UB's programs in civil and environmental engineering recognized by ASCE with the 2020 Walter Lefevre Award

Students working on concrete beam with faculty member.

Associate professor Andreas Stavridis works with undergraduate students to develop concrete beams. 

By Peter Murphy

Published May 28, 2020

The Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering earned the 2020 Walter Lefevre Award from the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) in recognition of its “outstanding program promoting licensure, ethics and professionalism.”

An ethical and professional culture

“This is a recognition won by all of the civil, structural and environmental engineering department faculty and staff. ”
Joseph Atkinson, Professor, Chair
Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering

In order to earn this award, civil and environmental engineering programs need to meet a variety of criteria, including percentage of students taking the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam while enrolled in the department’s program, percentage of faculty who are licensed in a U.S. jurisdiction, how the department addresses licensure, ethics and professionalism through its curriculum and activities, and other attributes.

“This is a recognition won by all of the civil, structural and environmental engineering department faculty and staff,” says professor and chair Joseph Atkinson.

Each year, environmental engineering professor James Jensen holds FE exam courses for students, to better help them prepare for the exam.

“I’ve been teaching the Principals and Practice of Engineering (PE) review course since 1989,” Jensen says, “students sitting for the FE exam would sit in on some of the PE review courses like engineering economics, even back then, before we ran the FE review. We took over the FE review in 2010.”

Over the last five years, an average of approximately 66% of civil and environmental engineering BS students have taken the FE exam while enrolled at UB. The minimum percentage to be considered for the Walter Lefevre Award is 60%.

One-third of the department’s faculty members hold a professional license in the United States, with three maintaining licensure in New York State. 

The department also promotes professionalism and ethics through activities unrelated to personnel. All students are required to take CIE 415: Professional Practice Issues during their senior year. This course, taught by a licensed professional engineer, introduces students to ethical issues in civil engineering and the professional licensure process. This course, together with CIE 416: Civil Engineering Capstone Design, provides students with an understanding of the project lifespan, engineering economics and designing for industry. The department and its affiliated clubs engage in a number of professional activities as well.

“Speaking with ASCE Buffalo leadership, we felt that CSEE (UB’s Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering) was a prime candidate for this award based on our interaction with the department,” says Timothy van Oss, department alumnus, secretary for the UB Engineering Alumni Association and practitioner adviser for the UB-ASCE chapter.

Van Oss nominated the department for the award and worked closely with faculty members to gather essential data for the application. van Oss also has the unique experience of going through the program himself. “Personally, I benefited from networking with professional societies as a students, and I was very active in the ASCE student section," van Oss says, “ASCE’s recognition of UB’s commitment to professionalism is evidence of what many alumni knew for years – the department has made a concerted effort to base its curriculum on what is needed to become a professional engineer.”

The effort to incorporate professionalism into the curriculum and departmental activities extends beyond faculty and staff. Buffalo’s professional ASCE chapter has increased its student outreach committee exponentially, according to van Oss, and it meets with UB students on a regular basis. “I think it shows the dedication many of my fellow alumni have to the school, and their willingness to give back and impact the next generation of civil engineers. We help review resumés, participate in round-table discussions and we regularly help with UB-ASCE’s concrete canoe, steel bridge and seismic design projects. We want to build a mentoring relationship with students that transcends their time on campus.”

Student participation in activities is one the department advances professionalism, ethics and licensure. Seniors in the department also participate in the Pledge to Professionalism Ceremony hosted by UB’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. During this ceremony, students join the Order of the Engineer, an organization dedicated to upholding the standards and dignity of the engineering profession.

“This award reflects how faculty and staff engage students in professionalism and ethics. More importantly, it reflects how students respond on the road to their profession and licensure,” Jensen says, “Professional practice, capstone design and the activities of our student clubs prepare students for some of the high-pressure situations they will experience as professionals. Our students encounter different ethical and professional challenges on their path towards licensure. This helps to set us apart.”