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Washington State University
The Gene and Linda Voiland School of Chemical Engineering and Bioengineering

Advanced Degree Opportunities

People working together in group.

Nathan Kallish had originally planned to find a job after completing his bachelor’s degree in bioengineering last spring. As the COVID-19 pandemic hit, he decided to enroll in a newly developed, nonthesis master’s program instead.

Nathan Kallish
Nathan Kallish

“I’m very grateful for the program,” said Kallish. “I plan on continuing my search for a career very soon and will hopefully have a job lined up after graduating with my master’s degree in May.”

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, students and professionals have been faced with a changing job market. The Voiland College has expanded its offerings to help students navigate challenging circumstances and changes in their career trajectories.

Many departments have expanded their programs, offering one-year, non-thesis master’s degrees in chemical engineering, civil engineering, computer engineering, computer science, electrical engineering, engineering, environmental engineering, materials science and engineering, and mechanical engineering.

For its one-year chemical engineering program, the Voiland School of Chemical Engineering and Bioengineering requires that students take 26 graded credits, including classes in transport phenomena, thermodynamics, kinetics, as well as research methods and communications. They also take a one-credit graduate seminar.

Kim-Lien Vu
Kim-Lien Vu

Some of the upper-level courses taken as an undergraduate can count toward the degree, and the school also has offered some scholarship support to offset tuition costs.

Kim-Lien Vu recently began her studies in the one-year program. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering this spring and when her summer internship was cancelled, she began looking into how people responded to the economic downturn of 2008. She learned that many people chose to continue their education during the recession and that professionals who graduated with a master’s earned higher salaries than those with bachelor’s degrees.

“I decided to invest myself in WSU’s non-thesis master’s program,” said Vu, “In one year I will have my master’s degree.”

Kallish believes that the additional skills he will gain from his studies will help him stand out from other job seekers.

“While continuing to learn is wonderful, I believe the most valuable aspect of continuing for a master’s degree is the opportunities it can provide,” he said. “With a master’s degree I will be able to look for jobs with a higher starting wage or a position that is not considered an entry-level job since I have a higher level of education.”

Meanwhile, programs for professionals, such as WSU Global Campus’ Master’s of Engineering and Technology Management and Electrical Power Engineering programs have also seen enrollment increases. The ETM program, which has seen a 10 percent increase in enrollment this year, also offers six certificate programs to prepare professionals for meeting management needs in industry.

“The ETM program is a great way for students to build their skills and improve their marketability, especially in today’s world,” said John Pricco, an Engineering and Technology Management faculty member who worked in executive management at the Boeing Company for 34 years. “As part of the global campus, students can complete their degree from anywhere. In the rich ETM learning environment students learn not only from the course material but from each other and from what each brings to the program.”

Finding ways to teach from a distance

For more than 50 years, Voiland School chemical engineering students have gotten their first taste of the real-world workplace environment in their Units Operations lab course.

There, they have learned critically important skills and have gotten hands-on experience troubleshooting many of the operations of chemical processing plants.

With the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic and required social distancing, faculty members in the Voiland School have found creative new ways to deliver these important learning experiences for today’s students.

Clinical Assistant Professor Dave Theissen David Thiessen Headshot 2019 is using both remote and in-person delivery for the Unit Ops class. As part of the course, the students typically plan and develop operations for equipment, such as heat exchangers, gas scrubbers, or distillation columns. Students in teams of four have two major projects, spending 6-7 weeks designing, running, analyzing, and presenting each project.

“This is not a cookbook lab,” Thiessen said. “The students have to figure out what to do and what experiments they will run. They have to apply what they have learned.”

flow meter measuring a dilute alcohol solution is entering a distillation column
This is showing a flow meter measuring the rate at which a dilute alcohol solution is entering a distillation column that is continuously separating the water and alcohol.
For remote class delivery, Thiessen set up web cameras throughout the lab, so that students can view different parts of the chemical processing equipment. The chemical engineering lab equipment is large with analog gauges that need to be read and areas that need to be visually monitored to assure proper operation. Thiessen wrote a proposal and received special funding from the WSU administration that enabled him to install several cameras on each piece of equipment, so that students can monitor their experiments remotely after a TA starts them up. In this way, they are becoming familiar with the equipment, so that they are prepared once they enter the lab for the in-person aspect of the course.

Thiessen also received special permission from the provost to enable an in-person component to the course. Each student will attend two in-person sessions of 10 hours each to take data for their experiments. A total of eight of the 37 students in the class will attend at a time, so at the end of the semester, each student team will have about 20 hours of in-person data taking, which is fairly close to what they would get during a normal school year.

Meanwhile, Voiland School faculty are making adaptations in other courses to give students hands-on experience.

Anita Vasavada Headshot 2019 In Bioengineering 322, or Mechanics of Biological Materials Lab, Associate Professor Anita Vasavada also wrote a proposal and received special funding from the provost’s office that enables her to provide students with a kit of materials to create a socially distanced lab in their homes. The kits include a scale to measure forces, utility calipers, clamps, and testing materials, such as rubber bands, foam, and craft sticks.

The course covers skills such as mechanics, experimental design, statistical analysis of data, scientific writing, and teamwork.

With their at-home kits, students are conducting several experiments, such as measuring elasticity by stretching a rubber band, measuring bending deflection and calculating stress, and measuring the bonding strength of adhesive putty. They will also follow along via a web camera with three guided experiments from an in-class mechanical testing machine.

“I am using web cameras so that students can observe the experiments being run while I and my TA prepare and place the specimens,” Vasavada said.