Why Environmental Engineering? by Callaghan TysonMayer

When I began Michigan State University in 2016, I had absolutely no direction. I did not want to declare any major or lean in any direction because I was afraid to commit to something then change my mind. At first, it seemed like the possibilities were endless, and it was absurd that someone was asking me to narrow it down to one major. When asked “What do you want to do?” or “What field are you leaning towards?” I always answered “I have no idea, probably something with math” The only type of direction I had was that I liked math, and I wanted to explore everything. 

"The information I learned in this class was eye-opening, and that led me to choose Environmental and Sustainability Studies as a minor."

It was during my first semester that I realized the possibilities really weren’t endless. I had seen several different counselors by this point who were all focused on getting my mind to a major. I always said I wanted to do something with math, and most people would give very open-ended answers like “There’s math in everything,” but I couldn’t choose everything as a major. I met with another counselor who told me about his jumble of career paths: he was an author, a motivational speaker, an office assistant, a high school counselor, a university counselor, a sports coach, an HR representative, and more than I’m probably forgetting. He told me he had gone down so many different paths and had gotten something out of each one. He made me think it really isn’t that important what major I choose because I can do one thing, and do something very different with the same degree. 

After the pressure was gone, I narrowed my math interest down to two different paths; engineering or teaching. I have always been aware that education is not an option for me: a person with absolutely no patience. So I declared engineering as my major, which quickly led to a lot of pressure to pick which type of engineering, but that was significantly easier. Basically, I looked at the list of all the kinds of engineering MSU offers and narrowed it down to two: civil or environmental. The two paths are very similar and often intermingle, but civil gave me more of a capitalism vibe, where environmental seems like it is mostly a helpful field. I chose environmental engineering at the end of my first year, and I have no plans to change. 

During my second semester of sophomore year, I took an ISS (integrative social studies) class for a general requirement; it was called “People and the Environment.” Everything we covered in this class was mind-boggling and caught my interest at every turn. We covered different types of interactions that civilizations through history have had with the environment. The topics that interested me the most include packaging/plastics overuse, overfishing, the meat industry, electronic waste, and the U.S.’s inadequate recycling system. The information I learned in this class was eye-opening, and that led me to choose Environmental and Sustainability Studies as a minor. 

People often ask me what environmental engineers do, and I really do not know the answer to that, but I have a better idea after taking my first environmental engineering class this past semester. The primary career paths for environmental engineers are water purification and pollution control. Since I currently live in Michigan, water purification is a huge industry here and is projected to grow by 15-20% in the next 10 years. Partially because of the Flint Water Crisis and because water is becoming scarce all over the world. I would love to go into water purification because I know it will be in very high demand soon, but I am even more interested in pollution control and remediation. 

I think the U.S. puts very little focus on environmental protection and pollution remediation, but there are a lot of countries that do it well that I would love to explore for careers. I am doing a semester in Denmark in Spring of 2020 through MSU’s exchange program with Denmark Technical University. I am unbelievably excited to learn sustainability in Denmark because they are ranked #3 in the 2018 EPI, right behind Switzerland and France. (https://epi.envirocenter.yale.edu/epi-topline?country= ) I am utterly fascinated with Europe, and I can’t wait to be in such an eco-friendly country for 5 months!

I will be writing about environmental issues that I feel don’t get enough attention, like electronic waste and myths about our recycling system. I would also like to cover topics that are heavy in media outlets, like plastics in the ocean and fleeting fresh water sources. I look forward to sharing my research and knowledge about environmental issues, and I am grateful and excited to join GAEA on this journey. 

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