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    • 2014
Harrison Steedman

Student Profile

‘I try to head up the ski fields as much as possible and Canterbury is the perfect place to do this...’

Harrison Steedman Studying towards BE(Hons) in Civil Engineering
(read profile)

Civil Engineering


BE(Hons), ME, MEngSt, PhD

See also Engineering


Civil engineers use their knowledge and skills to design, construct, project manage, and commission a wide range of facilities. This includes basic infrastructure such as buildings, bridges, towers, dams, roads and railways, pipe networks and treatment plants which provide society with a reliable, safe, sustainable and modern environment.

Civil engineers use advanced computing techniques to design buildings, bridges and any other infrastructure that are safe against earthquakes, fire, wind, snow and landslides. Electric power depends on civil engineers for the design and construction of dams, canals and transmission towers. Many towns and cities are protected against flooding by facilities designed and constructed by civil engineers.

Civil engineers have responsibility for managing people, equipment, resources, time and money. Communication skills are vital, as all professional engineers need to be able to provide detailed engineering reports and effectively take part in presentations, public hearings and inquiries.

Civil engineering is a broad field, and students may take courses to focus on a more specific area during their professional years of study to suit their interests, including structural, water, geotechnical, transportation and environmental engineering.

100-level courses

The first year of the BE(Hons) is called the Engineering Intermediate Year. See Engineering for more information on the Engineering Intermediate.

Civil Engineering – required Intermediate courses

  • ENGR 101 Foundations of Engineering
  • EMTH 118 Engineering Mathematics 1A
  • EMTH 119 Engineering Mathematics 1B
  • EMTH 171 Mathematical Modelling and Computation
  • PHYS 101 Engineering Physics A: Mechanics, Waves and Thermal Physics
  • CHEM 111 General Chemistry A
  • ENGR 102 Engineering Mechanics and Materials
  • At least one 15-point elective course

200-level and beyond

The first and second professional years consist of compulsory courses that provide a wide, basic knowledge for the civil engineering professional. These include fluid mechanics, geotechnical engineering, surveying, materials, management, soil mechanics, structural design, transportation and water quality. An external field camp also forms part of the First Professional Year's programme.

In the Third Professional Year, students choose their courses to either specialise in a specific area of interest or generalise their courses. Courses can include traffic planning, structures, water engineering, geotechnical engineering, fire engineering and engineering in developing communities. A compulsory research project is required for all students.

Laboratory, tutorial, design office and field classes complement the theory presented in lectures and demonstrate its relevance to practical applications. As well as individual assignments, students also regularly work in teams on projects, and written and oral presentations are key components of many courses. Lecturers place a heavy emphasis on the importance of good communication skills.

Career opportunities

There are excellent career opportunities for civil engineers, with a strong demand for graduates in New Zealand and around the world in a diverse range of fields.

Most new graduates are employed by consultants (who design and manage), contractors (who build and maintain) or central, regional and local government (who develop and manage the infrastructure of cities and communities).

Many civil engineers become experts in a specialised area of civil engineering such as structural, water, geotechnical, transportation or environmental fields. Some operate their own companies, enter into partnerships, or become researchers for government agencies or business.

Structural engineers apply knowledge of construction methods and properties of materials into design and construction of buildings and bridges that can safely withstand constant use, and the forces of nature such as earthquakes, fire, wind and water.

Water engineers deal with the storage and distribution of water for drinking and irrigation and the design and construction of control structures on rivers to relieve flooding and generate hydroelectric power. Coastal management and protection are also concerns of the civil engineer.

Geotechnical engineers deal with the ability of soils to provide stable foundations and the design of slopes and retaining walls to remain stable under the action of constant loads and environmental forces.

Transportation engineers plan, design, construct and maintain safe, efficient, reliable and sustainable transportation networks involving roads, pathways, railways, airports and harbours.

Environmental engineers deal with environmental impacts of major projects, and environment-friendly recycling, treatment and disposal of wastes from communities or industries.

A Civil Engineering degree also provides a valuable stepping stone for those interested in management roles. The diverse nature of many civil engineering organisations allows for a wide range of opportunities within New Zealand and overseas.

For further career information, please go to


Department of Civil and Natural Resources Engineering
Telephone: +64 3 364 2250