MAE Department Proposes Changes to Environmental Engineering Major

Camille Lemesoff / The Triton

UC San Diego’s Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering (MAE) Department announced on January 16 that it is proposing several alternatives to the current Environmental Engineering (EnvE) major due to concerns over accreditation.

The current EnvE major is not accredited according to standards set by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET). ABET sets requirements that standardize the skills university graduates need when pursuing a future technological career.

UCSD students currently enrolled in the EnvE program received an email survey from the MAE Department regarding student feedback about different proposed options.

The offered changes to the major are meant to broaden the definition of environmental engineering.

According to Jan Kleissl, Undergraduate Affairs Committee Chair of the department, “Ten years ago, [the environmental movement] was very new and [the EnvE major] only covered specialized subjects,” but now the definition of environmental engineering has expanded to encompass other sects of engineering.

One of the options outlined in the email involves phasing out the current EnvE major and replacing it with a Mechanical Engineering major in an Environmental Systems and Renewable Energy (ESRE) specialization, which would receive ABET accreditation.

A second option involves transitioning the current EnvE major into an unaccredited Environmental Systems and Renewable Energy Engineering major that is better aligned with the coursework needed by employers of EnvE majors.

In the survey, currently enrolled students could choose between remaining in the current EnvE program until graduation, or switching to new options offered by the MAE Department. Students could also select Mechanical Engineering with no specialization.

EnvE students agreed that the ambiguity of the current major was frustrating for career prospects.

Lucas Jonasch, a third year EnvE major, said that the major has very little name-recognition: “Employers don’t always understand the major right away because environmental engineering traditionally relates more to civil engineering and has very little similarities with what I’m studying.”

Third year Samantha Fong also noted that the hybrid nature of the curriculum is confusing to explain. “The current degree is basically two-thirds a [Mechanical Engineering] major plus a little [Chemical Engineering] and [Scripps Institute of Oceanography],” Fong said.

Both students chose the EnvE major without understanding that the major would not be ABET accredited. Jonasch and Fong are leaning towards choosing the Mechanical Engineering with ESRE specialization option.

According to the survey results, about 80 percent of student responders would prefer to graduate with a Mechanical Engineering degree in an ESRE specialization. In contrast, only 10.4 percent of students would want to continue with the current EnvE major.

Jonasch expressed concerns about the logistics of switching into Mechanical Engineering. “I really hope that we don’t have to apply to transfer into [Mechanical Engineering] like we had to in the past, because the GPA cutoff is ridiculously high. If EnvE is cancelled…I’d have an obsolete major as soon as I graduated, which is likely bad for career opportunities.”

Kleissl confirmed that students would have to apply to transfer into Mechanical or Aerospace Engineering, but hopes that the department can avoid implementing a GPA cutoff.  “It depends on the projected enrollment in our [Mechanical Engineering] senior capstone design courses, which are space constrained. We should know this by the end of the month,” he said.

With the information gathered from the survey, the MAE Department staff and faculty will vote about the fate of the major by this Friday. Kleissl believes the department will likely offer either both the Mechanical Engineering options, or the new Environmental Systems and Renewable Energy Engineering major. 

There will be a town hall for current EnvE students on Wednesday, February 13, from 6:00–8:00 p.m. in EBU2 584. According to Kleissl, the Mechanical Aerospace Engineering Chair and some EnvE alumni will attend the event.

If you have any questions or concerns, contact Kleissl at jkleissl@eng.ucsd.edu.

Camille Lemesoff is a Staff Writer for The Triton. Assistant News Editor Orianna Borrelli and Managing Editor Isabelle Yan contributed to the reporting of this article.

This article was updated on February 7, 2019 at 1:35 p.m. A previous version of this article misquoted Fong by confusing the acronyms for Computer Engineering and Chemical Engineering.