College of Engineering Introduces New Minor Targeting Resiliency and Sustainability

Author: Nina Welding

College of Engineering Introduces New Minor Targeting Resiliency and Sustainability

Every four years the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) issues a “report card” highlighting the status of the nation’s infrastructure: its roads; bridges and dams; drinking water; treatment of wastewater, solid waste, and hazardous waste; and more. When the organization last shared its assessment of America’s infrastructure, it was 2013. Not only did the country receive a poor grade (a D+), but the ASCE estimated that approximately $3.6 trillion would be needed to raise the grade and the quality and safety of the infrastructure.  

This is key because the overall health of the nation and its economy is tied to the health of the infrastructure. Long-term funding sources for maintenance and modernization are critical. However, equally as critical is the development of leaders who can generate novel solutions and sustainable policies that protect cities and citizens from natural disasters [like earthquakes and hurricanes] and manmade hazards [such as water and air pollution], while also providing greater flexibility for mitigating the effects of such events. These future innovators are the target of a new minor being offered by the Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering & Earth Sciences in the College of Engineering at the University of Notre Dame — the Resiliency and Sustainability of Engineering Systems minor.

According to Elizabeth Kerr, the director of undergraduate studies in the department, “Engineering impacts society on a daily basis. Students hear this all the time as they focus on technical proficiency in their coursework. This minor provides students the opportunity to look beyond the technical aspects of their engineering designs to the impact they will have on individual neighborhoods and society as a whole. It will help them better understand the critical nature of what they are doing in relation to the long-term effects of their designs and their actions.” 

Available to all engineering undergraduate students, the new minor focuses on the complex interactions and interdependencies between the natural and built environments. Students enrolled in the minor will study the technical aspects of engineering systems, such as roads, bridges, water treatment, and energy grids in communities — including safety codes and regulations. They will also learn the historical and economic framework that guided public policy, as well the environmental impact of built systems on ecosystems. These linkages between man and environment are critical to understanding the ethics and issues of interconnected systems as simple as a neighborhood street or as complex as the national highway system. The minor will also emphasize communication skills so students will be well equipped to work with city planners and policy makers and to interact with the public.

Courses in the minor offer an overview of the technical, economical, and political issues in resiliency and sustainability. They encompass classes from across the University, such as political science, psychology, philosophy, laws, economics, and sociology.

Students must complete a total of 16 hours, comprised of two required courses, three elective courses, and either a capstone project or summer internship [with a governmental body, regulatory agency, or environmental advocacy group] to be granted the minor.

The addition of the minor to the department’s offerings was made possible by a gift from Vilas Mujumdar, a supporter of engineering education as a way to ensure that the next generation of leaders are trained in multidisciplinary resiliency and sustainability. With more than 35 years of experience, Mujumdar has served as CEO, president, and partner in a variety of large engineering firms in the public sector, as well as in high-level administration with state and federal organizations. His experience ranges from design, project management, teaching, and research management. He holds degrees in civil engineering, finance, and public policy (seismic risk). 

“The importance to the future in the training professionals and engineers for sustainable and resilient development cannot be overstated,” says Peter Kilpatrick, the McCloskey Dean of Engineering. "The minor is an important step for the department, one that is consistent with the University’s mission to be a powerful means for good. It is also a moral imperative as described in Pope Francis’ Encyclical Laudato Si – On Care for Our Common Home ... 'Living our vocation to be protectors of God’s handiwork is essential to a life of virtue; it is not an optional or a secondary aspect of our Christian experience.'”

Originally published by Nina Welding at on February 15, 2017.