OGDEN, Utah – Among the more than 1,370 graduates at the Dec. 9 Weber State University commencement exercises was one with a unique distinction: Heather Wokurka is the first-ever graduate of the new electronics engineering bachelor’s degree program.
Wokurka, of Sunset, Utah, is expected to be the first of many graduates to come through the program, which is designed to meet the needs of local industry.
Armed with a bachelor’s degree in electronics engineering technology (EET) she earned in 2005 from WSU, Wokurka began courses for the electronics engineering (EE) degree after that program was approved by the Utah Board of Regents in summer 2010. Wokurka juggled her coursework, mostly night classes at WSU Davis, with her full-time job as an electrical test engineer at ATK in Promontory, Utah.
“There were a couple of weeks when I was working 60 hours a week here (at ATK) and trying to make it to class and do all the homework,” Wokurka said. “During that time, I was like, ‘Why am I doing this to myself?’ ”
The answer was several-fold. First, Wokurka simply wanted to continue her education. Second, she wanted another degree as a way to advance to a master’s program as quickly and practically as possible. And third, while the EET degree was fine for her current position at ATK, having the EE degree “was a matter of making engineering more wide open to me for whatever I want to do in the future,” she said.
WSU’s College of Applied Science & Technology is offering the new EE bachelor’s degree to complement the pre-engineering associate degree and the EET bachelor’s degree. Wokurka was able to get the EE degree relatively quickly because she had the EET degree as well as many of the math credits required for the new degree.
“When I started pursuing the degree, I figured I would be in the first class to graduate,” she said. “I didn’t realize I would be the first student to graduate.”
Jeffrey Ward, associate electronics engineering professor, said early polling of 60 pre-engineering students indicated that perhaps one-third would be interested in the EE degree program. But this fall semester saw enrollment in pre-engineering introductory classes grow to about 100 students, with about half interested in an EE degree.
Justin Jackson, assistant electronics engineering professor and EE degree program coordinator, said program organizers estimated initial EE degree program enrollment of about 25 students and growth to about 100 by its fifth year. As of late November, the program already had about 140 declared majors, he said.
The first pre-engineering graduates to earn the EE degree will likely come in May, when seven more students are expected to attain EE degrees.
Expectations are that the EE degree program will remain popular in part because of the many EET graduates. Strong employment opportunities at Hill Air Force Base and local defense contractors, coupled with the ability for students to take evening classes after their workday, as Wokurka did, will also fuel continued demand.
“We’ve had individuals from local industry request this degree, and we’ve had many students requesting an engineering program here at WSU,” Jackson said.
“As far as Weber State’s mission, it’s getting employers the graduates they need while offering the programs that students want.” As for Wokurka, she plans to take a graduate placement test and await WSU’s program accreditation before advancing toward a master’s degree.
Not one to seek the spotlight, Wokurka acknowledges nonetheless that she’s been getting a lot of attention by being the first EE degree recipient at WSU.
“From a personality perspective, this is a little out of my box,” she said. “But in other terms, I take great pride in the fact that I finished the degree. Hopefully, my example will help Weber State finish its program accreditation, help bring in more people to the program, and hopefully be an encouragement for young women and girls to get into engineering.”
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