There may be worldwide pandemic and the worst employment outlook in decades, but Julio Plascencia (construction engineering, ’20) has a job.

And, he’s not alone. The first graduates of Washington State University’s construction engineering bachelor’s degree program received their diplomas this spring and all five graduates had employment in the construction industry upon graduation. One student is following a military career.

Plascencia is excited to be working for Max J. Kuney Company, a construction company, on a light rail project in Redmond, Washington. WSU’s construction engineering program provided him and his cohort with a good head start for understanding the construction business, he said.

“I really like what I’m doing. I chose the right path, and I know where I want to go from here,” he said.

Washington State University began offering a Bachelor of Science degree in construction engineering in fall 2016, bolstering its efforts to meet high demand in the heavy construction industry. A total of 67 students are currently enrolled in the major, which is the first such major offered in the Pacific Northwest.

More than 150 construction and engineering contractors along the West Coast supported WSU’s efforts to establish the program, which provides education in heavy infrastructure design, building design and construction technology. Because of changes in technology, global markets and economics over the past 15 years, construction companies increasingly need employees with both engineering and managerial expertise. The design-build project delivery method, in which one entity works under a single contract to design and build a project, especially creates a need for construction engineers and construction managers.

The students in the program take core engineering courses as well as courses in heavy/civil construction administration; heavy/civil estimating; earthwork and equipment; human factors/ management; delivery systems; and planning and scheduling. Graduates are able to enter the contracting industry and obtain a professional engineer license.

Plascencia grew up in Mexico and came to WSU from Quincy, Washington. He was always interested science, math, or some kind of engineering field, but an internship after his sophomore year working on a Seattle light rail project helped convince him to transfer to construction engineering.

“A lot of people think it’s not engineering, but there is a lot of engineering,” he said. “As I started looking at the classes, I saw that it was perfect for the type of job I want to do.”

In particular, classes in construction administration and estimating prepared him well for the workplace, he said. He also learned leadership skills through his involvement in WSU’s multicultural fraternity.

It was exciting to be a part of a new program, and he especially appreciated the efforts of Professors Tommy Tafazzoli and Max Kirk. The professors weren’t afraid to query the students about their approach and to find out how to teach more effectively. The major allowed him to learn management skills, instead of simply thinking about design – the transition to how things are built and completed.

“As new graduates, we have been able to hit the ground running,” he said.

Plascencia is excited to be working on the light rail project for Redmond, which is expected to be completed by 2024.

“It will be a small legacy,’’ he said. “I’ll be able to show people and say, ‘I helped build this.’”