Expanding Educational Interests Through the Combined Plan

Charlie Renner chose Columbia Engineering to fuse a vision-driven technical foundation with the Liberal Arts.

Sep 08 2022
Charlie Renner Columbia Engineering student

Many students are drawn to Columbia Engineering by the idea of using engineering and applied science to address problems facing the world. Combined Plan students, such as Charles Renner BS’23, equally cite the opportunity to complement their technical courses and enlarge their academic experience with classes from the Liberal Arts. 

Renner, a civil engineering major who has interned with Turner Construction and the Department of Public Utilities at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, shares how his experience of the dual degree program has given him an approach to engineering that is rigorous, while focused on sustainability and social good. 

Why did you decide to become an engineer?

Throughout my childhood and education, I have always been fascinated by how things work rather than simply acknowledging their presence; how buildings are able to stand so high; how planes are able to fly; how we can talk to people on the other side of the world over the phone. The concept of building things based on the constraints and laws of physics for the benefit of humanity is both fascinating and meaningful to me. I decided to become an engineer because it seemed like the most practical way for me to make a mark on the world. Specifically regarding civil engineering, the idea of creating infrastructure which will be of direct use to people generations into the future offers a sense of purpose.

What made you choose Columbia Engineering and specifically what drew you to the dual degree program?

Columbia’s dual degree engineering program lined up perfectly with my academic interests and ambitions. With one extra year of undergraduate education, the program combines the diverse liberal arts experience with an in-depth engineering education of a chosen discipline. It offers the best of both worlds and has shaped me into the person that I hoped to be. The experience at my previous institution, Clark University, provided me with a strong technical foundation as well as important interpersonal skills that I have carried with me since. Columbia’s renowned engineering program speaks for itself and has met all of my high expectations coming into the institution.

How has the dual degree program allowed you to expand your educational interests?

The dual degree program has allowed me to explore various educational fields and has offered a wide range of expertise. Specifically at Columbia, there are so many interesting courses that I would never have suspected to have been offered. The program allows space for technical electives, so none of these classes are out of the question. This has provided me with the chance to expand my educational interests by exploring the many different sides of civil engineering.

When you think about “Engineering for Humanity,” how do you intend to apply that vision to your future work?

The idea of “Engineering for Humanity” is what gives my (sometimes) long and stressful hours of school work meaning. I want my career to revolve around providing service for humanity in whatever way possible, and my foundational education at Columbia is a crucial part of that. I plan to apply this vision to my future work with a mindset geared towards sustainability and health rather than just the traditional methods of engineering. This requires creativity and innovation, as well as building off the work of other people to conquer our world’s greatest challenges.

What’s been the most rewarding part of your experience at Columbia Engineering?

I found that Columbia’s prestigious engineering program matched all expectations and offered an invaluable amount of expertise, opportunities, and experiences. There are so many aspects that contribute to such a rewarding experience. One is the variety of coursework available in which there is never a shortage of interesting classes to take. Another is the set of reputable professors who are always open to touch base and talk about the work they are doing. Finally, Columbia’s academic environment is both ambitious and accommodating. All of these things have contributed to a great experience at Columbia Engineering.

Anything else you’d like to add?

It has been an honor to be a part of Columbia’s dual degree program, an invaluable experience so far.

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