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Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture Civil and Environmental Engineering News – Fall 2015

A look back: Department celebrates 125 years

Historical WSU water research image

The Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering dates back to 1892, the very beginnings of WSU. The department, which was at first known as the Department of Mathematics and Civil Engineering, has graduated many distinguished alumni, starting with Carl Etsby and O.H. Stratton in 1897.

Civil engineering alumni went on to design the state and nation’s infrastructure, including floating bridges, transportation systems, airports, highways, and more. Lacey R. Murrow and Cecil Arnold are alumni who engineered the Murrow Floating Bridge in Seattle, the first of its kind. Alumnus William Bugge was best known for his design of San Francisco’s Bay Area Rapid Transit system. Alumnus Henry Heald was the president and director of the Ford Foundation, the largest philanthropic organization in the world.

Through its renowned research laboratories, the department’s faculty members have led groundbreaking research in many areas, including in hydropower dams, air and water quality, resilient building designs to withstand earthquakes and natural disasters, landslides and geotechnical earthquake engineering, climate change and water resources, composite and wood materials, biofuels, and asphalt green technology.

Fondly remembered by many alumni is Washington State College’s Survey Camp, which started in 1939 near White Pass. Each summer, students spent eight weeks at Camp Welch learning to survey, roughing it in the wilderness, being bitten by mosquitoes, and acquiring lifelong skills and friendships. The camp existed for nearly 40 years. Two professors, Harold “Hal” Sorensen and Roger Nelson, taught the summer survey class and worked at the camp. Nelson worked as a camp manager for about 30 years, and Sorensen was also a WSU alumnus.

Leon Luck was another well-loved professor and alumnus, who served the department for 40 years. As department chair, he was widely regarded as a guiding light, and credited for much of the department’s later success. He led the merging of the Departments of Civil and Environmental Engineering in 1973.

Today, the department includes nearly 50 faculty members and now graduates about 120 BSCE students per year, making it the 13th largest civil engineering program in the United States. Research totals more than $8 million a year, with four main areas of study: environmental engineering, geotechnical and transportation engineering, hydraulic and water resources, and structural engineering, materials, and sustainability.