Virginia Tech prepares students for productive, exciting careers with AutoCAD® Civil 3D® software, the most comprehensive product for the design, drafting, and management of civil engineering projects.
Founded in 1872, Virginia Tech is a nationally recognized, innovative research university with the largest full-time student population in Virginia—more than 26,000 students. One of the school’s largest and most successful departments is the Via Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, currently ranked in the top 15 by U.S. News and World Report. “We have more than 600 undergraduates and 300 graduate students,” says Dr. Randel Dymond, Associate Professor. “We want to help them become the best engineers they can be, ready to step into whatever future they choose—whether that’s in graduate school, a government agency, a consulting firm, or somewhere else entirely. And wherever they end up, we want them ready to excel and be productive from the very first day.”
A Software Paradigm Shift
To help accomplish these goals, Dymond recently incorporated AutoCAD Civil 3D software into four of his classes, with 240 students in each of the two required sophomore-level courses and 36 per semester in each of two senior-level electives.
Changing Attitudes “In academia, we focus on the principles of engineering and design, not how to use a particular type of software,” says Dymond. However, with the advent of new, more powerful engineering software, the software helps teach engineering, he says. “Civil 3D reflects this fundamental shift. We’re no longer using the software for drafting— we’re using the engineering terms like parcel, alignments, and profiles to teach design.”
Based on the familiar AutoCAD® interface, Civil 3D software dynamically links design and production drafting. “Because all of the objects interact with each other, when the students make a change— to an alignment, for example—they don’t have to stop and think about everything else they have to change,” says Dymond. “It all happens automatically, with a lot less drafting.”
The Program “Our sophomores begin learning to use the new software in a one-credit course called Civil Engineering Drawings and CAD,” says Dymond. “There, they learn the basics of working with AutoCAD software as well as how to interpret various civil engineering drawings, including site plans, cross sections, and profiles.”
Study in Depth “They follow that with Civil and Environmental Engineering Measurements, a required, four-credit course with a large workload,” says Dymond. “That’s where we introduce AutoCAD Civil 3D. The students gather field survey data, and then use free student versions of the software to create 3D surface models and finished topographic maps.”
“As seniors, they can take two additional electives that apply Civil 3D,” says Dymond. “The first is CAD Application in Civil and Environmental Engineering. We cover many products in that class—but spend at least half the semester on Civil 3D.”
Meet the Real World
“In the second elective, Land Development Design, students work closely with engineering firms to study topics such as transportation design, storm water management, and erosion and sediment control,” says Dymond. “In all, we work with more than 40 different firms on a regular basis, and all of them use Autodesk products. I’d say that a quarter of them have actually made the switch to Civil 3D, and maybe another quarter are thinking about it very seriously. Needless to say, it’s a full class—and very popular.”
Learn from the Pros “We divide the students into groups of four and match each group with a different company, which then provides survey data from a recent project,” says Dymond. “The students use that as the basis for reviewing local regulations, zoning constraints, and client requirements before conducting a thorough feasibility study. They then use Civil 3D to produce base maps to scale.”
Dive into Serious 3D “Next, they’re ready to perform conceptual and preliminary design,” says Dymond. “For example, they could start with doing the grading and access road layout into the parking lot of a big-box store in simple 3D. Generally, by the mid-point of the semester, the students have produced preliminary grading plans and road designs of their projects—all in Civil 3D.”
Tie It All Together “The last stages of the class involve storm water management design and then producing the final deliverables,” says Dymond. “They use AutoCAD Civil 3D to do all of that—the final layout, the site and grading plans, the profiles. Then, they wrap it all up in a PowerPoint presentation that uses Civil 3D screen captures.”
The Result “The number-one benefit we’ve seen from adopting Civil 3D is that our students are starting to think in 3D. That was something I’ve wanted forever,” says Dymond. “Number two is that the firms we work with are very happy our students are gaining this type of exposure. I really believe our students are seeing many more offers—and higher starting salaries—as a result. In fact, all of the VT civil engineering career fairs have been oversold for several years.”
Working directly with an actual civil engineering firm on a real-world project was a great experience. It helped me learn how to use AutoCAD Civil 3D software much more effectively—and to master design a lot faster. That's given me a lot more confidence about my career.
Thomas Dickerson, Virginia Tech
Because more civil engineering students are graduating with a solid background in design as well as a thorough understanding of how to use AutoCAD Civil 3D software, we're able to hire new engineers who can hit the ground running and be productive immediately.
Derrick Cave, PE Sr. Vice President, Kimley-Horn and Associates, Inc.