Structural engineering is the field of engineering particularly concerned with the design of load-bearing structures. The field crosses engineering disciplines, and structural engineering can be found within civil, mechanical, and aerospace engineering. Within civil engineering, it is largely the implementation of mechanics to the design of the large structures that are fundamental to basic living, such as buildings, bridges, walls, dams, and tunnels. Structural engineers need to design structures so that the structures do not collapse or behave in undesirable ways while serving their useful functions. The efficient use of funds and materials to achieve these structural goals is also a major concern. Structural engineers work closely with architects, construction managers, and transportation engineers, to name only a few.
Typically, apprentice structural engineers may design simple beams, columns, and floors of a new building, including calculating the loads on each member and the load capacity of various building materials (steel, timber, masonry, and concrete). Courses in these topics are an integral part of the undergraduate curriculum for a structural engineer. An experienced engineer would tend to design more complex structures, such as multistory buildings (including skyscrapers) or bridges. It is in the design of these more complex systems that a structural engineer must draw upon creativity in the application of mechanics principles. New structural systems and novel application of materials result from this process, and new technologies, such as control and damage detection systems, are now found in civil engineering structures, where traditionally they were only found in mechanical or aerospace systems. Courses at the graduate level build the basic structural knowledge of the traditional systems and materials of our field and expose students to new technologies and approaches that will become part of standard practice within the career of our students.