Environmental Engineering: Towards the New Engineer
MetadataShow full item record
Environmental engineering is a relatively new engineering discipline. The engineering profession increasingly recognises the importance of engineers moving from their traditional stereotypical technical focus and becoming broader skilled and more responsive to society's needs, particularly regarding the environment. This is often encapsulated as the new engineer. Environmental engineers should be well placed to make a significant contribution to this goal. The nature of engineers and engineering is briefly discussed before tracing the evolution of environmental engineering. This new branch of engineering has evolved from the earlier dominance of sanitary or public health engineering and now incorporates a broader, holistic approach to the solution of environmental issues. A literature review is presented on society~s awareness and concern with the environment. This leads to an investigation of the relationship between engineers and the environment. A review of environmental engineering education follows. The education of engineers to improve their environmental credentials is contentious. A common theme is that all engineers require a better environmental education. However, there is less consensus regarding the need for separate environmental engineering degrees at undergraduate level. Despite this, environmental engineering degrees have proliferated in Australia in the past decade. Yet little is known about the graduates and their transition into an engineering profession which is largely founded in traditional engineering values. This research addresses the lack of knowledge about environmental engineers. Using a number of concepts from sociology, particularly professional socialisation, a theoretical framework was developed to suggest what environmental engineers may experience both as students and in professional practice. This theoretical framework was tested using a case study of forty-four recent graduates from the School of Environmental Engineering's undergraduate degree in environmental engineering at Griffith University in Brisbane, Australia. This environmental engineering degree is considered unique in this country because of its breadth and diversity of subject material, which is underpinned by the host school's location in the Faculty of Environmental Sciences. This contrasts with the common approach of either slightly modifying existing civil engineering degrees to produce an environmental strand or creating a hybrid environmental engineering degree through combinations of other engineering programmes. In both these cases, the environmental engineering is normally located in an engineering faculty and is thus more influenced by traditional engineering values. The research in this thesis is qualitative in nature. This approach was adopted to ensure a rich picture emerges of the professional socialisation of enviromnental engineers. The data presented are based on interviews with the graduate environmental engineers and follows the graduates chronologically through university and into professional practice. Environmental engineering students enter university with considerable diversity of knowledge, interest and commitment. The degree programme exerts a strong socialising influence in raising environmental awareness and capabilities. However, the outcome is not uniform and a number of socialisation failures can be identified, particularly where graduates are concerned about their identity and lack confidence as engineers at the end of their studies. The path to professional socialisation as environmental engineers is further influenced by the widespread lack of recognition of the qualifications and capabilities of environmental engineers in the profession and employment. Professional socialisation also varies considerably with the diversity of employment situations. In general, the process of organisational socialisation into the norms of an employment culture is stronger than the socialising influences of the profession. Socialisation is also affected by individualism. Thus, overall there are a spectrum of professional socialisation successes and failures. Environmental engineering is plagued by considerable uncertainty as to its nature. This is apparent throughout the engineering profession and employer organisations. This uncertainty has a significant impact on environmental engineers and consequently many are unsure regarding their identity as engineers. Despite the uncertainties regarding identity and professional socialisation, the generalist skills, environmental commitment and capabilities, and social responsiveness of many of the environmental engineering graduates typify the attributes of the new engineer. A minority could not be considered as meeting these attributes, particularly where they identify more strongly with traditional engineering values. However, on balance, it is evident that environmental engineers are making a significant contribution to the paradigm change that the engineering profession must make to better reflect societ~s needs and aspirations. The thesis concludes with a range of recommendations designed to indicate areas of further research to complement and extend this study.
Thesis (PhD Doctorate)
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
School of Environmental Engineering
Item Access Status