By Tina Hilding, Voiland College of Engineering & Architecture

Renee-WaitePULLMAN, Wash. – What many people would see as obstacles to getting an education, graduate Renee Waite classifies as advantages because they “helped me develop skills that I may not have otherwise.”

Originally from El Salvador, she moved to the U.S. seeking her dream of a college degree. The single mother of Connor, 7, achieved it in electrical engineering from Washington State University last Saturday, Dec. 12.

In the U.S., “there are resources, peace and the opportunities to make good things happen – I never had that before,’’ she said. “One can reach as far as one is willing to work for, and the main limitations are those that we place on ourselves.’’

Housing collapse thwarts progress

Waite arrived in Walla Walla, Wash., in 2003, worked in the mortgage industry and managed construction of a house. She hoped the profits would finance her education.

“At the beginning, I didn’t qualify for scholarships or any other financial aid that I could find,’’ she said.

The downturn of the housing market came when she was planning to profit from her work. At the same time, she had her son.

“Everything seemed to happen at once, and I was back at zero again,’’ she said, laughing in spite of the misfortune. “And I had a beautiful baby.”

She visited Walla Walla Community College regularly and eventually attended full time. After finishing the required courses, she made the move to Pullman, where she received scholarships that allowed her to focus solely on her schoolwork and her son.

Intrigued by engineering, thankful for support

Waite received support from professors and staff, particularly from professor Bob Olsen, and took advantage of as many of the programs, clubs and academics as she could, she said.

“I couldn’t have had a better school,’’ she said. “I am immensely thankful for the support I have received from WSU and the College of Engineering. Any academic success in me is the product of their work.”

She likes engineering because it explains the world logically and provides endless possibilities for creating the unimaginable.

“I am fascinated by the contributions of engineering to the world,” she said. “There is nothing like the feeling you get when you manage to solve a task.”

Following her path, using her talents

Waite is considering graduate school and wants to support others like she has been supported. She hopes to inspire other students and help them pursue science, math or engineering degrees.

“I know that not everybody is going to like engineering, but I think that more people would if they were more exposed to the joys of it. I am not saying that it is easy, but it is very rewarding and there is always support available,” she said.

She attributes her strength to her Christian faith and doesn’t want people to think that her path has been extra difficult.

“I don’t feel that way,’’ she said. “I feel extremely blessed to have the path I’ve had.’’

“I think that we are all given different skills and talents in life,’’ she added. “If I am not using mine, then my life loses a little bit of its meaning.’’