What is Civil & Environmental Engineering?

Like civilization? Thank civil and environmental engineers.

students and professor taking measurements in the field

Throughout modern history, civil and environmental engineers have always been at the forefront of the drive to improve our standard of living. They remain the central figures in the planning, design, and construction of many developments, large and small, that make modern life possible. Today's civil and environmental engineers address the biggest challenges facing society: ensuring clean air, safe drinking water and sanitation; addressing our changing environment; protecting the population from natural and man-made hazards; designing a sustainable infrastructure that serves everyone; reimagining human and commodity traffic for an automated future; and of course designing and constructing the world’s tallest buildings and most iconic bridges.

What we do:

Civil and environmental engineers plan, build, maintain and improve all the components of modern civilization. We address society’s greatest challenges to improve quality of life for people all over the world. A degree from CEE opens doors to endless and ever-expanding career opportunities. Because the world is always changing, so is the profession of civil and environmental engineering.

Civil and environmental engineers are responsible for the structures in which we live our lives. Our field includes experts in the soil, the foundation upon which – and in which – structures are built; designs that are functional, beautiful, strong, adaptable and resistant to earthquakes and other hazards; construction sites that are safe, efficient and utilize the latest technology; construction materials that get better all the time thanks to research advances; and much more.

All aspects of the transport of people and goods are affected by civil and environmental engineers. Thanks to the CEE profession, traffic systems of all kinds – road, air, rail and pedestrian -- are safer, more efficient and more cost-effective. There are many areas in which to make an impact – from the study of self-driving vehicles to the design of longer-lasting pavements to the improvement of public transit systems.

When natural and human-made disasters strike, we need our structures to be as strong as possible and our critical systems – such as water, food supply, electricity, communications and more – to be as reliable as possible. Civil and environmental engineers are always working to improve society’s resilience in the face of disasters.

Around the world, billions of people live without safe drinking water and sanitation systems that protect them from disease and safeguard the environment from pollution. Even in the developed world, there is a growing need for research and innovation in the treatment of drinking water and waste so that the environment and public health is protected. Civil and environmental engineers are working to improve access to, and the sustainability of, these basic human needs.

The concept of sustainability is an integral part of all civil and environmental engineering studies. With climate change, sustainability has taken on new significance, as scientists work to understand the far-ranging effects of a warmer climate. Civil and environmental engineers are at the forefront of that challenge, working to ensure the aspects of civilization upon which we all rely in the face of future uncertainties.

What will you learn at CEE?

For more than 150 years, CEE at Illinois has been educating the best engineers in the world. Our curriculum falls into six broad categories:

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Rigorous core courses will provide complete knowledge of the fundamentals of civil and environmental engineering.  


Big Data & Computational Skills

Coding, computational and modeling skills for design/decision-making are taught from freshman through senior years.


Experiential Learning

A focus on hands-on learning will lead to a deep understanding of real-life application of engineering concepts.



An emphasis on communication will prepare students for professions that take them from project sites to boardrooms.


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Critical Thinking

Our students learn how to arrive at a solution by thinking critically about a problem rather than simply memorizing a formula.


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By fostering innovation, leadership and entrepreneurship, the world of professional possibilities is wide open.


What area of study interests you most?

Interested in clean water and energy? Autonomous vehicles? Structural design? Railroads?
Explore specific areas of study within the CEE curriculum.

Areas of Specialization

Undergraduate Contacts

john popovics

Associate Head and Director of Undergraduate Studies
1116 Newmark Lab
(217) 244-0843

Becky Stillwell

Assistant Director of Undergraduate Programs
1102 Newmark Lab
(217) 333-3812

Greg Coughlin

Undergraduate Program Coordinator
1102 Newmark Lab
(217) 265-5539