Category Archives: Civil Engineering

2017 National Engineers Week Educational Resources

An increasing number of STEM professionals have been flooding the market for the last decade, yet in the next ten years there will be a shortage of professionals in the field. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that from 2012 to 2022, STEM employment rates will grow by 13%, higher than the 11% projected growth across all other occupations. And yet by 2025, the U.S. will need approximately one million more professionals than it will have produced.

Engineers Week is one step towards a solution to this conundrum. The 66th Engineers Week, which started on February 19th, is being celebrated in schools across the nation. With new initiatives such as the Future Cities Project and Girl Day, Engineers Week aims to inspire the next generation of engineers who will help steer the U.S. as a global leader in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Below you will see a number of academic infographics that showcase how the future generation of engineers can impact the world.

From 7.4 billion in 2016 to 9.7 billion in 2050, the world's population will continue to grow over the next decade, and the brunt of the baby boom will be centered around developing countries. The problem is that these same regions do not have sufficient infrastructure to cope with the rapid growth.

The challenge to bring basic infrastructure to the developing world now falls on the shoulders of the next generations of engineers. By having a STEM expertise, it will not only put them in the forefront of science and technology, but it provide them with the skills to steer the world towards a better future. To learn more about engineering infrastructure for the developing world, check out the infographic below created by Norwich University’s Online Master in Civil Engineering program.

Infographic - Engineering

Technological advances in transportation and information technology have resulted in a global tourism boom in recent years. The good news: the economies of both leading and emerging destinations have been positively impacted. The bad news: the rise in coastal tourism is taking a toll on the environment. The silver lining: the continuing surge in global coastal tourism has indirectly caused more demand for environmental engineering professionals.

Indeed, the next generations of environmental engineers will have to propose and develop sustainable coastal tourism solutions that aren't focused on doing the tourists a favor — they're literally saving the planet, one tourist destination, coast, and reef at a time. To learn more about how engineers can help build sustainable coastal tourism, check out this infographic below created by Ohio University’s Online Master of Science in Civil Engineering program.

Infographic - Engineering the Coastlines

Modern communication technology is one of the most promising fields of the future. From homing pigeons to telegraphs to status updates, the advances in modern communication have supported the advance of civilization for ages. At the heart of it all, electrical engineers are solving the real world problems that allow these communication technologies to function and progress.

What's next for the electrical engineers of the future? Will virtual and augmented reality communication be commonplace? Will the Internet of Things take over?

Electrical engineering has never been as game-changing a field as it is today. To learn more about electrical engineering's impact on communication, check out this infographic created by the New Jersey Institute of Technology’s Masters in Electrical Engineering program.

Infographic - Communications

Roads, bridges, and other critical infrastructures are the hallmarks of modern civilization. The bridges of today are not only a testament to the cultural aesthetics and norms of the period, but also the technological prowess of society.

However many of our bridges are crumbling and scouring due to several causes. We need a new generation of engineers to not only preserve the architectural symbols of our culture, but also adopt a modern approach to the renovation of existing bridges and planning of new ones. These engineers are ensuring the safety of the people using the infrastructure today and a century from now. To learn more about engineering strategies that prevent bridge failure, checkout the infographic below created by the New Jersey Institute of Technology’s Master of Science in Civil Engineering Online program.

Infographic - Bridge Scour

– by Austin Anderson, Circa Interactive


3D Printing for Civil Engineers

3D Printer
3D printer
Lately I've been thinking our field might be missing out by not exploring the opportunities offered by 3D printing. Even though 3D printers have been around for many years, I haven't seen anything significant related to its use by agencies or firms in our field. I remember a 3D printer in use in a classroom at the college where I used to teach and that was at least 13 years ago. But that printer was used by the mechanical drafting students – not those in the civil technology field. So my partner and I have embarked on the goal of learning more about 3D printing and how the technology can be used in the civil engineering field.

Fortunately we found a learning program hosted by the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana which also happens to be our alma mater. The program is offered through Coursera and is a series of 5 courses leading to a specialization certificate in 3D printing. We began the first course right at the start of 2017 and are almost finished with the second one. So far the content has provided a good introduction to 3D printing and offered ideas about how it has been and could be used in many different fields.

Near the end of the second course, we were introduced to Josh Ajima, a teacher in Northern Virginia. In his presentation, he described how he created 3D representations of the earth's topography to visualize how different areas of a watershed relate. A description of his work with fabricating the Chesapeake Bay Watershed can be found in his article, "Design Challenge: Chesapeake Bay Watershed." Civil engineers can see right away how 3D printing an area's topography can lead to better understanding of watersheds, flooding impacts, material transport, and other related concepts.

Then, in our effort to learn more about the local 3D printing community, we attended a workshop at the Maker Lab in the Harold Washington Library in Chicago. There we saw a printout of the topography of the bottom of Lake Michigan. We were also introduced to the idea of using 3D printing to display data. An example of this type of use can be found on a 3D printing site called Thingiverse where the user anoved has uploaded a model of the United States to be used to visualize data sets for the states. A screenshot of anoved's Thingiverse page with the map is shown below. We can imagine an agency using this model for public education to show the amount of transportation funding spent by each state or the number of highway fatalities or miles of roadway.

Thingaverse Example of US 3D printed map with data

I'll continue to share our experiences with 3D printing as we learn more about the technology and increase our understanding of how it might fit into civil engineering. In the meantime, if you are interested in learning more, I'd encourage you to check out the classes on Coursera – they are free to take if you are not interested in earning a certificate for the specialization. You can also visit Maker Labs in your own areas – they are usually found in most larger cities, particularly in libraries. Also, if you know of any uses of 3D printing in our industry, we'd love to hear about them – just drop us an email, comment below, or reach out to us on social media.


Mapping the Accessible Path

Access map screenshot showing sidewalk steepness at 0.5%The Data Science for Social Good (DSSG) team, a group out of the University of Washington, has been involved in an effort to improve mapping of the pedestrian way. By making use of the work from the OpenSidewalks project, they created AccessMap – a trip planning tool for people with limited mobility. With this tool, people can find the most accessible path through a network of sidewalks connected by curb ramps and street crossings.

At this time, the tool has only been implemented in Seattle, but the group plans to expand to other locations. The data used for the project is a compilation of the following elements with sources noted:

  • Base map – OpenStreetMap (OSM)
  • Sidewalks and curb ramps – Seattle Department of Transportation
  • Street crossings – DSSG Team
  • Elevations – National Elevation Dataset, USGS

When a user clicks a sidewalk segment, the steepness or grade is displayed. The screenshot of the map above shows a sidewalk segment along 1st Avenue between Madison and Spring streets at a 0.5% grade. Sidewalk segments are also colored coded to indicate the grade with red exceeding the required 5%, yellow just below the requirement, and green meeting the requirement. Clicking a street crossing or crosswalk displays the steepness or running grade along with a "Yes" or "No" to indicate whether or not curb ramps are at the corners.

To plan a route using the map, the user types in their origin and destination in a manner similar to how other mapping programs work. The difference is that Accessmap has a drop down tool for the user to designate a limit for maximum uphill and downhill grade and the need to avoid construction and require curb ramps. Different mobility assisted devices such as wheelchairs or canes can also be designated. Below is an example of a planned route.

Planned route example on accessmap


Gamifying and Crowdsourcing ADA Inspections

The Makeability Lab at the University of Maryland is on a mission to "collect street-level accessibility information from every street in the world and enable design and development of a novel set of location-based technologies for accessibility." In order to achieve this goal, they set up an interactive website where people can inspect, identify, and label accessibility issues along sidewalks and at curb ramps.

The accessibility issues generated by this site are fairly basic, but would still be very helpful to cities interested in quickly and easily identifying issues. Currently the site is focused on auditing infrastructure in the Washington, D.C. area.

The group also plans to use the inspection data collected to "create new types of map-based accessibility tools, such as AccessScore, an interactive map of a city's accessibility, and RouteAssist, personalized routing algorithms based on a user's reported mobility level."

In addition, they are using the labels people assign to issues to develop algorithms to allow the computer to automatically find accessibility issues in the future.

So far 218 people have inspected almost 400 miles or 37% of Washington, D.C. If you are interested in volunteering your efforts, you can visit their website at and click on the "Participate" button.

Project Sidewalk Participate Screen

 Before beginning, you'll be offered a quick tutorial. You can also create an account to track your contributions. Here are a few screenshots taken while I inspected about a half mile of sidewalk in the Bellevue neighborhood of Washington, D.C. The first shows a section of heaved and cracked sidewalk I labeled as a surface problem. You can see I was able to choose this option from the group of issue icons located above the street-view image.

Project Sidewalk Surface Problem

When you place an icon on the image, a box pops up as shown in the screenshot below to allow you to choose the severity of the problem. The site gives some guidance on this, but there is still a lot of judgment in assigning a rating. Initially I wasn't going to give this specific problem the worst rating, but then decided the slope looks severe enough I don't think a wheelchair would safely navigate across the heaved section. Below the rating, there is a space for a more detailed description of the problem.

Project Sidewalk Surface Problem Rating

The screen also shows which neighborhood I am in, where I am at on the street, how many miles I have audited and labels I have placed. As you complete assigned sections, the site summarizes your progress as shown below:

Project Sidewalk Mission Summary

Finally, you can view your dashboard to see your overall contribution to the site. Below is my current status after only working on it for a short time:

Project Sidewalk Dashboard

As you can see on my dashboard, the locations of the problems I found are displayed on a map. A zoomed in view of this is shown below. I was not sure if there was a way to see everyone's contributions, but if so, this would be very helpful to a city engineering or public works department in managing their sidewalk or street repair program. It would also be helpful if the data could be extracted from a given area so it could be overlaid in a city's GIS with other data such as land use, destinations such as schools and hospitals, and locations of capital improvements and developments.

Project Sidewalk Map Zoomed

Because the site is so easy to use, cities could also partner with schools and ask students to participate in inspections. This would help to engage students in their community and build awareness of the needs for and barriers to accessibility.

From what I can tell, the group also has the code for the site over on GitHub. Their license grants permission to make use of the software according the terms specified, and instructions for setting up your own development site are provided in a README file.

You can follow the group's progress through their Twitter feed: @umd_sidewalk.


Preparing Yourself and Your Organization for the Future!

drone by fellowdesigns on

Staying competitive in this time of rapidly changing technology is starting to look more challenging every year. Driverless cars, rapid-fire communications, drones, laser scanning, virtual and augmented reality, 3D visualizations – all just a spattering of the onslaught of technological advances our field has seen implemented over the last few years. And if we are to believe Moore's Law, this rapid growth in technology is not stopping anytime soon. Instead it is increasing exponentially and will continue to do so until we get to the point where technology will advance along a vertical projection. Do you have a plan for this future? What are you doing for yourself or your business to prepare? What can you do?

I may not have many answers myself, but I recently heard a presentation from someone who might and thought I would share some of his insights. Meet David Zach, a person who has been officially trained in the future and holds a "master’s degree in Futures Research from the University of Houston." He was one of the keynote speakers at a one-day conference hosted last week by the Southeastern Wisconsin Chapter Association for Talent Development. He started out his talk by asking something I'd never before considered: "who is your role model on how you enter the future?"

For me this seems to be a very unusual question, and I'm very interested in hearing who people might choose so please share your ideas in the comments if you get a chance. For me, you might think I would have picked someone who is the very personification of future readiness. But instead I realized the person who motivates me most to learn, embrace,and implement technological change is someone I know who was close-minded and not at all prepared – ME! Well, me at about age 20 when a colleague interrupted me from hand-drafting a mylar plan sheet with ink and a Leroy set to show me a plan sheet drawn with the use of CAD. Did I say cool – can't wait!? No, I said, that looks horrible – that will never replace plans drawn by hand – there's no comparison. I think that was probably the least intelligent thing I have ever said in my life, and because I was obviously so wrong, the experience taught me a great lesson and motivated me to never be that close-minded again.

Leroy Lettering Set

But back to Zach's talk…the surprising overall message I got from it was the secret in being prepared for the future is not really found in technology or in the need to understand the specifics of it at all. Instead Zach stressed the importance of connections, learning, and the past. He said, "in a time of drastic change it is the learners who inherit the future." He explained how this is tied to how we research topics. If you need to know something do you Google it, go straight to the answer, take what you find, and go on your way? Or are you the type who researches the topic, reads the sidebars, goes off on tangents, then comes back to the main point before moving on? In the end, Zach said how we research topics becomes critical to our ability to encourage creative thinking and understanding. He said, "without diverse experiences you don't have enough dots to connect." So it is the person who collects as much information he can find that at first glance might not seem directly related who can later make those connections and fill in the gaps to come up with innovative solutions. He compared the process to building a web of information from which you can collect ideas and insight.

Connecting the dots graphic

Zach also gave us seven specific suggestions we should start doing right away. While some might initially seem bad for our health, I think he might instead be encouraging us to observe behaviors related to these activities and the environments in which these things occur and consider how they might encourage growth and innovation:

1. Start smoking 

2. Start drinking 

3. Protect and direct attention (play with fads, work with trends, and live by principles)

4. Change and tradition

5. Elegance and Eloquence

6. Concierge mindset

7. Play

The other advice Zach left with us was a list of what we should read/watch to help prepare us for the future. I've left what I could collect from the talk below. (The links are tied to an Amazon Affiliate account for the Public Works Group. So if you buy through a direct link from our blog, you help support the site and have our eternal gratitude!!) And if you ever get a chance to hear Zach speak, I'd definitely take advantage of that opportunity. He was funny, inspirational, insightful, motivational, thought-provoking, and a really nice guy.