Chemical engineering at Yale is getting a green makeover.
Since the department was renamed “Department of Chemical and Environmental Engineering” last summer to include environmental engineering, its administrators have been working to further integrate the two programs and allow students more flexibility in their studies. An increasing number of universities have been doing the same, department chair Paul Van Tassel said, because of the programs’ relevance to the current environmental and energy issues.
In the Department of Chemical and Environmental Engineering, each program complements the other, with environmental engineering focusing more on molecular science while chemical engineering is more concerned with sustainability, Dean of the School of Engineering & Applied Science T. Kyle Vanderlick said.
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“The two disciplines are winding themselves around one another,” she said. “They will go much further than either of them alone.”
Undergraduates can major in either environmental or chemical engineering and are encouraged to take electives from the other program, Van Tassel said. He added that it is now possible for students majoring in chemical engineering to add a concentration in environmental engineering to their program of study for those interested in combining the two programs, though none of the students interviewed had heard about this opportunity.
The department had housed a small undergraduate environmental engineering program for about 12 years, but only a year ago did the program get big enough to consider officially incorporating it into the department name, Van Tassel said. There are currently about 50 students in the department, divided almost equally between the two majors.
But regardless of their major, students in the department will try both engineering disciplines especially since students majoring in environmental engineering said the courses overlap with base courses for the chemical engineering major.
Zach Belway ’13 is majoring in environmental engineering but taking many of chemical engineering electives. He said environmental engineering is like an applied version of chemical engineering that is based around solving important issues such as the energy crisis which is part of the reason why he decided to major in it.
Students in the environmental engineering major are able to take more classes outside of the field because the major has fewer required courses than the chemical engineering major, environmental engineering major Christian Ronzio ’11 said.
“In environmental engineering, I have more room to take policy classes, which I found attractive,” he said.
But chemical engineers are also taking advantage of the newly integrated department.
Jonathan Setiabrata ’13, a chemical engineering major, said he was not originally attracted to the environmental aspect of the major, but he said he now plans to take some environmental engineering courses during his time at Yale because of the department’s focus on an interdisciplinary education.
Although it is too soon to tell if the renaming will increase the number of students attracted to the department, Van Tassel said it will lead to increased visibility of both programs and potentially attract a wider range of Yale students who have an interest in engineering.
Van Tassel said one of his goals is to hire a faculty member for the department whose specializes in a hybrid of chemical and environmental engineering, instead of just one or the other.
“It’s still identifiable if you look at each person in the department who is more environmental and who is more chemical. It would be cool to have a person for whom you couldn’t really make the call,” he said.
The Department of Chemical Engineering was formed in 1926, according to the engineering school’s website.