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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.

WSU Researchers Working to Insulate Fruit Trees with Cellulose Nanocrystals

Student spraying fruit trees with cellulose nanocrystals

Washington State University researchers are studying how to use cellulose nanocrystals to insulate sensitive trees and buds against the cold. So far, their experiments have been successful.

The team is led by horticulturist Matt Whiting and engineer Xiao Zhang. Their research was recently featured in Good Fruit Grower Magazine. Read the article >>

In charge and involved

WSU President Kirk Schulz with student, Sherry Voss

WSU President Kirk Schulz and Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture Dean Mary Rezac lead the university and the college, but with their training as chemical engineers, they also provide valuable input and unique contributions to the Voiland School.

While they are busy administrators, Schulz and Rezac remain active faculty members who understand the demands of research and teaching, have taught many chemical engineering courses, and continue to interact with students, says Jim Petersen, school director.

Before becoming administrators, both Rezac and Schulz taught virtually every undergraduate and graduate class in the chemical engineering curriculum.

Schulz holds a Ph.D. in chemical engineering from Virginia Tech and received several teaching awards as a professor before he began his career in administration. He is as fellow of the American Society for Engineering Education and the American Association for the Advancement of Science and has conducted research in catalysis, surface science, and materials science, which are some of the strength areas in the Voiland School.

Schulz has long ties to WSU’s chemical engineering program. As an ABET program evaluator for many years, he evaluated WSU’s program in 2001 — an evaluation that led directly to the refurbishment of the school’s unit operations laboratory. As a faculty member, his last National Science Foundation grant provided support for the American Society for Engineering Education’s chemical engineering summer school — an event held in Pullman in 2007 and attended by faculty from across the nation.

WSU Voiland College Dean, Mary Rezac visiting with students, 2018
Dean Rezac talking with Voiland School students

Rezac holds chemical engineering degrees from Kansas State University and the University of Texas at Austin. Before starting her academic career, she worked in the petroleum industry for a company that annually supports the Voiland School and hires WSU students.

As a professor, she has directed more than 30 graduate students, received research and teaching awards, and co-authored more than 250 publications and presentations. Her research interests include molecular-level fundamentals of separation processes and integration of these processes into industrial scale processes. The work has applications in the energy, chemicals, and pharmaceuticals industries.

In the Voiland School, the administrators participate as active faculty members. Schulz serves as academic advisor for five undergraduate students, meeting with them on a regular basis, and on the graduate advisory committee for a PhD student working on the synthesis of nanoparticles for clean energy.

He is never too shy to tell students about his own struggles and that he, in fact, failed his first undergraduate class in fluid mechanics.

“These stories really encourage the students,” said Petersen. “He really shows them that you can persevere to achieve success.”

Rezac occasionally fills in to teach classes and recently received a standing ovation from the students after a lecture.

“These opportunities are unique and meaningful for the students,” said Petersen. “These individuals are in their positions because they are impassioned, engaged faculty.”

Dr. Hongfei Lin’s research featured on the cover of ChemSusChem

Hongfei Lin
Dr. Hongfei Lin
The research of Dr. Hongfei Lin and his team was recently featured on the cover of ChemSusChem. Other contributers to the paper, Coupling Glucose Dehydrogenation with CO2 Hydrogenation by Hydrogen Transfer in Aqueous Media at Room Temperature, include Dr. Guodong Ding, Dr. Ji Su, Cheng Zhang, Kan Tang, and Dr. Lisha Yang.


Cover of ChemSusChem Magazine, July 2018 with graphic of synergistic catalysisConversion of CO2 into value‐added chemicals and fuels provides a direct solution to reduce excessive CO2 in the atmosphere. Herein, a novel catalytic reaction system is presented by coupling the dehydrogenation of glucose with the hydrogenation of a CO2‐derived salt, ammonium carbonate, in an ethanol–water mixture. For the first time, the hydrogenation of CO2 to formate by glucose has been achieved under ambient conditions. Under the optimal reaction conditions, the highest yield of formate reached approximately 46 %. We find that the apparent pH value in the ethanol–water mixture plays a central role in determining the performance of the hydrogen‐transfer reaction. Based on the 13C NMR and ESI–MS results, a possible pathway of the coupled glucose dehydrogenation and CO2 hydrogenation reactions was proposed.

Kristian Gobsch awarded NOAA Hollings Scholarship

Kristian Gubsch and Dr. Hongfei Lin working in the lab

Washington State University chemical engineering student Kristian Gubsch is the school’s first recipient of the prestigious Ernest F. Hollings Undergraduate Scholarship, administered by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

The nationally competitive award pays $19,000 total for the Edgewood, Wash., student’s 2018-19 and 2019-20 academic years, provides a 10-week paid summer internship at an NOAA facility, and funds travel to present at two scientific conferences.

Heading into his junior year, Gubsch plans to facilitate an introductory course for incoming Honors College students and work in Dr. Hongfei Lin’s carbon conversion and chemical engineering research lab.

Read entire article about Kristian’s scholarship and atmospheric research at WSU News