Lauren Swanson was a week away from signing a lease to live in Pullman this fall so she could finish her civil engineering degree started at the Tri-City branch of Washington State University.
She was happy to learn she will be able to stay living at home in Pasco and keep her part-time job with the solar energy firm Infinia while she finishes her studies.
University officials announced Thursday that undergraduate civil engineering students will be able to complete all required courses for their bachelor's degrees in Richland. The effort was years in the making.
"I think one of the things we know in the Tri-Cities is that perseverance pays off," said Dick Pratt, vice chancellor of academic affairs at the Richland campus, at Thursday's news conference.
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The WSU Board of Regents is scheduled to finalize the extension of courses at its May meeting. The state Higher Education Coordinating Board and WSU Faculty Senate already have signed off on extending the curriculum.
University officials and corporate sponsors, who contributed millions of dollars to the program, said making civil engineering a four-year program means the Tri-Cities can grow its own engineers and keep more highly educated people in the region. For students, the change means more predictability and stability in their lives.
"It's peace of mind staying here," said Alaym Aguilar, a civil engineering junior.
Civil engineering students previously have had to finish their course work at WSU's main campus in Pullman or go elsewhere to complete their degree. Electrical and mechanical engineering already are four-year programs in the Tri-Cities. There are 144 students in the College of Engineering and Architecture in Richland.
Akram Hossain, a civil engineering professor who has taught at the Richland campus since 1984, said extending the program is necessary to gain and retain good students.
"There were many who inquired about the program but backed out because they knew they couldn't finish here," he said.
It also could mean stabilizing the pool of civil engineers in the Tri-City area. Hossain said civil engineers are in high demand, and contractors at the Hanford site regularly hire them.
The program's corporate sponsors -- CH2M Hill Plateau Remediation Co., Washington River Protection Solutions, Bechtel National and Fluor Corp. -- all work in the area and in connection to Hanford. Their officials spoke toward the value of having a well-trained work force available and familiar with the area at graduation.
"I'm looking forward to hiring a few of you folks," said John Lehew, president of CH2M Hill.
Two new faculty members were hired to teach the additional courses. New equipment will include a soil mechanics laboratory and surveying laboratory. Two new $5,000 scholarships also will be available to civil engineering students.
Aguilar said he enrolled at the Richland campus because of the quality of the education.
The Cuban immigrant said there weren't any quality civil engineering programs in Florida where he initially entered the United States so he came to the West. But he wasn't looking forward to having to finish his degree elsewhere.
"It costs a lot having to go to Pullman," he said.
Other students spoke about being able to keep their jobs as they work on their degrees.
Swanson, a senior, said she likes the close-knit classes at the Richland campus and how near she is to the industry she'll be working in. And staying in the Tri-Cities will save her money since she can continue living with her parents.
"That decided it. I'm staying here," she said.
-- Ty Beaver: 582-1402; firstname.lastname@example.org