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K-12 Students

What is Structural Engineering?

Structural Engineering is mainly the design of buildings and bridges, but can include any structure needed to support or resist loads. Loads can mean anything from the weight of a person in a room, to the weight of a car on a bridge, to the force of wind hitting the side of a building.  It can be as small as designing a window opening or as large as designing the tallest building or the longest bridge in the world.


What does a Structural Engineer do?

Well, an architect designs the way a structure looks (for example a building or bridge). A structural engineer takes the architect's ideas for how the structure should look and figures out how to keep the building or bridge standing under expected loads. So the engineer will decide how big the support columns need to be or how thick the concrete floor should be.

An engineers job includes analysis (like calculating the weight of snow on a roof or of 18-wheelers on a bridge), meetings (working with the architect and other people), design (using computer programs to design the beams, cable, supports, etc., to make the structure safe), documentation (creating drawings like blueprints), construction (visiting the building site to check the work done by a contractor), and inspection/investigation (examining old buildings or buildings where there has been an accident).

Opportunities for Students

  • Check out this Introduction to Structural Engineering presentation.  SEAOI Past-President Ken Nizamuddin walks you through the basics of what a Structural Engineer does.
  • Enter the Future City Competition!  The Future City Competition serves students in 7th and 8th grade. Sponsored by National Engineers Week, this national program introduces students to engineering with the popular Sim City software. Students design future cities with simulation software, build scale models, write essays and give oral presentations on their city's design. 
  • The ACE Mentor Program of America, Inc. (ACE) helps mentor high school students and inspires them to pursue careers in Architecture, Construction, or Engineering. The mentors are professionals from leading design and construction firms who volunteer their time and energy.  
  • Enter the IIT Bridge Design Contest.  

So you want to become a Structural Engineer...

  • Structural Engineers need to enjoy problem solving, math and physics.
  • They attend an ABET accredited university and earn a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering or Structural Engineering. Many also go on to earn a Master's degree.
  • After college (or during their senior year), all engineering students take the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam.
  • After working under a licensed Structural Engineer and gaining enough experience, they can then take the Structural Engineer (SE) exam and become a Licensed Structural Engineer.

All photos courtesy of Bob Johnson.

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