Explore Geoengineering

Geological engineering is the application of the earth sciences to human problems that relate to the earth and earth systems. It is a broad, interdisciplinary field with many specialty areas such as: geotechnical site investigation for a variety of projects, rock and soil slope stability, environmental site characterization and planning, hydrogeology, groundwater studies and engineering, natural and manmade hazard investigations, and exploration and development of fossil fuel and mineral deposits.

Geological engineers carry out site investigations for dams, plants, roads, railways, housing projects, mines, quarries, pipelines, petroleum production, forestry operations, and more. They interact with civil engineers to design essential parts of projects. They are responsible for environmental assessments or clean-up activities where pollution has occurred. They prospect for minerals, building material resources and drinking water. They carry out hazard and risk assessments and mapping for landslides and earthquakes.

Geological engineers solve engineering problems and design engineering systems with, on, and in geological materials—while at the same time protecting the environment. For example, they learn how to evaluate a site on which a tunnel, dam, or road might be built. They learn about geologic hazards, such as earthquakes and volcanoes, and how to best protect people from them. They examine ways to search for and harvest energy resources. They also discover ways to protect the earth while still exploiting it through careful industrial practices.

Some specializations include: geoenvironmental engineering (preserving the environment through managing pollution) and geomechanical engineering (interpreting the geological variables in structural foundations and evaluating of natural geological hazards).

*Salary and Career Outcomes gathered from the 2018-2019 CSE Graduation Survey. Post-graduation outcomes reflect the percentage of students who were employed full-time in their field or were enrolled in a graduate program at 6 months post-graduation.

**Cohort size too small to report data due to privacy regulations.

GeoE Career Prospects. Average Starting Salary: $**; Post-Graduation Outcomes: Employed 54.8%, Graduate School 45.2%

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What can I do with a major in Geoengineering?

INDUSTRIES

  • City/county municipalities
  • Civil engineering firms
  • Consulting
  • Energy
  • Environmental
  • Federal government
  • Hazardous waste
  • Minerals
  • Mining
  • Petroleum
  • Physiography
  • Research and development

EMPLOYERS

  • American Engineering Testing, Inc.
  • Antea Group
  • Arcadis
  • Barr Engineering
  • Bay West LLC
  • Braun Intertec
  • Carlson McCain
  • Cliffs Natural Resources
  • CNA Consulting Engineers
  • ExxonMobil
  • Metropolitan Council
  • MN Pollution Control Agency
  • Northern Technologies, Inc.
  • Pace Analytical Services
  • Schlumberger
  • WSB & Associates

TECHNICAL SKILLS

  • ChemDraw
  • Excel
  • Field skills
  • Laboratory skills
  • LoggerPro
  • Mathematica
  • MATLAB

POSSIBLE POSITIONS

  • Consultant: Offer professional soil engineering and consulting services to homeowners and businesses.
  • Environmental scientist: Perform research in water supply issues, conduct assessment of groundwater and surface water supplies, assist water utilities, and review plans and projects proposed and conducted by the public and private sectors to assist in the development and implementation of water resource management policies.
  • Geological engineering technician: Investigate and collect information leading to the possible discovery of new metallic ore, minerals, gas, coal, or petroleum deposits.
  • Geological project manager: Oversee and manage the team members to ensure that minerals are extracted from mines, pits and quarries in such a way that maximum profit is obtained with as little damage to the environment as possible.
  • Geomechanical engineer: Apply the principles of engineering and geology to the study of geological materials, including soil, ground water, and rock foundations.
  • Geotechnical engineer: Spend time in the field, monitor field explorations and construction projects, collect field data and document site conditions. Perform geotechnical analysis, such as slope stability, bearing capacity, settlement, deep foundation design, and seismic evaluation.
  • Hydrogeologist: Conduct a range of field activities, including drilling, monitoring well installation, sampling, and oversight of contractors. Evaluate and interpret field and sampling data, develop conclusions concerning site conditions based on data analysis, and prepare written plans and reports related to site investigation and remediation activities.

**Some of these positions may require an advanced degree.

GET INVOLVED

  • Active Energy Club
  • American Society of Civil Engineers
  • CSE K-12 Outreach
  • CSE Ambassadors
  • CSE International Ambassadors
  • Engineers Without Borders
  • National Society of Black Engineers
  • Plumb Bob Honorary Leadership Society
  • Science and Engineering Student Board
  • Society for Mining, Metallurgy, and Exploration
  • Society of Asian Scientists and Engineers
  • Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers
  • Society of Women Engineers
  • Solar Vehicle Project
  • Tau Beta Pi
  • TeslaWorks
  • Theta Tau

Q&A with Greta Backman, Geotechnical Engineer, Barr Engineering

What do you do?

My primary job involves the analysis, design, and inspection of new and existing dams for mining and power clients throughout the Midwest and Western United States.

What’s a typical work day? 
I typically work on multidisciplinary teams as the project geotechnical engineer. This often involves an onsite geotechnical investigations prior to design where I collect samples to be tested in the laboratory to characterize the subsurface conditions. Following the investigation, I analyze the laboratory results and assign hydraulic and strength properties to the materials encountered and complete a seepage and stability analysis.

What qualities are important for this position? 
I have always loved being outdoors, which is a great quality for being a geotech—we spend a lot of time in the field!

What about technical skills? 
A strong understanding of soil and rock mechanics is fundamental for a geotechnical engineer, but I would also strongly recommend Glacial Geology- it is very useful in understanding the local geology of Minnesota.

What training were you offered for your position?
Most of my training has been site or task specific, and I was trained by a senior engineer. We also receive a yearly educational fund that we can use to attend conferences and internal or external trainings in our field.

What part of your job is most satisfying?

I love the variety and challenges that come with working on projects across the country—no two sites are the same!

Most challenging?

We often have to analyze a system with little information and use our best judgment to characterize subsurface conditions and assign material properties.

What are your possible career paths now?

Project engineers take on greater project management, business development, and technical lead responsibilities as they become more senior at Barr.

Advice for current students?

Talk to your advisor to learn the differences between the three geoengineering tracks. If you have interest in becoming a geotechnical engineer, take as many soil and rock mechanics courses as you can!

Any other advice you'd like to share?

Try to find undergraduate research or internship opportunities within your field as soon as possible. This will help you understand if this field is right for you.

Q&A with Mindy Erickson, Hydrologist, U.S. Geological Survey

What do you do?

I lead research and provide technical expertise for national, regional, and local studies of complex groundwater systems. I conceive studies and research ideas, design scopes of work, write proposals to secure funding, lead project teams to implement the work, lead manuscript preparation and publication, and act as project manager (monitoring and managing budget and schedule for studies). 

What’s a typical work day? 

It includes some work on a manuscript (data analysis, writing, revisions, etc.), interacting with project team members, answering email and phone calls, discussing ideas for future studies with colleagues or potential outside collaborators, and general project management activities. I often do presentations of study results, ideas for new studies, or specific technical information requested by an agency or group. 

What qualities are important for this position?

Flexibility, adaptability, curiosity, responsibility, passion, and team player.

What about technical skills? 

Geology-hydrogeology-hydrology-chemistry fundamentals, independent learner, attention to detail, team player.

What training were you offered for your position? 

Advanced applied statistics, project management, quality control sampling design, and interpretation—plus many others I have not taken advantage of. The U.S. Geological Survey offers a lot of training opportunities to employees.

What part of your job is most satisfying?

Finding a new story from data analysis, mentoring, seeing a finished publication online for the first time.

Most challenging? 

Administrative and bureaucratic stumbling blocks.

What are your possible career paths now?

One track is management—becoming a supervisor, then manager, etc. The other is the research track. I am on the research track, which means that my ‘body of work’ is reviewed periodically by a panel of science peers, who decide whether a promotion has been earned.

Advice for current students?

Follow your passion. Be patient—but persistent—as you pursue your ‘dream job.’ Do your best and learn as much as you can at every job. I've had jobs with several organizations in the past 25 years. Each experience contributed something valuable to my career.

Any other advice you'd like to share?

Take a risk, join and be active in at least one professional organization, and have fun with your work.