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Overview

The person responsible for making sure that a structure is safe is the structural engineer. Structural engineers design and supervise the construction of structures like buildings, bridges, and railways. A structural engineer designs any kind of structure so that it can fulfill a specific purpose. They have to make sure that a structure will remain safe, economical, and functional for its lifetime. They also work with older structures by designing refurbishment schemes to ensure their safety.

Structural engineers investigate immediate loads and demands on a structure and calculate future changes that may affect the building’s soundness. The main focus for this work is to ensure the safety of the public. To do this, structural engineers investigate the strength of foundations and beams and calculate the loads and stresses on each building. They work in several different areas of construction, including building design, construction, extensions, conversions, and repairs.

Structural engineers ensure that buildings and bridges are built to be strong enough and stable enough to resist all appropriate structural loads (e.g., gravity, wind, snow, rain, seismic (earthquake), earth pressure, temperature, and traffic) in order to prevent or reduce loss of life or injury. They also design structures to be stiff enough to not deflect or vibrate beyond acceptable limits. Fatigue is also an important consideration for bridges and other load-bearing structures which experience a large number of stress cycles over their lifetime. Consideration is also given to durability of materials against possible deterioration which may impair performance.

Education

To enter this field of engineering, one needs at least a bachelor’s degree. The prospective engineering student must have physics, the sciences, and mathematics as his/her academic strengths.

Depending on the learning institution, the student may earn a Bachelor of Science (B.S.), Masters of Science (M.S.), Masters in Engineering (M.Eng.) and Ph.D. in civil engineering with an emphasis on structural engineering. Texas A&M University offers such a program. The A&M undergraduate program in structural engineering is designed to provide students with a fundamental understanding of the basic sciences and engineering applied to structural systems. This bachelor’s degree provides opportunities in private industry, consulting firms and governmental agencies.

The following is a sampling of courses offered at the undergraduate level:

  • Element Analysis
  • Structural Design for Dynamic Loads
  • Nonlinear Dynamical Systems, Vibrations and Chaos
  • Mechanics of Solids
  • Stability of Solids
  • Structural Mechanics of Composite Materials
  • Hydraulic Structures

UC San Diego has its own Structural Engineering school, Jacobs School of Engineering, that offers instruction leading to the degrees of Master of Science (M.S.) and Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Structural Engineering (SE). The graduate program is aimed at training a select number of highly skilled professionals in structural engineering with the academic and engineering credentials to assume leadership roles in industry and academia.

Both degrees at Jacobs School offer opportunities for training in one or more of the four research focus areas of the SE department which are in:

  1. Earthquake Engineering
  2. Advanced Composites and Aerospace Structural Systems
  3. Renewal Engineering
  4. Structural Health Monitoring, Prognosis and Validated Simulations

Employment

Payscale states that the national average for this occupation is $63,757 per year. As of September 2014, this site reports the salary range as $49,318 to $94,371, depending on bonuses and other benefits.

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported in 2012 that the median annual salary for Civil Engineers was $79,340 with a Bachelor’s degree. The BLS projects the job growth rate to be 20% between 2012 and 2022, or the change/addition of 53,700 jobs.