CEE Department Producing Quality Research Across the Board

Data shows CEE has high ranking programs

Brett F. Sanders, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE) in The Henry Samueli School of Engineering, analyzed last fall the scholarly achievements of the four program areas of the department: Environmental Engineering, Hydrology and Water Resources, Structural Engineering and Transportation Systems Engineering.

Sanders was motivated by the inadequacy of existing rankings, which he found either too subjective or too broad for meaningful assessment at the program level of detail. His attention turned to an index that he calls “quality productivity.” It represents the number of research articles that are published in the very best disciplinary journals, and it is therefore a metric that can be tailored to the focus areas of CEE’s programs. The ability to focus is important because it allows the comparison of programs one field at a time against peers, instead of in a broad sense where rankings become biased toward the largest programs that include more disciplinary fields.

Sanders and the CEE faculty established a set of top-tier journals for each of the four focus areas of the department. Sanders then used a publishing database to identify all papers published in those journals during prescribed time windows and sorted all the research articles by institution. The resulting list was delineated into three time periods in order to see how each program’s ranking changed over time. 

The analysis shows that all four CEE program areas stand among the top 25 universities in the nation, three of the four are in the top 15 and one is in the top 10. The transportation systems engineering program is among the best in the nation with a top 10 standing over the entire timeline. The Institute for Transportation Studies (ITS) at UC Irvine has catalyzed millions of dollars in innovative research and countless projects over the years, and it engages researchers from several disciplines.

The hydrology and structures programs each entered the top 15 in the past six years, and while the structures program has climbed steadily from top 25 to top 15 status over the 18-year timeline, the hydrology program rose more rapidly, having started as a top 50 program in 1994-1999. The environmental program has the lowest current ranking among the four programs, but it has also come the farthest of all the programs. In 1994-1999, the program had just entered the top 100, but by 2000-2005 it rose into the top 50 before rising to the top 25 within the past six years. The great strides of the hydrology and environmental programs can be attributed to the number and quality of our faculty. Over the past decade, the number of “water” faculty in CEE grew from three to 12. Faculty leadership is critical for creating student project opportunities that, in turn, lead to research publications. With well over a hundred research universities in the country, CEE’s current standing in the upper echelon reflects a remarkable level of growth with continued attention to excellence.

“Feel proud, UC Irvine community, because these accomplishments are yours,” said Sanders. “Your contributions to research projects and your engagement with campus colleagues promote the stimulating environment that makes these accomplishments possible. Take pride also in the quality of programs at the Samueli School. While there is always room for improvement, this analysis illustrates, in a very objective way, that scholarship at UC Irvine is among the very best in the nation. And despite fiscal challenges, the future looks bright based on unprecedented demand from students, the outstanding faculty and staff supporting our programs and the grand challenges facing society that need to be addressed by civil and environmental engineers.”