The University’s Physics Department is not only preparing environmental engineers who are knowledgeable about sustainable design, but also teaching the non-science majors to be aware of how their way of living impacts the environment.

Interest in design among students is strong, as evidenced by a waiting list for “The Built World: How Humans Engineer Environments,” a course that teaches non-science majors how technology-driven societies meet the basic human needs of food, water, and shelter and introduces students to sustainable design.

How cities work

The course looks at cities and how they work. Students will study building design and operation, urban design, how water comes in and waste goes out, energy use, and transportation.

Sustainable design considers the life cycle of a product -- from raw materials to finished product to what happens after its usable life ends – and the impact that product has on the world around it.

Encouraging better citizenship

Introducing students to sustainable design will encourage them to better citizens and better decision-makers, according to Patricia Hogan, associate professor in the Physics Department and director of the Environmental Engineering program. “Most students are interested in solutions. The idea of environmental problems is depressing for students unless they feel they can do something.”

The “Built World” course, to be introduced in fall 2007, will enable students to investigate the concepts of sustainable design, and Hogan said that she was looking forward to hearing the ideas of the students, who tend to find new ways to look at issues.

Caring for planet Earth

“We live in a complex world, with a lot of interacting systems, and we have to be mindful of how they affect each other and how we affect other species,” said Hogan, who emphasized the notion of stewardship. “We have to care for the planet as scientists, students, and consumers.”

As director if the Environmental Engineering program, Hogan has brought bold ideas into the engineering curriculum, which is housed in the Physics Department. From freshman through senior year, students in the program are exposed to standard engineering courses, but also focus on environmental engineering.

Cutting-edge ideas

“They’re learning cutting-edge ideas about sustainable design throughout their major coursework,” she said. “Lots of schools have electives, but we’re making a concerted effort to integrate sustainability into the curriculum.”

Hogan is developing a green engineering course for seniors, which will be piloted in 2008.

All students in the Environmental Engineering program have moved on to jobs in environmental engineering or to graduate programs.

Environmental engineering is one of the disciplines projected to grow very quickly through 2014, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. “And it provides a good background for students who want to be involved in policy positions,” said Hogan.