The science of engineering encompasses a number of areas, and undergraduate students can expect to explore engineering courses that are both common to all engineering disciplines as well as those that are major specific. Besides the art and science of military engineering, civil and mechanical engineering are arguably the oldest of the engineering disciplines. Those who design, build and preserve structures are considered civil engineers. Mechanical engineers design, evaluate, produce and sustain machinery and mechanical systems using industry standard engineering principles. Both civil and mechanical engineering students must take various types of mathematics and physical sciences; some of the topics include differential equations, calculus and physics. Here are some of the major specific courses that civil and mechanical engineers typically take during their undergraduate years.

Structural Analysis

Structural analysis is a fundamental engineering class topic that involves the study of the impact of weight placed on structures like buildings, bridges or machinery. Engineers apply principles of mathematics and physics to structural analysis problems to design and develop safety into the structures that they help to build. They also use structural analysis to conduct periodic safety assessments for structures that they are responsible for maintaining. Knowledge of materials and metullargy are also employed in structural analysis when engineers seek to update products using innovative materials. Civil engineers would apply structural analysis to buildings and the land on which they sit, and mechanical engineers employ structural analysis to the design and manufacture of vehicles.

Mechanics of Materials

The raw materials used in building projects and mechanical systems impact performance, and the engineering class topic of materials mechanics allows engineering students to explore the properties of common building materials. Some of the common materials studied include metals, wood, concrete, glass and plastics. After studying the mechanics of materials, civil engineers can identify the parts of buildings and bridges that need reinforced concrete versus wood or a weaker material. Additionally, mechanical engineers use the principles of material mechanics to apply composites to the manufacture of mechanical systems that need greater flexibility or strength than would be gained from applying pure materials alone.

Topographic Drawing and Surveying

Whether a civil engineer designs golf courses or city buildings, they must begin their projects with a survey of the associated land. Surveying is such an important part of civil engineering that it is considered a sub-discipline, and a civil engineer that specializes in the subject is often called upon to perform the task. All civil engineering students, however, learn the basics of capturing the layout of lot boundaries and the deviations from land slopes. They also learn how to translate their data into topographic maps for use by urban planners.


Thermodynamics deals with how heat transfers affect bodies and processes for energy production. Early uses of the principles of thermodynamics were to maximize the energy produced by steam engines. Today’s mechanical engineers use the same principles to improve the efficiency of energy transfers within automobiles as well as marine, air and space craft.


While there are distinct differences between the disciplines of civil and mechanical engineering, there is also a great deal of overlap between the required knowledge areas of each group. The engineering courses described above reflect both the common and unique elements of both engineering disciplines that are so prominent within modern society.


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