College of Engineering News • Iowa State University

Environmental Engineering: Newest major is off to a strong start

students collecting water samples from river
Students collecting water samples from river.

Photos by Ryan Riley, College of Engineering

Building on a long-standing concentration area within civil engineering, a new major in environmental engineering is an early success:

  • 81 students now enrolled
  • 47% are women or other underrepresented minorities
  • Hands-on, data-collection-driven courses starting in first year
  • Learning community to support engagement and build connections
Water being collected in a glass jar.

“As a student water operator, I put my classroom engineering skills to practice, with responsibility for maintaining the public water supply from start to finish. It is incredibly rewarding to be part of providing a necessity to the Ames community while I’m still a student, especially in a role with a direct connection to quality of life and health outcomes.”

Daria Dilparic
Graduate student in environmental engineering
Student operator at the City of Ames Water and Pollution Control Department

Daria Dilparic is a student operator the Ames Water Treatment plant.

Advancing Environmental Equity

Iowa State environmental engineers are working on projects with wide-reaching impact, developing new data-driven approaches to ensure all people have access to clean water, resilient infrastructure, and livable environments.

Here are a few areas where Cyclone Engineering faculty are making innovations:

Watershed Models

Antonio Arenas uses surface-subsurface hydrologic models to evaluate flood mitigation and agricultural conservation strategies. His team investigates water and nitrogen cycling in farmed prairie potholes, flood and water quality benefits derived from land-use changes, the environmental performance of two-stage roadside ditches, and changes to traditional culvert design to achieve flood reduction benefits.

Antonio Arenas standing in prairie strip

Right-sized climate adaptation strategies

CCEE assistant professor Lu Liu

Lu Liu is modeling how climate change will impact rural and urban communities differently – so tailored adaptation strategies can be identified and adopted according to different population-growth rates and climate models.

Common chemical language

Joe Charbonnet

Joe Charbonnet is creating a clearer way for scientists and engineers around the world to communicate the characteristics of toxic per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), known as “forever chemicals.” A common framework is key to identifying new varieties of PFAS.

Mapping pathogen hotspots

Chris Rehmann

Chris Rehmann leads a team studying where pathogens are most likely to stick around after floodwaters rise and recede. Modeling data about contamination pathways will point to more equitable and resilient approaches to flood mitigation. 

Community-led water quality tools

Cristina Poleacovschi

Cristina Poleacovschi leads a project to explore connections between climate change, water quality and health outcomes in Alaska Native communities. The team is partnering with communities on water system monitoring and sampling to create quantitative tools that can be used for infrastructure advocacy.

Reducing risk for older adults

Kaoru Ikuma

Kaoru Ikuma is working with the Loíza community in Puerto Rico to study how elevated exposure risks to wastewater contaminants after flooding impacts older adults. Her team is modeling contaminant transport, interviewing older residents to learn about their trust in drinking water sources – and combining what they learn into risk-reduction interventions. 

Kaoru Ikuma

“Cyclone Engineers are focused on using innovation to advance environmental equity. We are developing new technologies and approaches to take on a variety of environmental engineering challenges – with the fair treatment of all people at the heart of our work.” 

Kaoru Ikuma Associate professor of civil, construction and environmental engineering