Rice MCEE program equips engineers for evolving career paths

Rice University MCEE students discover high demand for their advanced degrees

Department Chair and Stanley C. Moore Professor in Engineering

 “Civil and environmental engineers are at the forefront of addressing big technical and societal challenges,” said Jamie Padgett, the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department Chair and Stanley C. Moore Professor in Engineering.

“Our Master of Civil and Environmental (MCEE) program provides a rigorous yet flexible curriculum to build skills relevant for enabling future cities that are safe and sustainable, adaptable and resilient, just and equitable.” 

She is proud of the department’s #12 ranking by US News and World Report for its environmental engineering graduate program. Water quality assurance, cities of the future, highways that span the nation, infrastructure that is resilient in the face of climate-related crises, and renewable and traditional energy processes are just a few of the areas in which MCEE graduates launch their careers.  

“Our graduates find jobs very fast. Demand for our students was outpacing our graduation rate before US News and World Report ranked Rice’s civil engineering graduate program among the top 20 in the country,” said Rice University civil and environmental assistant teaching professor  Kalil Erazo, who also serves as an assistant director for the department’s MCEE program. 

Erazo said as engineering work has become more and more specialized, the Rice CEE department’s strong industry connections have helped the faculty better align their professional master’s program with that shift. 

“After a lot of thought about student outcomes, we decided to retain a strong infrastructure core and allow our students to use their supplemental courses to specialize in either civil or environmental engineering. Graduates with advanced degrees in both specialties are in high demand across the United States, although there is plenty of work in Houston. 

“The  ASCE’s ‘Best Places for Civil Engineers’ index is based on salaries, cost of living, and availability of jobs. Their 2023 analysis shows Houston has consistently made the top three spots since the ranking began in 2019,” he said.

Because his responsibilities include fostering connections between industry partners and MCEE students, Erazo continually studies trends and opportunities across the market. He said some of the current demand for civil engineers is driven by the  Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, a five-year investment in the nation’s infrastructure and economy. Of the $550 billion allocation, $350 billion has been designated for highway programs, and highway construction and maintenance requires the expertise of civil engineers. 

“In addition to its miles of roads and highways, Houston is well known for its energy indutry; everything we do in that industry –renewables, wind turbines, solar panels, gas plants – all require civil engineers to support those infrastructures,” Erazo said. 

“Our MCEE graduates certainly get oil and gas offers, but many of them go into renewables. They see that as their future, making an impact on the environment. However, the traditional oil and gas companies have already begun shifting to environmentally friendly programs, so they are becoming more competitive and attractive to young engineers.”

The department is also well known for its water quality subdiscipline in the Environmental track. MCEE students can begin exploring this area with the hydrology and water quality engineering course. Houston’s location, industries, and climate all support jobs for engineers who specialize in water resources. 

Young engineers with civil or environmental engineering degrees and those with non-traditional backgrounds are equally welcome in the MCEE program. Any student with a B.S. or B.A. in any field of engineering or related study may apply. Padgett is a firm believer in the advantages that multiple perspectives bring to engineering discussions and projects.  

“DEI - diversity, equity, and inclusion-- is core to not only our department culture and the way we operate on a daily basis, but it’s central to the way we reimagine the systems and solutions that we engineer,” she said. 

Engineers currently working on industry systems and solutions but considering a career change are attracted to the Rice MCEE program because it allows them to customize their degrees to suit their new career interests.

“If you want to work and advance your career in the civil or environmental engineering industry, our professional master’s program is a fast track to success,” Erazo said.

 Learn more about Rice University's Master of Civil and Environmental Engineering (MCEE) program at our upcoming information sessions