Private gifts boost renovation of Tri-Cities engineering lab

Doug Hamrick (above, left) didn’t have a degree when he began working at the Hanford Site in the Tri-Cities area in the 1970s. Nonetheless, he steadily advanced in his career—until his boss promoted him to supervisor during his tenth year and told Hamrick 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 working at Hanford.”

For the past 41 years, Hamrick and his wife Julia ’81 (above right) have been paying it forward for the benefit of future Tri-Cities Cougs—most recently with a $200,000 commitment to a project close to Doug Hamrick’s heart.

Having worked in remediation at high-hazard facilities in Hanford and Rocky Flats, Colorado, and at chemical weapons facilities at Anniston, Alabama and Umatilla, Oregon, Hamrick understands the power of education in preparing students to tackle some of the most complex and 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 the community.

The Hamricks most recent philanthropic investment speaks directly to both Doug’s past experience and the couple’s desire to make an impact on future generations of students: a gift of $40,000 per year for five years toward a major upgrade of the WSU Tri-Cities School of Engineering and Applied Sciences engineering lab.

With this investment, they are joining forces with both an industry research leader and one of WSU’s most prominent philanthropic couples to fund this project.

The net-zero carbon economy

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

Haynes’ vision has been to deepen the relationships between WSU and area industries, and especially with the Hanford contractors and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), a national laboratory of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and one of the leading research centers in the nation focused on energy. Ultimately, these partnerships will drive both innovation and the local economy while positioning WSU Tri-Cities as a leader in sustainable energy research.

“In the past, much of our economy has been focused on the Hanford clean-up, and this work remains important. Looking to our future economy, however, will be about developing clean energy technologies for our state and the nation,” said Haynes. “Growing our relationships with PNNL, Hanford, and other industries means more research opportunities for our faculty and students, which leads to more innovation and economic development—much of it focused on a post-carbon future.”

The research projects and internships made possible through these collaborations also help define the WSU Tri-Cities graduate and undergraduate experience. Students are learning not only in WSU classrooms and labs but also in some of the country’s top engineering research labs.

“Usually found at private colleges”

“Our approach to hands-on, project-based learning provides the type of student experiences usually found at private colleges, where students have research opportunities and strong connections with faculty,” said Haynes.

Such collaborations also attract top faculty and talented students to WSU Tri-Cities, and many of those students go on to work at PNNL and other institutions in the area. These collaborations also pave the way for grants from the DOE, National Science Foundation, Department of Defense, and other major agencies and organizations.

This past summer, the DOE named WSU Tri-Cities a grand prize winner in the highly competitive final phase of the Inclusive Energy Innovation Prize, which came with a $250,000 award.

“This award is central to our strategy of serving our students by preparing them for jobs in a clean-energy economy while addressing environmental justice issues,” said Haynes, who notes that half of the students enrolled at WSU Tri-Cities are first-generation. In addition, nearly half are Latinx or other underrepresented groups, and many are nontraditional students.

“We have not only educated some of the state’s top engineers, scientists, and business professionals, but we also serve the most diverse student body of all the WSU campuses. This puts us in a unique position to educate a new American workforce that will develop energy and environmental solutions and lead us into a net-zero-carbon economy.”

“Test kitchen”

In support of this mission, WSU Tri-Cities needs to invest in its own campus lab and in state-of-the-art equipment. That is exactly what Changki Mo has been working to achieve: a complete upgrade and renovation of the engineering lab in the Elson S. Floyd Building.

When the Hamricks toured the lab with Mo this past February of 2023, Doug was struck by the fact that the equipment was nearly the same as when he was a student decades before—and this underscored for him the obvious opportunities there.

“The more Professor Mo talked about how the lab would be a kind of ‘test kitchen’ or ‘problem-solving lab’ empowering 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.”

The Hamricks’ investment will go a long way in providing much-needed equipment, including 3-D 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. All this will help round out the equipment gifts from other sources.

Building on the generosity of Battelle and the Voilands

The Hamrick’s generosity builds on a $50,000 investment by Battelle, the operation managers of PNNL, which initiated momentum for the lab 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. These gifts with the Hamricks’ provide $305,650 toward the upgrade. In addition, Haynes has also stepped in and committed resources to the lab renovation, including a fresh paint job, new flooring, and other improvements.

Additional funding will be needed to completely upgrade the lab, including funding for a Universal Testing Machine, material testing machines, and other equipment amounting to $230,000.

Presently, nearly 25 percent of the student body at WSU Tri-Cities use the lab, and the upgrades will enable them to take on much more complex projects. Already, capstone projects range 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.

In joining Battelle and the Voilands in upgrading the lab, the Hamricks know their gift also is an investment in the Tri-Cities community, where they are proud to play a part in ensuring a brighter future for the region.

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

“It will not only help better prepare students in solving major problems,” said Julia Hamrick, “it’s a gift that will help move Tri-Cities into an exciting future.”

The upgraded and renovated lab will open this fall.

If you would like to contribute to the upgrade of the WSU Tri-Cities engineering lab, click here or contact Anneke Rachinski at the WSU Foundation (