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Civil & Environmental Engineering About

A History & Tradition of Educational Excellence in Civil Engineering

The UW-Madison Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE) has served as home to a community of researchers and students for over 150 years. Founded in 1870, the Department was established following the passage of the Morrill Act in 1862, which required land-grant colleges to offer instruction in the mechanic arts. The study of civil engineering at UW-Madison, however, began shortly after the college was established in 1848, with the first formal course offered in 1856, and the first instructor, Thomas D. Coryell, appointed in 1858.

Retired army officer William Nicodemus, who was dubbed “the father of technical instruction” at UW-Madison, became the first chair of Civil Engineering at UW-Madison in 1871. Under Nicodemus’ direction, the first full course of study in civil engineering was launched with five students enrolled, three of whom earned their degrees in 1873.

Early curriculum included the study of railway, topographic, highway, bridge, hydraulic, and sanitary engineering, as well as land survey and city planning. A six-week summer survey camp comprised of four weeks of topographic and land surveying, followed by two weeks of railway and highway route surveying were among the first and longest running forms of hands-on education for civil engineering students at UW-Madison. The camp provided practical experience along side theoretical instruction, which helped position students for employment as surveyors with the State Highway Commission of Wisconsin. Since then, many alumni and faculty have helped pioneer the study and practice of civil and environmental engineering.

Milestones, Advancements, & Community Success

Under the guidance of Professor Daniel Webster Mead, who later established Mead and Seastone, the forerunner consulting firm of Mead & Hunt, a first-of-its-kind hydraulics laboratory was completed in 1905. Now known as the Water Science and Engineering Laboratory (WSEL) located on the shores of Lake Mendota, the building houses a variety of programs and research spaces for aquatic chemistry, environmental chemistry, and aquaculture and limnology.

Elizabeth Ebbott Huppler was one of the first 10 women to receive an engineering degree at the University of Wisconsin. She and her husband John met as students in our department in 1937 and went on to enjoy 70 years of life together. They both valued their education and established a scholarship in Elizabeth’s name to support women in engineering, which has existed for over 30 years and has helped countless women pursue their goals.

During his 32-year tenure at UW-Madison Chu-Kia (C.K.) Wang mentored many engineers and created a lasting impact on the field of structural engineering. He was among the first to recognize the revolutionary impact that computers would have in the field, pushing him to develop some of the first computerized analysis procedures for structural engineering. His vast accomplishments include 10,000+ pages of text in nine books.

CEE alumnus Oscar Boldt ran the Boldt Construction Company for over 70 years, building it into one of the largest and most prestigious construction firms in the nation. Oscar’s ongoing support for Badger Engineering helped establish our popular Construction Engineering and Management program in the early 1990s, which is now one of most respected of its kind in the country.

Three-time CEE graduate Jun Lee has had a hand in structural engineering firsts, including the first building to use a precast product spanning 50 feet and the tallest pre-cast building in Wisconsin. Jun now serves as the president of SRI Design and has had a pivotal role in pushing the study of structural engineering forward at UW-Madison through the establishment of a new dedicated lab space, which was completed in 2019.

Guiding the Next Generation of Badger Engineers

What began with a small team of researchers and just five students in 1870, has grown and evolved to include eight cross-disciplinary research areas with over 30 full-time faculty members, 550 undergraduate students, and 170 graduate students.

As one of the top-ranked programs of our kind nationally and internationally, we are proud to push research and education forward in civil engineering, environmental engineering, geological engineering, and environmental chemistry and technology. From autonomous vehicles to stormwater management, PFAS, natural disasters, and next-generation building materials, Badger Engineers are continuously impacting the world around us in positive ways.

We are passionate about engineering and the opportunities it provides to transform society and how we interact with the natural world. The grand challenges we face locally, nationally, and beyond call for innovative and sustainable solutions. With an eye on the future, we continuously strive to build a supportive environment with access to opportunities and experiences that educate, prepare, and inspire the next generation of Badger Engineers. The students of today are the leaders of tomorrow, and we are honored to help create a foundation for their long-term personal and professional success.