Video Master of Civil Engineering

Norwich’s Master of Civil Engineering Program – A Program Director’s Perspective


Thomas: I earned a Ph.D. in structural engineering from the University of Connecticut and spent ten years teaching engineering at a small college in Indiana before I came to Norwich. I’ve been with Norwich for over 13 years.

They started to transition me into the online program. And I was fortunate enough I was able to design that program from scratch about ten years ago, and I’ve been the program director ever since.

Our Master of Civil Engineering Program has four concentrations. Structural engineering, environmental engineering, geotechnical engineering and construction management. And our ideal student is the adult student who has a few years – at least a few years of industrial experience or consulting experience. Doesn’t necessarily have to have an engineer’s license. In fact only about 40% of our incoming students do.

We also attract a surprisingly large number of what I like to call mid-life career change type of people. Or people who don’t necessary have an undergraduate degree in engineering and they may be working in the engineering field or on the periphery of the engineering field. They’ve realized that without an undergraduate degree, or an engineering degree of any kind, they’ve sort of hit a glass ceiling. They can’t earn their engineer’s license without a degree.

So they come to us for help with that.

Our faculty are really what make the program work, and we have a wide range, a lot of diversity in our faculty. We have the full-time academic types but we also have a large percentage of what I’ll call working professionals. They’re out there in the consulting world, they’re out there in the government sector doing engineering every day.

And that gives them the ability to bring into a class discussion, for example, that evening, the project that they were out on the site of that day and ran into some very unique problem. So they can bring very current issues and solutions into the classroom.

The thing that makes Norwich’s Civil Engineering Program different than some of our competitors, one of the bigger reasons is our project management emphasis. Many of the other programs out there are what I would classify as a traditional graduate civil engineering program heavily focused on theoretical content and technical content.

And in order to diversity our program from those other schools we felt that it was important to have a strong project management emphasis in our program. It’s been a very positive result.

The feedback we get from our graduates on that particular facet of our program is very strong every year. Many of them tell us that that is what swayed them to our program over some of the other programs they were looking at.

When a civil engineering graduate is first starting out on their career and they’re young and inexperienced, they naturally settle into roles where they’re doing a lot of technical design, a lot of calculations and that sort of thing.

As they progress in their career and they move up the management ladder they do less and less of that sort of thing and they do more and more management, whether that be project management, team management, people management, until eventually they work their way into a position where that’s all they’re doing. They don’t do a lot of hands-on engineering anymore.

So those people skills that we develop in that project management class and the leadership skills are critical to their career advancement and their success.

From the beginning when we developed the curriculum for our Master of Civil Engineering Program, we viewed our program as what would be known as a terminal degree for our students. In other words, we’re not preparing our students to go on for further study for a Ph.D. There’s a lot of universities out there who have that focus and there are highly theoretical Masters programs.

We viewed our program as being more practically based and we wanted to provide our students with tools and techniques and skills that they could immediately apply in their job, to benefit their company, benefit their own careers, help them move up the management ladder.

So that’s what we really, really focus on and we really pride ourselves on when we develop our curriculum, is a very practical tools-oriented type of content.

The feedback we get from our graduates about our annual residency conference, the one week in June where we require all the students to come to our campus in Vermont, is overwhelmingly positive. They value that face-to-face interaction time that they have with their fellow students. They love getting to meet the program staff that they’ve dealt with on email and phone for the last 18 months. They really enjoy getting to meet their instructors face-to-face on those mentors that we’ve talked about.

And every year at residency conference we get many, many comments about how that is a unique aspect of our program that many other online programs don’t have