Environmental engineering shifts senior requirement


The environmental engineering major joined the rest of Yale’s engineering programs in officially offering its seniors the option to complete a team design project instead of individual research.

This spring, the design project seminar in chemical engineering expanded to include environmental issues, but only one environmental engineering major has enrolled in the course. Paul Van Tassel, chair of the Chemical and Environmental Engineering Department and professor for the course, said the course allows students to develop products as they would with an engineering firm, adding that he hopes it will grow more popular with environmental engineers in the future.

“The design component brings the course between academic and professional [work],” he said. “It’s great for them to be able to work with other majors and to have design experience. It’s going to be valuable for their careers.”

All engineering programs now offer either senior design seminars or opportunities to form a team under the guidance of a professor. After a series of lectures on the design process, the 13 members of the Van Tassel’s chemical and environmental engineering course will split into several groups with specific projects, such as research into alternative fuels.

Rawan Maki ’12, the only environmental engineering major in the class, said she enrolled because she thought the course would enable her to evaluate the “real-life” considerations of professional engineers.

“It would be useful for anybody thinking of environmental consulting, management and definitely engineering to understand the processes of design,” she said.

Dana Miller ’12, another environmental engineering major, is also pursuing a team project, though she is getting credit for an interdisciplinary design course in mechanical engineering that is not officially an option for environmental engineering majors.

Another motivation for expanding his course, Van Tassel said, was to further integrate the two fields of chemical and environmental engineering. Since its inception in 1998, the environmental engineering major at Yale has grown slowly, restricted by its faculty size of four, he said, adding that it has remained combined with the chemical engineering program to ensure it has sufficient resources.

William Hutchison ’12, a chemical engineering major in Van Tassel’s course, said he appreciates the greater emphasis on environmental issues in the design course.

“Teaching chemical engineers how to accomplish their goals while avoiding negative environmental impact as much as possible should be a priority now,” Hutchison said. “Chemical engineers are responsible for designing and creating plants that can have huge impacts on the environment.”

Maki said she has noticed that chemical and environmental engineering majors are becoming increasingly connected, calling environmental engineering a “chemistry-based, technical, design major.”

But Hutchison still sees a large separation between the majors. He said he found that even cross-listed courses often only focused on one of the fields.

“I haven’t really felt the combination of the two departments very much,” Hutchison said. “The two fields are fairly distinct, so I suppose it would be better if they were separate, but I can’t say it’s been bad that they are combined.”

Five students majored in environmental engineering last year, and three majored in engineering science with a focus on environmental engineering. The two majors merged this year.

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