980 (May 2016)
  • Projected job growth: 9 to 13 percent between 2014 and 2024
  • Resume-boosters: A master’s degree in environmental engineering, professional certifications, and skills in data analysis and computer-aided design.

How to Become a Marine Engineer

Marine engineers—also known as marine design engineers or marine mechanical engineers—can assume a variety of roles, from naval architecture and maintenance to internal systems design. Marine engineers with an environmental engineering background typically approach these tasks with a mind for safety and the protection of wildlife and the environment. They might, for example, design naval systems that use fewer resources and produce less pollution. Some environmental work in oil or alternative energy (i.e., offshore wind turbines and tidal power).

Degrees & Certifications

  • Minimum education requirement: Bachelor’s degree in environmental engineering, mechanical engineering, marine engineering, or marine systems.
  • Licensing: Some marine engineers must take an exam to earn the U.S. Merchant Mariner’s license from the U.S. Coast Guard. Professional engineering (PE) licenses are often necessary for advancement.

Salary, Career Outlook & Resume-Builders

  • Median annual salary: $93,350 (May 2016)
  • Projected job growth: 9 percent between 2014 and 2024
  • States with the fastest expected career growth:
    • Tennessee
    • Texas
    • Maryland
  • Resume-boosters: A relevant master’s degree, professional certifications, and knowledge or experience in traditional and alternative energy. Some employers value military service as well.

How to Become an Environmental Scientist

Environmental scientists use natural and engineering science to protect human health and the environment. In practical terms, these professionals lead efforts to clean up pollution; work to reduce waste and its effect on the environment; and inform industry and policymakers. Though some environmental scientists conduct regular fieldwork, most environmental scientists stick to laboratories and offices.

Degrees & Certifications

  • Minimum education requirement: Bachelor’s degree in environmental science, geoscience, or environmental engineering, though one may need a master’s degree to advance.
  • Popular professional certification(s): Certified Hazardous Materials Manager credential through the Institute of Hazardous Materials Management (IHMM)
  • Licensing: No current requirements

Salary, Career Outlook & Resume-Builders

  • Median annual salary: $68,910 (May 2016)
  • Projected job growth: 11 percent between 2014 and 2024
  • States with the fastest expected career growth:
    • Kentucky
    • Washington
    • Colorado
  • Resume-boosters: A relevant master’s or doctoral degree, professional certification, and field and regulatory experience. Candidates who hope to conduct research should consider earning doctoral degrees.

How to Become a Mining or Geological Engineer

Mining or geological engineers guide mining and other resource-extraction efforts to ensure safety and reduce waste. One might design or oversee the construction and inspection of mine shafts and tunnels, for instance. Mining engineers also conduct statistical analyses and create computer-aided design plans. Again, those with an environmental engineering background typically focus on the environmental impacts of these initiatives.

Degrees, Certifications & Licensing

  • Minimum education requirement: While a bachelor’s degree in mining or environmental engineering is the most common entry-level education requirement, employers increasingly prefer to hire candidates with master’s degrees. Environmental engineering graduates tend to focus on water or air pollution prevention and sustainability, ensuring mines are safe and environmentally sound. As such, they are often called mining safety engineers. Candidates searching for research positions usually need doctoral degrees.
  • Popular professional certification(s): Certified Mine Safety Professional from the Society of Mining, Metallurgy and Exploration
  • Licensing: Entry-level mining (safety) engineers need not be licensed, but employers may require Professional Engineer (PE) licenses for managerial and other advanced positions. Prerequisites for the PE exam include a bachelor’s degree (or higher) from an accredited environmental engineering program; achieving a passing score on the lower-level Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) Exam; and having at least four years of professional experience.

Salary, Career Outlook & Resume-Builders

  • Median annual salary: $93,720 (May 2016)
  • Projected job growth: 6 percent between 2014 and 2024
  • States with the fastest expected career growth:
    • Colorado
    • Florida
    • Washington
  • Resume-boosters: Many employers prefer to hire candidates with master’s degrees and relevant work experience, which can be obtained in the field and/or through college internships and co-op programs.

How to Become a Hydrologist

Hydrologists study water in all forms, including its movement in and across the earth and its impact on the environment, waterways, and groundwater stores. They may measure water levels; research or prevent water erosion and pollution; forecast water supplies; or design hydroelectric plants, water treatment facilities, and irrigation systems. Some hydrologists specialize in ground or surface water or focus more broadly on the conservation of waterways.

Degrees & Certifications

  • Minimum education requirement: A bachelor’s degree in environmental engineering, geoscience, earth science or hydrology, though employers increasingly prefer candidates with master’s degrees. Candidates seeking advanced research positions typically need a PhD.
  • Popular professional certification(s): Professional Hydrology Certification from the American Institute of Hydrology
  • Licensing: No current requirement

Salary, Career Outlook & Resume-Builders

  • Median annual salary: $80,480 (May 2016)
  • Projected job growth: 7 percent between 2014 and 2024
  • States with the fastest expected career growth:
    • Utah
    • Colorado
    • Washington
  • Resume-boosters: A relevant master’s or doctoral degree. Demand is expected to be especially high for hydrologists with experience in mining, water provisioning, and global climate monitoring.

How to Become a Geoscientist

Geoscientists study physical aspects of the Earth, including its internal composition, magnetic fields, gravitational forces, atmospheres, and oceans. While some specialize in areas like seismology or paleontology, many geoscientists focus on pollution, waste disposal, mining pollution, and other environmental threats.

Degrees, Certifications & Licensing

  • Minimum education requirement: A bachelor’s degree in geoscience, environmental engineering, or biology, so long as it includes courses in geology. Employers increasingly prefer candidates with master’s degrees. As in most careers, advanced research positions typically require a PhD.
  • Popular professional certification(s): Certified Coal Geologist, Certified Petroleum Geophysicist, and Certified Petroleum Geologist, all of which are offered by the American Association of Petroleum Geologists.
  • Licensing: Some, but not all, states require geoscientists to obtain licenses. Licensing requirements vary; prospective professionals are encouraged to research requirements specific to the state in which they intend to work.

Salary, Career Outlook & Resume-Builders

  • Median annual salary: $89,780 (May 2016)
  • Projected job growth: 10 percent between 2014 and 2024
  • States with the fastest expected career growth:
    • Colorado
    • Washington
    • Kentucky
  • Resume-boosters: Prospects are best for geoscientists with master’s degrees and experience in hydraulic fracturing, mining, and alternative energy.

How to Become an Environmental Engineering College Professor

Environmental engineering professors are tasked with preparing the next generation of professionals—a job that demands thorough and up-to-date knowledge of the field’s principles, technologies, and best practices. Instructors may work in classroom, laboratory, or research settings, depending on the subjects they teach. Experienced, full-time professors may eventually earn special job protections (i.e., tenure).

Degrees, Certifications & Licensing

  • Minimum education requirement: Most colleges require environmental engineering professors to hold a PhD in the field, though most community colleges only require a master’s degree.
  • Popular professional certification(s): Certified Coal Geologist, Certified Petroleum Geophysicist, and Certified Petroleum Geologist, all of which are offered by the aforementioned American Association of Petroleum Geologists.
  • Licensing: Postsecondary teachers need not be licensed or certified unless they are preparing students for positions that require them. Requirements in this case are set by colleges—not the government.

Salary, Career Outlook & Resume-Builders

  • Median annual salary: $97,530 (May 2016)
  • Projected job growth: 13 percent between 2014 and 2024
  • States with the fastest expected career growth:
    • Utah
    • Maryland
    • Arizona
  • Resume-boosters: Many colleges prefer to hire environmental engineering professors with work, field, and/or research experience. Colleges have also begun to hire more assistant professors in lieu of full-time tenure-track professors, giving candidates willing to work part-time an advantage in the job market.

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