TY BEAVERRICHLAND — Ayla Espinoza grew up in the Tri-Cities but when it came to college she chose to go out of state.
But when the 21-year-old junior decided she wanted to be closer to family she worried she wouldn't get the same level of education at the smaller campus at Washington State University Tri-Cities.
That was before — before WSU Tri-Cities offered a four-year civil engineering undergraduate degree and opened a $70,000 geotechnical engineering lab.
"I'm really happy with my choice (to transfer)," Espinoza said at Tuesday's opening of the new lab.
Civil engineering Professor Akram Hossain excitedly talked Tuesday about the program's future.
"We have 25 to 30 students in the pipeline," he said.
Even though the program still is small, university officials and representatives from Hanford contractors Bechtel National and Washington River Protection Solutions that paid for the new lab, said they already see the benefit of the expanded program.
"We get to invest in a legacy," Dave Olson, president of Washington River Protection Solutions, told the Herald Tuesday during a tour.
The WSU regents' approval to offer the full civil engineering program in Richland was one of the last initiatives accomplished under former WSU Chancellor Vicky Carwein.
Before that, civil engineering students in the Tri-Cities had to finish at the Pullman campus to graduate.
The lab is focused on soil science and contains new equipment that does everything from test the permeability of soils to the compression limits of clays.
Professor Akram Hossain said the lab is a required course in similar civil engineering programs at most other universities.
"This lab has been instrumental" in being able to train students, Hossain said, adding that it looks to have a bright future.
Bechtel National and WRPS aren't the only corporate sponsors for the program. CH2M Hill Plateau Remediation Co., also a Hanford contractor, is helping pay for two new professorships to aid the expansion, bringing the total at the campus to three.
Having a full program in Richland means more students from the area can stay close to home.
That's something Olson and Jim Booth, a Bechtel National manager on the vitrification plant at Hanford, said is vital to having a well-trained but also loyal workforce for their projects.
"I'm a little jealous. I wish they'd had this when I was in school," said Booth, who grew up in the Lower Yakima Valley.
WSU Chancellor H. Keith Moo-Young said he already is impressed with the attention the university's civil engineering program is getting from students.
He is convinced it will continue to grow as more community college transfer students and freshmen come in and see what is available.