I think most folks have a pretty good idea of and an appreciation for what Structural Engineers do. Basically, we keep things standing. We make sure that the buildings and the homes that folks use will remain in the form intended.
The field extends beyond buildings. Watch the wings flex upward as your airliner leaves the runway. Most folks give it nary a thought as the wing deforms, by design, into the shape that will carry you and your travel brethren through the halls of air.
It is one of those things we tend to take for granted. I do – and I am one (“I are one” as the old poem goes). I crawl into the roller coaster and give not a thought to the possibility that the thing might fail. I mount the free standing stairs, or venture out over that glass overhang at the Grand Canyon, or the Golden Gate in San Francisco, the last thing on my mind is that it could fail.
Well, not exactly. I do have the faith but as an Engineer myself I must admit that I always look at the structure and try to figure out how they did it, what the likely problems were that were solved, and marvel.
Structural Engineers create drawings and specifications, perform calculations, review the work of other engineers, write reports and evaluations, and observe construction sites. They have a uniquely significant responsibility for protecting the public relative to the other design disciplines since so many safety issues ride upon their decisions. Structural engineers must ensure their designs satisfy given design criteria, predicated on safety.
The theories of Structural engineering are based upon physical laws and empirical knowledge of the structural performance of different types of materials. Knowledge and performance in the field depends upon a detailed knowledge of loads, physics and materials to understand and predict how structures support and resist self-weight and imposed loads. It depends on the knowledge of materials and their properties, in order to understand how different materials support and resist loads.
A structural engineer will typically have a four or five year undergraduate degree, followed by a minimum of three years of professional practice before being considered fully qualified. Many students who later become structural engineers major in civil, mechanical, or aerospace engineering degree programs, with emphasis in structural engineering. My own field of study was Engineering Science and Mechanics – which was in the aerospace department
Structural engineers are licensed or accredited by different societies and regulatory bodies around the world. Usually, just prior to or shortly after completing their bachelor’s degrees, engineering majors take an exam that, once passed, affords the test taker the designation of engineer-in-training (E.I.T.). To eventually obtain the PE designation (Professional Engineer) one must obtain a passing score on the NCEES Fundamentals of Engineering exam plus a passing score on 16 hours of structural engineering licensure examinations.
Structural engineering specialties for buildings include:
- Earthquake engineering
- Façade engineering
- Fire engineering
- Roof engineering
- Tower engineering
- Wind engineering
In one form or another the field has existed since humans first started to construct their own structures dating back to to 2700 BC when the step pyramid for Pharaoh Djoser was built by Imhotep, the first engineer in history known by name. If one looks at many of the ancient buildings, like St, Peter’s Cathedral in Rome, it becomes obvious that there was quite a bit of engineering know-how in those days. I’ve personally marveled at the dome and wondered how I would have solved the problems it posed to the builders of the time.
The above is mostly the technical side of structural engineering. Additionally, these can be combined with skills in architectural design and construction to achieve an excellent and valuable balance in a professional.
The profession is in demand in many areas where a PE seal is required on documents to obtain permits. Some folks are surprised that they need a sealed drawing just to permit a simple backyard shed.
All of us rely on engineers. It is a profession well worth considering if you are considering building a career. Like all other professions, it is not difficult, as long as one can confront the basic sciences and make sure he or she never passes a word that is misunderstood. Doing so is generally the first step towards failing at a subject. Folks I have helped in mathematics were not stupid, they had just been looking the other way when a basic concept was taught and missing that link they lost out and concluded that mathematics is difficult. Is is not – if one does not skip.
If you are looking do get into the profession, contact your state Engineering Society. They will be complete delighted to fill you in on the requirements and point you in the direction of a great and fulfilling field.
If you need specific advice, feel free to contact me.