Civil and Environmental Engineering, M.S. (Ithaca)

Program Description

Students in the M.S. or Ph.D. program may select one area of concentration. Each student in the Ph.D. program must take a qualifying examination shortly after receiving the M.S. degree, or, if a student comes to Cornell with an M.S. degree, within nine months after arrival. Additional information on the M.S. and Ph.D. programs is available on request from the graduate field office.

Civil Infrastructure Systems aims to augment the traditional education in infrastructure engineering with additional perspectives and systems methods to address  new challenges. These new  challenges are: understanding how structures behave as a system of components and how individual structures behave together as an infrastructure system and understanding the technical aspects of infrastructure engineering within the social, economic, political and cultural context in which they exist. Further, consideration must be given to long-term maintenance, operation and destruction and uncertainties that affect infrastructure system design and analysis.

Environmental Processes is concerned with the protection and management of the quality of the environment for the benefit of society. Degree programs emphasize biological, chemical, and physical phenomena and engineering principles; laboratory and computational skills; and their application to the analysis of relevant problems.

Environmental Fluid Mechanics and Hydrology involves the study of fluid mechanics of the environment and the associated application to hydraulics, hydrology, coastal oceanography, and meteorology as related to the wet earth and atmosphere.

Environmental and Water Resources Systems Engineering. Research and instruction in this area address the development and application of scientific principles, economic theory, and mathematical techniques to the management and planning of public infrastructure and environmental and water resource systems. Research projects include evaluation of engineering projects, groundwater contaminant modeling and remediation optimization, statistical analysis of hydrologic processes, hydropower systems optimization, water supply systems management, water quality planning, risk analysis, river basin and groundwater systems planning and operation, ecological systems management, sustainable development and computer graphics-oriented decision support systems.

Geotechnical Engineering is concerned with the study of the engineering properties and use of earth materials and the measurement of the behavior of earth and rock structures. It includes soil and rock mechanics and foundation engineering.

Remote Sensing covers the qualitative and quantitative analyses of aircraft and satellite images, as well as other remotely sensed data, as they are used in inventorying, monitoring, and assessing earth resources and the environment.

Structural Engineering includes, in addition to the conventional aspects of structural analysis and design, interests in computational mechanics, artificial intelligence, dynamics and earthquake engineering, behavior of thin steel structures, control of large-space structures, reliability, stochastic mechanics, natural disaster risk assessment and management, civil infrastructure systems, evaluation of structures and non-destructive testing, fracture mechanics, blast and impact loads, progressive collapse, and structural materials.

Transportation Systems Engineering embraces policy, planning, design, and evaluation of transport systems and the relationships among transport supply and demand, land use, and regional development. The approach is multimodal and systems oriented; it emphasizes the use of quantitative and analytical techniques of operations research and economics.

Contact Information

Phone: 607 255-7560

219 Hollister Hall
Cornell University
Ithaca, NY  14853

Concentrations by Subject

  • environmental and water resources systems engineering
  • environmental fluid mechanics and hydrology
  • environmental processes
  • geotechnical engineering
  • remote sensing
  • structural engineering
  • structural mechanics (minor)
  • transportation systems engineering


2015-2016 $29,500

Application Requirements and Deadlines

Application Deadlines:

Fall, Dec. 10 (for students considering funding); Jan. 5 (for students not considering funding); Spring, Oct. 15. 

Requirements Summary:

Applicants must submit scores for the GRE general test. Applicants must have minimum iBT Tips TOEFL scores of 20 in Writing;15 in Listening; 20 in Reading; and 22 in Speaking. Additional information is available on request from the graduate field office.

  • all Graduate School Requirements
  • three recommendations
  • GRE general test required
  • Minimum iBT TOEFL scores of 20 in Writing;15 in Listening; 20 in Reading; and 22 in Speaking


A candidate for the PhD is expected to demonstrate mastery of knowledge in a specific subject area in Civil and Environmental engineering and to synthesize and create new knowledge, making an original and substantial contribution to their discipline in a timely fashion.

A candidate for the MS also is expected to demonstrate mastery of knowledge in specific subject area in Civil and Environmental engineering and to synthesize and create new knowledge, making a contribution to their discipline in a timely fashion.

Learn more about proficiencies for both the PhD and MS degrees.

Aspirational Goals

Cornell University and the Graduate Field of Civil and Environmental Engineering have expectations of Cornell graduates that defy explicit measurement scales.  These aspirational goals are intended to encourage growth and development but do not necessarily lend themselves to assessment as readily as the learning proficiencies.

* Be a researcher and scholar in their field of expertise

* Effectively engage in one’s broader community through various forms of outreach

* Explore interconnections

  o Focus on plural contexts and cultures
  o Respect research in other areas
  o Understand and articulate the impact of research on society

An MS or PhD student is expected to demonstrate knowledge in a particular  Civil and Environmental Engineering subject area and to synthesize and create new knowledge, making an original contribution in a timely fashion. This goal can be accomplished by making an original contribution to the discipline and by learning advanced research skills.   Further, goal attainment can be accomplished by synthesizing existing knowledge, indentifying and accessing appropriate resources and other sources of relevant information and critically analyzing and evaluating one’s finding and those of others. Application of existing research methodologies, techniques, and technical skills must also be accomplished and communicated in a style appropriate to engineering.  It is important to initiate or maintain engagement with the discipline by keeping abreast of current advances within one’s field and related areas. Commitment to professional development through membership and participation in professional societies is important. The attached rubric chart can be used to evaluate the student’s performance relative to these goals.

 For the PhD the major sources of evaluation metrics are the Q exam, seminar presentations, the A Exam and the B exam. The Q exam is typically an oral exam administered by faculty in the student’s subject area. The exam tests the candidate’s academic preparedness and their ability to use this preparation to solve engineering problems.  The A exam is administered by the student’s Special Committee. It is generally taken after the student has achieved their first research results and is able to propose a research program that will lead to the thesis research topic required for the PhD degree.  The B exam is a defense of thesis exam where completion of the thesis research and a resulting thesis draft are presented in an oral exam given by the student’s Special Committee.  The MS degree requires only one exam; the thesis defense. This exam is an evaluation of  the thesis research via oral presentation of the thesis to the student’s Special Committee.  Additional evaluations of both the PhD and MS students will include seminar, TA course evaluations, awards and course grades.  

An evaluation of the metric overall score will be done after each evaluation event to mark the progress of the student during their degree program.  Finally, upon graduation, each graduate will be interviewed for opinions on the quality of the program and for suggestions for improvements.