Peggy Layne

Peggy Layne

Assistant Provost for Faculty Development
Virginia Tech
Peggy Layne
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Peggy Layne, P.E., joined Virginia Tech in 2003 as director of the AdvanceVT program, a National Science Foundation sponsored program to increase the number and success of women faculty in science and engineering. She is currently the Director of AdvanceVT and Faculty Projects in the Office of the Senior Vice President and Provost. Prior to accepting her current position, Ms. Layne worked as a diversity consultant for the American Association of Engineering Societies and as director of the program on diversity in the engineering workforce at the National Academy of Engineering. She also spent a year as an AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellow in the office of Senator Bob Graham, where she was responsible for water, wastewater, and solid and hazardous waste policy issues. Ms. Layne has degrees in environmental and water resources engineering from Vanderbilt University and the University of North Carolina School of Public Health. She spent 17 years as a consulting engineer with several firms, and was formerly a principal at Harding Lawson Associates in Tallahassee, FL, where she managed the office and directed hazardous waste site investigation and cleanup projects. Ms. Layne is an active member of the American Society of Civil Engineers and a registered professional engineer. She served as president of the Society of Women Engineers in 1996-97 and FY11 Chair of SWE’s Government Relations and Public Policy Committee.
Answers by Ms. Peggy Layne

Hi Kaci,
Environmental engineers can work for government agencies, consulting firms, or industrial corporations, so there are a variety of job opportunities out there. You don't need to have an undergraduate major in environmental engineering. Many civil and chemical engineering programs can prepare you well for a career in the environmental field. It would be helpful to take some courses that are specifically focused on environmental issues in addition to core technical courses. Environmental work is largely driven by government regulations, so some background in law and policy is helpful. Communication skills are also very important, because environmental engineers often work with the general public as well as regulatory agencies. During my engineering career I worked on designing municipal water and wastewater treatment plants as well as waste management for oil refineries and chemical plants. I reviewed proposed regulations and prepared background studies to inform regulatory decisions, and I managed teams of scientists and engineers investigating old hazardous waste disposal sites. I'm sure you can find work that is interesting, challenging, and rewarding.
Best wishes,

Hi Candice,

Environmental engineers work at a variety of different kinds of sites, so I'm not sure exactly what you are asking. I'll answer based on the kind of work I used to do investigating hazardous waste disposal sites. We worked on military bases and industrial facilities, some of which were very old, so one of the first questions we faced was "what happened here?" Sometimes answering that question required researching old records of activities at the site and interviewing current and former employees. Based on that information, we would consider what possible types of contamination might be present and what kind of sampling and analyses we would need to do to characterize the site.

Hope that's helpful.


I'm not familiar with the engineering education system in India. Here in the U.S., a few schools offer undergraduate degrees in environmental engineering. I happen to have one, but the school no longer offers it. I found when I was interviewing for jobs after earning my bachelor's degree that some employers did not know what to do with an environmental engineering undergraduate degree. The faculty members in my department helped me to make connections with employers who were looking for environmental engineers. 

Today many civil engineering departments offer a concentration in environmental engineering within the civil engineering curriculum. The exact requirements vary by program, so it is worth looking closely at course requirements and talking with faculty members and students when you are deciding where to go to school and what program to pursue. 
From an employer's perspective, if I were looking to hire an environmental engineer, I would be more interested in hiring one with a master's degree than just a bachelor's degree, because bachelor's degrees in the U.S. have to include a variety of material. Even a specialized bachelor's in environmental engineering would not have the depth of course work and experience that a master's program offers. So, I would recommend the B.E. in civil engineering and the M.E. in environmental.
I also worked for two years after my B.E. before going back to graduate school. I found that the perspective and experience of being out in the working world was very helpful and made me more focused on my graduate studies.
Hope that is helpful,

My advice to a homeschooler interested in becoming an environmental engineer is pretty much the same advice I would give to any young person. Study as much math and science as possible in order to be prepared for college engineering classes and seek out opportunities in the local community to learn more about what engineers do. Local sections of professional organizations like the Society of Women Engineers or the American Society of Civil Engineers often host activities for pre-college students to give them a chance to learn more about engineering. Colleges also may offer weekend or summer programs for high school or middle school students to come to campus and learn about science, technology, and engineering.

Hope that is helpful!


Salaries for engineers vary depending on the engineering discipline and the type of employer, as well as years of experience and location. It can be somewhat misleading to look at average salaries for engineers overall. For example, engineers in the petroleum industry typically have much higher salaries than civil engineers working in a government agency.

In general, women and men in engineering start out with very similar salaries. Differences are more likely to appear as they progress through their careers, but that is changing as more women enter the field.

If you love literature and have strong communications skills - that is, if you can write and speak well - those skills will give you an advantage combined with an engineering education. Someone with a good technical background who can also clearly communicate their ideas to others will have great career prospects in engineering.



Environmental engineering is a very diverse field and environmental engineers come from many different backgrounds. Prerequisites for graduate degrees vary across programs, so you should look into some of the graduate programs that interest you to find out what courses are required. From there you can probably determine what kind of preparation you need. Some environmental graduate programs focus on treatment process design, which might require more chemistry or unit operations background than you get in a typical electrical engineering program, but other programs focus on mathematical modeling, and you probably have the background for those types of classes. Your best bet is to look around for programs that interest you and contact them directly. Either a faculty member or an administrator can help you determine how best to prepare.

I agree with Kristin's answers to this question. Environmental engineers can work in a variety of industries and a variety of technical areas, from designing air pollution control equipment (which may require knowledge of electrical and mechanical engineering concepts, as well as principles from chemical engineering) to building water and wastewater treatment plants, to investigating properties for contamination.
Salaries vary depending on the industry, and of course experience, and are not as high as some other engineering disciplines but are definitely good professional salaries.
A professional engineering license is a good credential to have, because you never know where your career will lead you. It demonstrates both your technical knowledge and your commitment to the profession.

There are many different areas of environmental engineering, some more focused on understanding the natural environment and others more focused on technology to modify or protect the environment. A strong background in math is important for most of these areas. Fortunately, math can be learned with good teaching and practice, so if you are willing to study and learn, you should be able to develop your math skills. Research is also a very broad area. Sometimes research is done by collecting samples in the field, sometimes by performing experiments in the laboratory, and sometimes by developing mathematical models using a computer. If you are interested in protecting the environment, Im sure that you can find some aspect of environmental engineering research that appeals to you and will be a challenging and rewarding career. Regards, Peggy

This is a very good question! Certainly people with degrees in computer science, electrical and mechanical engineering, and even construction management work in environmental and (with the exception of construction management) biomedical engineering. If you are definitely going to attend a certain college, my suggestion would be to look at the web sites for the individual departments or make an appointment to talk to a faculty member or undergraduate advisor in each department and find out what kind of courses are offered and what kind of research the faculty members are doing. Both environmental and biomedical engineering are very broad fields, as you probably know from your research.Environmental engineering can range from designing and building treatment systems for solid, liquid, and gaseous waste to collecting and analyzing samples and running computer models of how pollutants travel through the air, water and soil. Biomedical engineering includes the development of medical devices that involve electrical and mechanical components such as artificial joints, stents and pacemakers, and drug delivery devices as well as protective equipment for soldiers, workers, and athletes. Today in many mechanical engineering departments you can find faculty members interested in biomechanics, applying principles of mechanical engineering to bones and joints. Some mechanical engineering departments also offer courses in green engineering that include topics such as life cycle analysis and energy management. So, mechanical engineering may be your best bet, but it would be worth talking to some people in the other departments as well just in case there is a faculty member in another department with interests similar to yours. Good luck!

I passed your question to a professor of AOE at Virginia Tech. This is what she had to say:
Dear Grace from VA,

You are quite fortunate in that you live in a state with many wonderful Aerospace Engineering programs. For example, Old Dominion and the University of Virginia both have strong Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering programs. In my admittedly biased opinion, the best Aerospace Engineering program in the state is at Virginia Tech! As for what courses to take—I urge you to build a strong math and science background. Work hard at math and physics, and if you can take AP Calculus and AP Physics in high school that will certainly help prepare you for an Aerospace Engineering degree program. Seek out opportunities to learn more about planes and/or spacecraft. As just a couple ideas, you can get exposure to small airplanes by participating in an EAA Young Eagles Day (, and NASA’s website ( has all sorts of educational/motivational information. Lastly, Universities like to see strong students (high GPAs in rigorous courses) and well-rounded individuals (active in clubs, sports, music, student leadership, etc…) so being involved in your community is a good thing! I hope this helps answer your questions.

Go Hokies!

Dr. Leigh McCue

Assistant Professor

Aerospace and Ocean Engineering

Virginia Tech