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RE: Definition of Structural Engineering for High School Students

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Structural Engineering is a specialization of the Civil Engineering
profession that deals with the frame work or skeleton usually for
buildings and bridges. In the United States, most structural engineers
(SE) are employed by small privately owned firms comprised 1-30
employees. Some SE's are employed by various government agencies that
supervise or design public works projects, civil infrastructure, and at
local building departments nationwide. The main duty of the SE is to
ensure public safety and to serve the client's interests in meeting
building codes. The SE accomplishes this by designing the component's of
the structure that hold it's contents, ensure proper use by the
occupants, and providing a means or path for the structure to distribute
forces or loads to the supporting soil. SE's design roof framing (beams,
rafters, joists, trusses), floor framing (floor decks, joists, beams,
trusses, girders), columns, braces, frames, foundations and sometimes
walls. The materials they design include steel, concrete, wood,
aluminum, and light gage steel. They are usually part of a design team
that includes engineers of other disciplines like mechanical,
electrical, civil and architects. The engineer works closely with
architects and is retained to provide the architect with the skeleton of
the building that achieves his/her design economically. SE's develop
their designs by performing calculations of the framing components. Then
these results are depicted in a set of plans for the contractor to price
and build to the criteria in the drawings. The engineer forms the design
by following a building code, a set of rules that all buildings must
comply with for minimal life-safety laws so the users of the structure
can operate safely. The job is both an art and a science. SE's must
educate themselves throughout their careers to adapt to new materials,
construction methods, and building code changes. The profession can be
very demanding, challenging, and stressful, but for those with the where
with all, it is a rewarding career with tangible results. "One of the
greatest joys is seeing a building under construction and walking into
the finished product" one SE wrote. For the most successful SE's, a
combination of skills are required. They include education, talent, an
eye for detail, the ability to visualize in three dimensions,
communication skills, patience, and a pride in their profession. The
engineer designs structures to resists forces or weight from people,
furniture, the self weight of the building, vehicles, cranes, and
equipment. Additionally, they design the building to resist forces from
earthquakes, high winds, water, soil, impacts, collisions, and blast
explosions. Within structural engineering, there are many specialties
for certain types of buildings or bridges depending on the materials or
method of construction. It serves an engineer early in their career to
become involved the design and analysis of as many different types of
structures as possible, not only for knowledge gains, but to determine
the most enjoyable career path.


SE's must have a college degree in Civil, Mechanical, Architectural
Engineering, or an Architecture degree. Many structural engineers also
obtain a masters degree due to the complexity of the profession and the
multitude of construction materials that may present themselves on
various projects. Early in their careers, SE's are mentored by senior
staff members. This is more critical than their college education, which
should lay the foundation to make the engineer recognize critical
components and ask their mentor what options they have to tackle the
problem. Professional Licensure is the first step in demonstrating
competence in the field and may be obtained as early as 2 years after
graduation from college. Some states have a separate Structural Engineer
licensure that allows them to legally take responsibility for critical
facilities like Hospitals and Public School that may serve as shelters
during natural disasters like earthquakes. One unique aspect of
Structural Engineering, is once licensure is obtained, that engineer may
soon form his/her own company. Many engineers start off small and grow
to the afore mentioned small business structure of 1-30 employees. There
are some large firms that employ hundreds of workers at many offices
throughout their state or the nation. Unfortunately, the monetary
compensation for engineers is very low with respect to the talent,
education, and skills required to perform the duties of the job. This is
primarily due to the lack of recognition an SE commands from the public.
The profession is dominated by Architects who are better trained to
communicate effectively with the public since the inner workings of
structures are difficult for a layperson to comprehend. The engineer is
generally trained to solve problems, not to promote one's value. Very
often, the SE can be the driving force behind the success or failure of
a project economically.  The highest paid and financially comfortable
engineers are those who have a keen understanding of the process of
construction, can deliver projects on time, on budget, and can
communicate their goals effectively. Those individuals are generally the
one's who venture out to form their own private practice after years of
tutelage from experienced engineers.


Many structural engineers entered the profession because they love the
process of construction and are captivated by the process. Many
structural engineers can move out of the pure design or analysis aspect
of the business to become consultants for builders, material suppliers,
municipalities, government agencies, and the legal profession. In our
litigious society, engineers may be called into court to explain why
things may have gone wrong on a project or to prove another engineer
performed their duty satisfactorily. Their analytical training makes
them well suited to solving problems of a very complex nature. It is a
wonderful profession, but with any job, there are some difficult aspects
since they are simply one piece of a large team creating something anew.


Please feel free to ad to this, correct grammar (GAIL) :), or revise in
any way shape or form you see fit.


-----Original Message-----
From: Nels Roselund [mailto:njineer(--nospam--at)]
Sent: Wednesday, August 03, 2005 9:08 AM
To: seaint(--nospam--at)
Subject: RE: Definition of Structural Engineering for High School

I have a friend whose son is a junior in high school and wants to be an
engineer -- but hasn't decided on his field. I hope he doesn't see
the Princeton original or Gerard's "correction" before he sees something
more encouraging, as well as accurate, about our profession.  Anyone
care to
give it a try?

Nels Roselund, SE
South San Gabriel, CA

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