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New Course 1 program prepares students to solve today's major challenges

The flexible undergraduate program, launching this fall, mixes rigor and depth with applications to critical areas of societal importance.
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Denise Brehm
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Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering

Beginning fall 2014, the Department of Civil and Environmental (CEE) will offer a new Course 1 flexible undergraduate program, 1-ENG, which will give students the flexibility of designing their unique and challenging educational programs to suit their individual interests, career goals, and aspirations. 

“The solutions to grand challenges in environment and sustainability, energy and resources, cities and transportation, and benign design, require depth in the fundamentals of mathematics, computation, statistics and data analytics, chemistry, biology and physics, and innovative approaches to science, engineering and design, all of which are emphasized in the new 1-ENG educational program,” says Markus Buehler, a professor and head of CEE, who announced the new program on April 8. “This new flexible undergraduate program in civil and environmental engineering introduces a rigorous and creative approach to education for today’s complex world. In Course 1, students become leaders in creating a sustainable future.”

Any track can be created by combining Course 1 foundational courses with the core subject areas of mechanics and materials, environmental engineering science, and systems — or any combination of these. Sample track templates include: energy; bio-inspired mechanics and mechanics for biology; systems; environmental engineering science with flavors of biology, chemistry and physics; civil engineering; structures, architecture and design; sustainable buildings and cities; and transportation. The program emphasizes quantitative approaches and offers each student ample opportunities to learn and apply coursework knowledge through hands-on laboratory and project-oriented subjects. Students have the option of taking a project-based senior capstone subject or writing a thesis, and will work closely with faculty. We anticipate that the 1-ENG program will be accredited by Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology.

“The main feature of the new program is an unprecedented level of flexibility that will allow our students to work closely with their CEE faculty advisors to design tracks of study that are rigorous, exciting and tailored to fit each students needs and interests,” says Elfatih Eltahir, a professor and associate department head of CEE, who led the curriculum development efforts. “The systems focus is an exciting innovation that provides an opportunity for students to learn the tools of big data, network theory and statistical mechanics as they apply to civil and environmental applications.”

To support the new curriculum, the department will launch several new and updated undergraduate subjects in the 2014-15 academic year. New subjects include data analysis for analyzing real-world data sets, a computational course based on MATLAB (CEE also offers a JavaScript-based computation course), and a new field-based environmental subject. Other CEE subjects and curricula will be added in the near future as the faculty are actively continuing to work on the development of new curricula and subjects.

In addition to the requirements of the three core subject sets, the track-related subjects and electives, all students in the 1-ENG program will take five general departmental required subjects: math, computation, engineering probability and statistics, data analysis, and a capstone or thesis subject that teaches the basic skills necessary for engaging in a design project or thesis writing. This set of subjects complements and enhances the rigorous foundations established through the General Institute Requirements taken in the freshman year. 

“Course 1 was one of the founding departments of MIT and represents some of the oldest engineering professions, and was established to address big societal challenges,” Buehler says. “Today, Course 1 opens a new chapter in this great tradition, leading the transformation to endow students with the tools they need to solve tomorrow’s challenges.”

For more information on the program visit its webpage, or email

Additional information

1-ENG foundational cores

  • The environment core focuses on Earth’s systems and cycles, introducing students to principles in environmental chemistry, microbiology, fluid mechanics, and hydrology. Students enrolled in this program do fieldwork during Independent Activities Period.
  • The mechanics and materials core focuses on the principles of mechanics necessary to understand how materials behave, from nano to macro scales.
  • The systems core explores big data, system modeling and analysis, sustainability, and energy and transportation systems.

Sample track templates 

The flexible structure of 1-ENG allows students to design a great variety of possible subject combinations. Below are a couple of examples that can serve as a starting point for planning. Each student will work closely with a faculty advisor to design a track of study.

  • Energy
  • Structures, architecture, and design
  • Environmental engineering science-biology
  • Environmental engineering science-chemistry
  • Environmental engineering science-physics
  • Bio-inspired mechanics and mechanics for biology
  • Sustainable buildings and cities
  • Civil engineering
  • Systems
  • Transportation

New and revised undergraduate subjects offered by CEE

  • 1.00 (Introduction to Computers and Engineering Problem Solving) covers JavaScript-based computation, focused on software engineering
  • 1.000 (Computer Programming for Scientific and Engineering Applications) uses MATLAB to provide students with computation skills that can be used in hydrology, solid mechanics, fluid mechanics, systems, genomics, and other areas
  • 1.021J (Introduction to Modeling and Simulation) offers fundamentals in statistical mechanics, quantum mechanics, and multiscale modeling and simulation
  • 1.022 (Urban Networks) draws on engineering, applied mathematics, computer science and statistical physics to teach students how to analyze real-world data sets
  • 1.011 (Project Evaluation and Management) covers all aspects of large-scale engineering projects that involve many economic, financial, social and environmental factors
  • 1.020 (Engineering for Sustainability) introduces a systems approach to modeling, analysis, and decision-making problems for water and energy sustainability; formulation of models based on physical, environmental, social, and economic principles; and economic evaluation of design

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