“We try to take the mystery out of engineering.”

When students consider engineering as a future, it can sometimes seem like the path is filled with endless possibilities – as well as obstacles.

Woman pouring gravel into a bucket suspended from a model truss bridge built from fettuccine pasta.
Testing the pasta-bilities of their fettuccini bridge.

Enter Engineering 120, Washington State University’s introductory course designed to guide first-year students through their first steps into the field of engineering.

The Engineering 120 class focuses on engaging students with everything that the world of engineering has to offer, providing hands-on activities as well as education in the non-technical or “soft” skills that are vital to career success.

“A lot of first-year students have this desire to change the world, help people, or make technology better,” said Katy Harms, one of the course’s instructors.

“All of these things are what engineers do. Part of Engineering 120 is validating this idea that students have in their minds and mapping it with what really occurs.”

The semester-long course not only introduces the various engineering disciplines, such as civil, mechanical, electrical, biological, and environmental engineering, but also emphasizes the interdisciplinary relationship among them.

“Engineers are always working as a team,” said Ashley Vu, another instructor in the course. “You will never see a building that was built by just one person.”

“We wanted the course to be educational as well as fun,” said senior instructor Renee Petersen. “For civil engineering, students build a truss out of fettuccini pasta or balsa wood; for electrical engineering, they build circuits like those found at home; for environmental engineering they build a water filtration system; and for mechanical engineering they experiment with a pump to find its efficiency.”

“We try to show them that engineering is all around them,” said Harms.

The class also introduces students to the numerous resources that are available to them as they progress towards their degree, such as free peer tutoring, more than 30 student clubs, industry-sponsored events, and mentorship opportunities.

As part of the class, WSU alumni in engineering are guest speakers and meet with the students.

“The students get to meet and talk with people who started on the very same path they are on – and took this same class,” said Vu. “They get to see, first-hand, what kinds of exciting careers they can have after they graduate. That alumni support for this course is beneficial.”

Engineering 120 is offered each fall and spring semester. For more information about Washington State University’s engineering programs, visit WSU Admissions.


Pictured at top (l-r): Engineering 120 professors Ashley Vu, Renee Petersen, and Katherine Harms.