Private gifts enable renovation of Tri‑Cities engineering lab

Trevor Peterson, an undergraduate mechanical engineering major, operates a new CNC mini mill.
The upgrade made the latest technology available to WSU Tri-Cities students. Here Trevor Peterson, an undergraduate mechanical engineering major, operates the new CNC mini mill.

Washington State University Tri-Cities School of Engineering and Applied Sciences has been upgrading major components of its engineering lab thanks to a generous $200,000 investment from Doug and Julia Hamrick.  

The Hamricks’ gift is providing much-needed equipment, including 3D printing machines used for prototyping, a Charpy impact tester (measures the energy level required to fracture material), and digital hardness testers and laser cutters required in today’s manufacturing processes. 

The Hamrick’s support builds on a $50,000 investment by Battelle, the operation managers of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), which initiated momentum for the upgrades by funding an automated, computerized-numerical-control (CNC) lathe. In addition, leading WSU philanthropists Gene and Linda Voiland made a gift of $55,650 for the purchase of a CNC mini mill and other equipment. All together, these gifts provide $305,650 toward the upgrade.

“Julia and I have seen WSU Tri-Cities answer the area’s growth with talented, well-prepared graduates,” said Hamrick, “and this lab will elevate WSU’s game.” 

Presently, nearly 25% of the student body at WSU Tri-Cities use the lab, and the upgrades will enable them to take on more complex projects. Last year, capstone projects ranged from a portable solar emergency communications system to a beehive monitoring system. Campus leaders are eager to see what future projects spring from the minds of creative students when they have access to state-of-the-art facilities.  

The upgraded and renovated lab will open this fall. 

Image of the lab space prior to renovation.
Before the upgrade, WSU Tr-Cities engineering students had to work with many outdated tools in the engineering lab.

A “test kitchen” for innovation

Hamrick didn’t have a degree when he began working at the Hanford Site in the Tri-Cities area in the 1970s. Although he advanced to supervisor his tenth year, his boss told him he couldn’t go any further without an engineering degree.

So at the age of 31, in 1982, Hamrick began the arduous process of taking evening courses at Columbia Basin College and then WSU Tri-Cities while continuing to work full-time. In 1990, he completed his degree in mechanical engineering.

“It was a lot of hard work,” said Hamrick, “but I was motivated. And I had some great teachers, many of whom were engineers at Hanford.”

Having worked in remediation at high-hazard facilities as well as in chemical weapons facilities, Hamrick understands the power of education in preparing students to tackle some of the most challenging problems society faces. Moreover, the Hamricks—who are Kennewick residents—have seen the local impact of the Hanford clean-up and the resulting growth of Tri-Cities. 

Their decision to invest in the lab renovation was shaped by conversations with WSU Tri-Cities Chancellor Sandra Haynes and Changki Mo, academic director and associate professor of mechanical engineering. 

Haynes’ vision is to better prepare WSU Tri-Cities students with the problem-solving skills needed by industry while also deepening the relationships between WSU, Hanford contractors, and PNNL, one of the leading research centers in the nation focused on energy. 

“In the past, much of our economy has been focused on the Hanford clean-up, and this work remains important. However, the future is about developing clean-energy technologies for our state and the nation,” said Haynes. “Naturally, we’re investing in our lab.”

During a tour of the lab with Mo this past February, Hamrick was struck by the fact that the equipment was nearly the same as when he was a student decades before. 

“The more Professor Mo talked about how the lab would be a kind of ‘test kitchen’ or ‘problem-solving lab’ allowing students to turn their ideas into innovative protypes for all kinds of projects, the more Julia and I knew this is where we wanted to give,” said Hamrick.

In joining Battelle and the Voilands in upgrading the lab, the Hamricks know their gift is not just an investment in WSU but also in the Tri-Cities community.  

It’s a gift,” said Julia Hamrick, “that will help move Tri-Cities into an exciting future.”

Visit the WSU Foundation website for the full story.

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