Becky Lee is here to help you understand the many different types of engineering at Tufts! Becky interviewed ten undergrads majoring in ten different majors to give you an insider's perspective on each one. For a full list of the sixteen majors offered through the Tufts School of Engineering, head to this page.
Where to first? Click below to jump to the majors you are interested in!
Human Factors Engineering
Interviewee: Miles Arnett '22 from Worcester, MA
If your heart is in the lab (literally), biomedical engineering (BME) might be the major for you!
Biomedical engineering is the intersection of biology, medicine, and technology. Biomedical engineers work to improve the quality of human and animal life by studying how doctors and patients interact with medical equipment. This allows them to improve devices, drugs, and other therapeutic treatments, paving the way for future innovations in the medical field. Their work includes everything from imaging technologies to prosthetics to biocompatible drug delivery systems.
At Tufts, the BME major is divided into three focus areas: regenerative medicine, drug delivery, and biomedical devices. Projects range from silk-based nanocircuitry to lab-grown hearts, with endless possibilities in between. For example, some Tufts students have become pioneers in the field of tissue engineering and other have created dissolvable bioelectric devices. As part of his class research to develop an artificial brain implant, Miles Arnett even grew neural cells on a scaffold! These impressive BME projects are all possible thanks to a committed student body interested in medicine and biology and professors who are more than willing to support these passions.
Furthermore, through Tufts' co-op program, students gain valuable hands-on experience in many different BME subfields and combine problem-solving and innovative thinking with technical knowledge. So, whether you find yourself in a lab with other students or in a lecture taking notes, you'll be ready to change the world as a Tufts BME!
Interviewee: Emily DeWolf '21 from Rutland, VT
Do you find tiny things cute? Chemical engineering (ChemE) might be right up your alley, considering how small molecules can be!
Chemical engineering seems easy to understand at first. After all, it's simply chemistry plus engineering, right? Add a little bit of this, a little bit of that, cook at 365 degrees, and voilà!
However, the field is much more complicated than you think. As Emily put it, "ChemE is basically a mixing pot of science. If you are interested in how physics, chemistry, and biology come together...you'll get a taste of it here." Chemical engineers design almost all the equipment and processes used in manufacturing plants. They also develop chemical controls and specialty materials. In other words, there is a wide range of industries chemical engineers can enter, including pharmaceuticals, technology, and pollution remediation.
At Tufts, students have designed biopharmaceuticals, consumer products, fuel cells, and more in their classes and labs. Others have pursued internships to learn about waste management and find new ways to deal with environmental crises (e.g. plastic waste). Some, including Emily, have explored nuclear physics and kinetics in order to design reactors. Our curriculum prepares students to think on the industrial scale, where factors like heat management, fluid transport, mass transport, and process control come into play. So chemical engineering is definitely an explosive, exciting field to explore if the intricacies of chemistry capture your attention. There will never be a dull moment!
Interviewee: Claire Wright '21 from Denver, CO
Do you catch yourself admiring architecture? Were Legos your favorite childhood toy? Perhaps you should consider a future in civil engineering (CivE)!
From highways, buildings, bridges, and airports to irrigation systems, civil engineers have built the modern environments we live in. The discipline includes fields such as structural engineering, transportation engineering, and geotechnical engineering, and environmental fields such as irrigation engineering, wind energy engineering, soil engineering, and ocean engineering.
At Tufts, students can focus on the technical side of construction by studying how buildings are built and how they interact with society. Claire, for example, is pursuing her interest in structural engineering by taking classes like Structural Analysis and Steel Design. You might also study the science of soil behavior, create biodegradable concrete, or design LEED-certified buildings for the Tufts campus. Best of all, Boston is a city with unique engineering challenges, so students can study structures and environmental impacts in their backyard!
Regardless of the path you choose, all CivEs will learn surveying techniques and develop a thorough understanding of construction materials, soil reactivity, and hydraulics. Your path to getting started can be as easy as taking the Intro to Engineering (EN1) class Design of the Built Environment. It's highly recommended by Claire, and she's the expert here!
Interviewee: Ellis Brown '23 from West Hartford, CT
And here comes the major everyone knows...or do you really?
Computer science engineering (CSE) is frequently mistaken for computer engineering and vice versa. In these two sections, let's clear up some of the misconceptions. First, CSE students focus primarily on the software side of computers. They work on algorithms for computer programs and digital tools. They also maintain operating systems and databases. As Ellis describes it, computer science is "problem solving with programming as your main tool."
Second, CSE students do not just program all day long. There are some branches in CSE that require more logic and problem-solving skills than coding. You may not have to be an expert in Java, SQL, C++, or Python to be a data analyst, a software tester, or a search engine optimization expert. And if you develop excellent habits in commenting and enjoy writing, you could become a technical writer! So, don't get scared away by the programming or math.
As one of the most popular majors at Tufts and a quickly growing field, CSE opportunities are endless! There are numerous clubs and events (i.e. Tufts Polyhack, Women in Computer Science, Black Students in Computer Science, JumboCode) that bring the CSE community together to solve problems, create apps, and gain experience. There are also many unique classes meant to encourage student exploration into CSE topics - from cybersecurity to cryptology to web design. And many students research augmented reality or virtual reality - working on sensory gloves, X-ray imaging systems, and educational programs. Research in bioinformatics, artificial intelligence, and human-computer interaction has also been gaining traction as professors partner with institutions like Logan Airport to develop scanning and targeting systems.
In addition, students can find co-ops and internships in various fields ranging from data science and analytics to software development to video games! CSE goes beyond the code!
Interviewee: Rebecca Skantar '22 from Lake Worth, Florida
We've explored computer science engineering, so let's take a look at computer engineering (CPE). If you've ever wanted to know what makes a laptop or phone tick, then this is the discipline to check out!
Although it's only a few decades old, computer engineering has quickly risen to become one of the most popular fields around the world. Unlike those in computer science engineering, computer engineers examine the hardware technology more deeply. CPE students, like Rebecca, will study the relationship between the hardware and software side of computer systems. They examine electrical components and programming interfaces in order to design and manufacture technological devices. Students learn how to make a computer rather than how to use a computer. CPE is a broad discipline well-suited to those who are interested in technology as a whole...or want to avoid laptop repair fees.
Some of our most popular industries our CPE students join are aerospace, cybersecurity, networking, and computer design. Computer design is a rapidly growing field as more advances are made in microminiaturization. Some Tufts students are also working to increase the speed of computer processing by experimenting with parallel processors, superconducting materials, and artificial intelligence. Tufts students have the change to expand their skill sets and discover new ways to change the world.
Interviewee: Alva Couch, Associate Professor of Computer Science and Co-Director of Tufts' Data Science Program
Introducing the brand new (and burning hot!) field of data science! It's the buzzword among the computer science community - let's see why.
Data science is currently one of the most promising, in-demand fields. With the amount of data produced every day due to the web, it's an information tsunami! That's where data scientists come in. Effective data scientists gather, organize, analyze, maintain, and communicate trends so others can make data-driven decisions. Sounds like a lot, right? Data scientists are the cowboys of the computer world, wrangling herds of data in metaphorical fences.
Professors Alva Couch explains, "From voice commands given to Siri and Alexa, to constant monitoring of phone locations, and even smart refrigerators that monitor their content, data collection is ubiquitous in the current world." He continues, "Those who master data analysis may seem like sorcerers, making subtle decisions that alter world events and perhaps even influence elections." Another metaphor for a (terrifyingly?) powerful skill set.
The data science program at Tufts bridges the materials and courses within the Departments of Computer Science, Electrical and Computer Engineering, and Mathematics. Students will learn how to analyze data to solve real-world problems through techniques such as statistics, data visualization, and machine learning. Students can gain valuable industry experience at Tufts and put the skills they learn - from SQL programming and modeling to technical communications - to the test!
Interviewee: Olive Garst '21 from Philadelphia, PA
Do you admire Ben Franklin and his lightning kit experiment? May I introduce you to electrical engineering (EE)...a way less dangerous way to play Zeus?
As you can guess, electrical engineering is all about electricity! This field focuses on utilizing electrical energy and providing the maximum possible power with minimal waste. As Olive describes it, EE involves understanding electricity and computer in order to improve our technological capabilities. From studying the basic of electricity and magnetism to processing signals, students are heavily involved in systems and circuits. They build devices for computers, entertainment, health care, and automated control systems.
The EE majors as two tracks. Students can concentrate on analog EE, which is more physics-driven as classes are focused on wires and waves. They can also take the digital EE path, which is more data-focused and involves binary and computer logic. The digital track is actually closely aligned with the computer engineering major. Double-majoring potential for all overachievers!
Like most of the engineering majors at Tufts, electrical engineering is applicable everywhere (you might be noticing our interdisciplinary theme). From medicine to robotics to power distribution, students can combine their EE background with other disciplines. Olive, for example, has worked on the code and electronics behind cell counting devices and ventilators. I hope this description has sparked some interest!
Interviewees: Elana Chan '21 from Franklin, MA and René LaPointe Jameson '22 from Greenwich, CT
It might not be easy being green - but it's arguably the most pressing task of the 21st century. If you agree, environmental engineering (EVE) could be your path to making an impact.
Environmental engineers consider the natural environment and the impact of human activities in order to develop a sustainable society. Their work is at the forefront of climate change resiliency and global health research. Elana and other EVE students examine pollution, environmental damage, and questions such as, "How much [pollutant] is in the environment, how fast is it reacting, and where is it going?" Examples of student projects include designing water purification systems, designing green buildings, and remediating sites contaminated by chemical spills or human activity.
It's also important to consider disparities in access to resources. René explains, "I am passionate about addressing the intersection between environmental injustice and racial injustice. Environmental racism describes how Black, Indigenous, and other people of color (BIPOC) in the US are disproportionately impacted by environmental hazards due to structural racism. For example, Black people in the US are more likely to breathe worse air, drink worse water, and have more limited access to fresh foods due to intentional racist urban planning and public policies such as redlining." René and other like-minded students consider it their responsibility to make the field of environmental engineering and their work "more accessible, equitable, un-discriminatory, and inclusive." Classes they've taken include Public Health Engineering and Environmental Sociology - both combine topics like sanitation, safety, food security, air pollution, and transboundary conflict with discussions of violence, social justice, and inequality.
Those studying EVE will learn about policy, urban planning, clean energy, chemistry, economics, history, public health, world culture, and justice in order to better serve their local and global communities. Tufts engineers aren't just amazing technically. They're also ethical, responsible, and oriented toward creating change.
Interviewee: Becky Lee '22 from Staten Island, NY (Who's this stranger?)
And now we've come to the best major of all (not that I'm biased as the author): human factors engineering (HFE)!. What is this? Allow me to explain...
Human factors engineering, also known as engineering psychology or ergonomics, is yet another multidisciplinary field of study that incorporates psychology, biology, computer science, cognitive brain science, and mechanical engineering. Human factors engineers study how people interact with objects and how their mental, emotional, and physical states change. In other words, they incorporate the "human element" when designing products, processes, and systems that are safe and easy for people to use. The goal of HFE is to reduce human error, increase productivity, and enhance the user experience.
Although many gravitate toward user interface/user experience (UI/UX) research, web design, artificial intelligence, and human-robot interaction, some students are applying the design thinking learned in classes to business fields like marketing and behavioral economics. Other students research for the military (fun fact: HFE began in the military), design medical devices, investigate transportation accidents, and handle communications. At its core, this major is incredibly innovative, and Tufts is one of the few universities that offer it as an undergraduate major.
Tufts human factors engineers have flexibility in the classes they take and can choose their focus, whether it be in computer science, graphic design, product design, or something else entirely!
Also, this is definitely an elevator pitch for HFE. Are you sold yet?
Interviewee: Kamar Godoy '22 from Hawthorne, CA
If you like fiddling with gadgets, this last major will really grind your gears (in a good way). If I were to describe mechanical engineering (MechE) in one word, it would be "tangible." This major involves a lot of hands-on work. MechE deals with anything involving heat transfer, design, and movement in a mechanical system. In other words, mechanical engineering figure out how machines and devices work. Anything from car parts to a dishwasher to bike gears - these are all designed, built, and improved by mechanical engineers.
Tufts students learn about mechanics, thermodynamics, material science, and micro/nanoelectromechanical systems. They also learn about engineering ethics and how to design projects that will have a global impact. After all, since machinery is everywhere, no industry is beyond the scope of mechanical engineering. Students are encouraged to look beyond gears and levers by branching out into the world of sustainable energy, biological systems, and the human brain, No wonder it's one of the most popular engineering majors at Tufts!
To get hands-on experience in a hands-on major, Tufts students can participate in our co-op program. They can also complete projects in design labs and machine shops. The Bray Lab and Nolop FAST Facility are some of the most popular makerspaces visited by our MechE students, who take full advantage of the state-of-the-art equipment. Recently, students have made a medical prosthesis called the iWalker 2.0 and designed air-sensitive sensors for Covid-19 respirators. Others are working on an exoskeleton made with soft robotics, and many more are research small search and rescue robot designs.