We Built This City

Students get an up-close look at engineering marvels around—and under—the Big Apple

It’s 5 a.m. on a crisp November morning and a bus waits outside the Eck Visitor Center.

More than 50 civil and environmental engineering students climb aboard, bound for New York City.

With stops and traffic, the typical 11-hour drive stretches to 14. This is the 12th annual Civil and Environmental Engineering and Earth Sciences (CEEES) Junior Class Field Trip, which exposes students to some of the largest and most innovative infrastructure design and construction efforts going on in the United States. The trips offers a firsthand look at the growing need to rebuild failing infrastructure and the chance to interact one-on-one with project and design engineers.

Past trips have also explored structures and projects in Virginia, Kentucky, Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi.

The concrete jungle does not come up short on examples — or spectacular views. Organized and led by Joannes Westerink, Joseph and Nona Ahearn Professor in Computational Science and Engineering and Henry J. Massman Department Chairman, and Diane Westerink, coordinator for the CEEES computational hydraulics laboratory, this year’s trip allows students to explore the inner workings of some of the most notable structures south of Central Park.

“New York is a wonderful case study on how to accommodate the ever-growing human population with a certain quality of life that each human being deserves.” – Annelise Gil-Wiehl

A few days in this city offers but a glimpse of the infrastructure wonders found in the Big Apple, but a carefully curated tour ensures students get a unique sightseeing perspective. They will learn the mythology of the Brooklyn Bridge, consider the weight of the World Trade Center Memorial, and discuss the enduring grace of St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

Based on recent census data, more than 8.5 million people live in the five boroughs that make up the most populated city in the United States. An estimated 27,000 people pack themselves into each square mile — the highest population density of any major city in the country — and Manhattan’s daytime population nearly doubles thanks to millions of commuters making their way to and from the city every day.

The transportation they take, the bridges they cross, the buildings they live and work in, the resources needed just to keep it all going would be impossible to provide without the work of civil and environmental engineers.

“We take this trip to expose our students to the immense opportunities and challenges facing their profession as cities continue to grow and our global population swells to more than 7 billion people,” says Joannes Westerink. “Our students are among the best in the nation, and dedicated to serving humanity. This trip connects career opportunities and innovation to service to our fellow man.”