Field of Study: Structural Engineering
Structural engineering programs prepare people to design and test materials used in buildings, dams, and bridges. Students learn to use science and math to look at stress and load. They also learn about problems such as failures, safety, and environmental impact.
Have you ever wondered why bees make honeycombs out of hexagons? Why not squares? Or triangles? The answer is that this design stores the maximum amount of honey with the minimum amount of materials. Also, it's very strong.
Honeybees would make good structural engineers, although structural engineering usually deals with problems of a much larger scale. You consider design problems of buildings and other large constructions. But just think: if you were designing a petroleum storage facility, you might face many of the same problems that the bees face.
Bees work from instinct. In contrast, structural engineering programs teach you to use principles of math and science. For example, laws of physics allow you to calculate the maximum load that a concrete pillar can carry. Unlike a bee, you are encouraged to be creative. You learn to research new technologies and apply them to problems in design. For example, you might use a new form of fiber reinforcement to make a concrete pillar carry additional weight.
You study the properties of various materials used in building, and you study what their limits are. With that knowledge, you can design structures that will not fail during an earthquake or fire. Since earthquakes are unpredictable and fires are expensive, you learn how to do experiments by running a simulation on a computer.
A four- or five-year program in structural engineering earns you a bachelor's degree. This should be enough to prepare you to work in this field. Unfortunately, only a very few colleges offer this particular program. So you may want to study civil engineering instead. In that case, you would take as many structural courses as possible.
Or you might specialize in structural engineering in a master's program. You would start out by getting a bachelor's in a related engineering field. Then, you would enter one of the approximately 15 graduate schools of engineering that offer this program.