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Civil and Environmental Engineering

Carol J. Rosenfeld ’05

Energy Management Specialist, Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities, City of Philadelphia

The best advice I ever received came from my calculus professor. I was struggling through his class, as well as my other freshman engineering requirements. It felt as though perhaps my irregularly shaped interests in science and policy were a mismatch for engineering’s square-shaped hole.

He told me that most students expected to come to college and be struck by their intended major, as if by lightning. These students believed that, one day, sitting in a random class, they would suddenly realize that this was the field they were going to spend the rest of their career in. That was how I had expected things to go, but scarily far away from what I’d actually been feeling. My professor explained that very few students he’d known had found their passion this way. For the rest of us, finding a major that fit would be much less clear and a much slower process, akin to osmosis. He recommended finding a field that I liked well enough, that posed questions I found interesting even outside of class time, and build my passion from there, rather than expecting it to strike me full-force in an instant.

I still loved the idea of finding tangible solutions to real-world problems, so I decided to stick out the engineering prerequisites. I originally thought I might be a mechanical engineer. But I stayed long after the end of the engineering open house in the spring of freshman year with a professor from the civil and environmental engineering department, talking about rivers and floods. I’d never realized before that there even was such a field. It sounded as though it would dovetail well with my interests in policy and the outdoors, so I signed up. I also had chosen Princeton in part because the engineering program affords the flexibility to take classes outside of engineering, and I found out that I could even count some of my classes in the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs on environmental policy toward the engineering requirements. It is hard to believe that a decision that seems as though it was made in just that one afternoon in a corner of the EQuad would turn out to fit me so well!

Unexpected experiences

I’ve now worked on environmental policy for an environmental advocacy group, sustainability strategy for a Fortune 500 energy utility, outreach on sustainability at an Ivy League institution, and energy management for a municipal government. My positions have spanned the nonprofit, private, educational, and government sectors. While I’ve yet to work as a true engineer, that foundation has been there to support me all along the way.

In high school, I could tell from a given math problem what technique was needed to solve it. I could see my way to the answer as if looking down a straight tunnel, and all I needed to do was put one foot in front of the other to arrive there. I spent most of my Princeton career unlearning that approach. From the very beginning, in that freshman math class, solving problems required heading down an unfamiliar path, with the hope that one would be nearer to the answer after rounding a few bends. I credit my degree with giving me a willingness to brainstorm around a solution without having all of the answers up front. I enjoyed being in the civil and environmental engineering department and learning about hydrology and water treatment plants. But it is this courage to face the uncertain with faith that the light at the end of the tunnel will appear in due time that I now rely on every day.