By Maegan Murray, WSU Tri-Cities

RICHLAND, Wash. – Two teams at Washington State University Tri-Cities have partnered with Washington River Protection Solutions to procure and program an autonomous vehicle and develop a form of ultra high-performance concrete to help protect workers in radioactive areas at the Hanford Site and safely immobilize solid secondary wastes.

Srinivas Allena and students

Engineering professor Srinivas Allena and students work with in the concrete lab at WSU Tri-Cities.

WRPS is the U.S. Department of Energy’s Tank Operations contractor responsible for managing Hanford’s 56 million gallons of highly radioactive waste and preparing it for delivery to the Waste Treatment Plant on the site. The partnership for the projects will provide WRPS with customized technology to fit their needs, in addition to further improving the safety capabilities of its employees and environmental impact stemming from the tank farms at the Hanford Site.

Robotics to analyze radioactive vapors

WRPS provided a WSU team with an initial contract to procure and program an autonomous vehicle that would be used for measuring vapors, or chemical gases, within the tank farms.

The WSU team consists of Akram Hossain, vice chancellor for research, graduate studies and external programs; Scott Hudson, professor of electrical engineering; John Miller, associate professor of computer science; and Changki Mo, associate professor of mechanical engineering.

The team plans to purchase a pre-fabricated, compact and programmable vehicle, which has the capacity to hold 40-50 pounds of equipment. The team will then eventually outfit, customize and program the vehicle for its desired purpose within the tank farms. The vehicle must be able to follow a defined path, dock itself to charge its battery, withstand long-term use, be able to run autonomously, as well as allow manual override operations.

“This vehicle will be going into areas, minimizing personnel entries, so we need to assure that it can operate reliably and it won’t break down,” Miller said “We have to make certain that the quality is of impeccable standards and that the system can demonstrate operational longevity in these areas.”

The design of the autonomous vehicle marks the first phase of what will potentially turn into a multi-phase project. WRPS has also expressed interest in having the robot detect obstacles in a changing environment, change filters at the site and monitor radiation. Miller said those challenges will most-likely be addressed in future phases of the project.

“This is a great opportunity, both for WSU, as well as for our students,” Miller said. “It creates opportunities for undergraduate research, as well as providing funding for graduate research. It is the perfect opportunity for us.”

The team plans to have the first phase of the autonomous vehicle completed and demonstrated to WRPS in the next few months. The team will conduct demonstrations and additional phases of development over the course of the year. When fully developed, the autonomous vehicle would be deployed in tank farms to support construction and operations.

Ultra high-performance concrete to encapsulate nuclear waste

Srinivas Allena, WSU Tri-Cities associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, received a contract to develop an ultra-high performance cementitious

Cementitious material created by Srinivas Allena and his team

Cementitious material created by Srinivas Allena and his team at WSU Tri-Cities.

material to potentially be used as a grout to encapsulate solid secondary waste from the Hanford tank farms.

“WRPS is currently using a grout that they obtain from a local concrete supplier, which uses a regular cement mix with sand and some other chemical additives,” Allena said. “But the goal with our research is to use locally available materials to create a composite with low permeability, superior durability and greater stability that would perform at the same level as the commercially available pre-packaged ultra high-performance concrete.”

Allena said there is currently limited types of ultra high-performance concrete available on the market with high operational costs associated with use of the material. He said by using locally available materials and by optimizing mixture constituents with those that are more environmentally friendly with his team’s composite, however, they would be able to keep the costs low, while maintaining the same quality in the concrete and reducing the impact to the environment.

“We will be able to compare our grout materials with properties that WRPS is currently using and show the improved properties,” he said. “The goal is to provide a cheaper, more environmentally friendly option that will compete with the best product on the market.”

The team plans to have initial mixtures ready with their mechanical and durability properties evaluated by September.

The projects are a part of solving some of the world’s Grand Challenges. They pertain particularly to developing sustainable resources and smart systems by harnessing technology to improve quality of life. The projects are also in line with WSU’s Drive to 25.

RICHLAND, Wash. – Hanford Site groundwater monitoring and remediation will be the focus of a presentation by the U.S. Department of Energy and Washington State University Tri-Cities, 3-4 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 25, in the East Auditorium at WSU Tri-Cities.

The lecture is the fifth presentation in a series on the Hanford Site, presented by WSU Tri-Cities and DOE. Attendance at former lectures is not necessary to appreciate information in the upcoming lecture. The presentation is open to the public.

Mike Cline, director of the Soil and Groundwater Division at DOE in Richland, will deliver the lecture focusing on the current sampling and monitoring program on the Hanford Site and the groundwater remediation that is being performed. Additionally, he will discuss the process for selecting current and future remedies at the site.

The Hanford Site, part of the DOE nuclear weapons complex, encompasses approximately 580 square miles along the Columbia River in southeastern Washington state. During World War II and the Cold War period, the government built and operated nine nuclear reactors for the production of plutonium and other nuclear materials.

During reactor operations, chemical and radioactive wastes were released into the environment and contaminated the soil and groundwater beneath portions of the Hanford Site. Since 1989, DOE has worked to remediate the contamination.

A live AMS broadcast has been scheduled on the WSU Pullman, Vancouver, Everett and Spokane campuses. To find the locations, visit the WSU AMS calendar at:

For more information, contact Tish Christman at

By Maegan Murray, WSU Tri-Cities

DOE logoRICHLAND, Wash. – A federal project director from the U.S. Department of Energy will discuss how the Hanford waste treatment plant will immobilize radioactive waste by turning it into glass as part of a continuing lecture series from 3-4 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 30, in the Washington State University Tri-Cities East Auditorium.

The presentation will be led by Jason Young, federal project director at the Office of River Protection’s analytical laboratory and balance of facilities office. The presentation is the fifth in a series of lectures focusing on the Hanford Site and is cohosted by WSU Tri-Cities and the U.S. Department of Energy. The public is invited to attend.

During his presentation, Young also will describe how the “direct feed low activity waste” approach at the Hanford Site will enable treatment as soon as 2022. Additionally, he will outline the cooperative efforts needed to support their operations.

Young joined the Office of River Protection in 2008. He previously worked for the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard as a shift test engineer in the nuclear engineering division and later served as the reactor plant technical expert for the radiological emergency planning division.

Young holds a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Lander University and a master’s degree in chemical engineering from Montana State University.



  • Tish Christman, WSU Tri-Cities administrative assistant, 509-372-7683,
  • Maegan Murray, WSU Tri-Cities public relations specialist, 509-372-7333,

RICHLAND, Wash. – The progress and future of cleanup efforts at the Hanford Site will be the focus of a presentation by Tom Fletcher, deputy manager of the Department of Energy’s Richland Operations Office, 3-4 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 8, in the WSU Tri-Cities East Auditorium.

This is the fourth in a series of lectures focusing on the Hanford Site and is cohosted by Washington State University Tri-Cities and the U.S. Department of Energy.

Fletcher, a WSU alumnus, will focus on the Richland Operation Office’s priorities for continuing the Hanford Site cleanup while strictly adhering to safe, environmentally-acceptable and responsible management practices.

The Richland Operations Office has an annual budget of approximately $1 billion. It oversees multiple contractors working on the cleanup project that stretches over the 580-square-mile site.

“We are pleased to welcome Mr. Fletcher and his expertise” on the Hanford cleanup project, said Akram Hossain, vice chancellor for research, graduate studies and external programs at WSU Tri-Cities. “This is an exceptional opportunity for our students, faculty and all of the community to learn what is currently happening at the Hanford Site, as well as how this is accomplished from an operations perspective.”

Fletcher became deputy manager of the Richland Operations Office in December 2016. He oversees daily operations, program planning, project execution, budgeting and compliance with the Hanford Federal Facility Agreement and Consent Order. He has more than 20 years of experience managing nuclear operations, construction, deactivation, demolition and environmental remediation projects.

Fletcher holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in civil engineering from WSU.



Tish Christman, WSU Tri-Cities administrative assistant, 509-372-7683,

Maegan Murray, WSU Tri-Cities public relations specialist, 509-372-7333,

By Maegan Murray

In graduate student Kenny Nyirenda’s home country of Zambia, access to clean water sources can be challenging, especially in remote areas.

That is why he has committed his graduate research as a Fulbright scholar at Washington State University Tri-Cities to improving access to clean sources of drinking water and finding solutions to prevent water pollution.

The Fulbright Scholarship allows students and young professionals to undertake international graduate study, advanced research, university teaching and primary and secondary school teaching worldwide. The prestigious program awards approximately 1,900 grants annually in all fields of study and operates in more than 140 countries worldwide.

Kenny Nyirenda with UK Groundwater Project

Kenny Nyirenda completes some work with the UK Groundwater Project.

As part of his Fulbright program, Nyirenda is studying under Yonas Demissie, assistant professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at WSU Tri-Cities, to look at the impacts of mining on groundwater resources, as well as how climate change is impacting groundwater resources.

“Because of what is happening in terms of climate change and in terms of pollution, people are now resorting to the ground for their water sources,” he said. “Groundwater is often a clean source of water and is readily available in the ground, although it can get depleted and polluted especially by anthropogenic activities.”

Nyirenda said Zambia is largely known for its mining, which puts pressure on water resources as a result of excessive pumping and pollution from the activity.

“We want to make sure that this resource is protected, and many surface water bodies are drying up in some parts of the country due to prolonged dry seasons attributed to climate change,” he said. “There is fresh water available in the ground and we need to make sure we are protecting the resource, especially in these areas that are prone to climatic change.”

Currently, as part of a graduate seminar, he is reviewing the data and literature on the impacts of mining on groundwater in Zambia and around the globe, assessing the potential of acid mine drainage and its impact on groundwater sources.

“What they are mining in Zambia are mainly base metal sulfide-rich mineral deposits, which have the potential to generate acid when exposed to air, moisture or rain water,” he said. “Once that acid is generated, it becomes a nuisance because it spreads into the environment together with the dissolved heavy metals it carries and ends up in groundwater.”

Solving the issue of access to clean drinking water and preventing pollution from occurring within not only his home country, but throughout Africa, he said, could solve many more problems throughout the continent.

“Many diseases that are prevalent in Africa stem from consumption of poor quality drinking water,” he said. “If you sort out the problems with water, you sort out problems with most of Africa. We need to figure out how to protect the resources that we have, as well as improve access to good quality water across Africa.”

Geophysical survey of groundwater - Kenny Nyirenda-1

Kenny Nyirenda participates in a geophysical survey of groundwater.

Nyirenda said he has never personally suffered from lack of access to clean drinking water, as he grew up in a military barrack where his father served in the military. As a result, he and his family were provided with water and electricity. Across rural parts of Zambia and in other parts of Africa, however, people may not have regular access to the same resources.

“For one, many might not have the knowledge to know whether a water source is OK,” he said. “Additionally, because there are natural sources of pollution, people may collect water thinking that it is of good quality, when in fact, there may be serious issues with it.”

Nyirenda said he plans to take the research he develops through WSU Tri-Cities and inform people, as well as implement changes, in his home country. His home university, The Copperbelt University, was selected by the World Bank as an Africa Center of Excellence in Sustainable Mining. One of its aims is to promote a balance between environmental sustainability and mine production. The pairing of his Fulbright experience at WSU Tri-Cities with the resources afforded to him at his home university will allow him and his colleagues to make a true difference when he arrives back home.

“One of the great things about the Fulbright program is the mutual understanding between the two countries that I can take my work back home to implement positive changes,” he said. “When I go back home, my network here will still be there as a result of this Fulbright experience. My work doesn’t have to end here. We will still be in touch to communicate about developments and regarding new opportunities once I return home.”

Nyirenda hopes to work with the United Nations Environment Programme or United Nations Water to bring about positive change regarding water infrastructure and policies surrounding the resource in his home country. From there, he hopes to become a politician so he can help lead initiatives that will improve access to good quality water.

“Politicians have the opportunity to be more powerful to implement most of these innovative ideas regarding water access and policy,” he said. “I want to use this influence to implement these ideas.”

By Maegan Murray, WSU Tri-Cities

tricities_career_fair_RICHLAND, Wash. – A career fair will be hosted by Washington State University Tri-Cities, 10 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 28, in the Consolidated Information Center and Student Union Building.

The career fair is free and open to WSU Tri-Cities students, alumni and the public. The event allows organizations to discuss employment opportunities with potential employees. WSU Tri-Cities students are encouraged to connect with industry representatives to learn more about prospective employment and internships.

WSU Tri-Cities Career Development panel discussion begins at 8 a.m., with career fair to follow at 10 a.m.-2:30 p.m.

Beginning at 8 a.m., the WSU Tri-Cities Career Development will host the “State of the Tri-Cities Workforce” panel discussion, a new program to the career fair. The forum enables panelists to provide a strategic and professional analysis of the local workforce. Panelists will present their understanding of the behaviors and resources that help maintain and strengthen the Tri-Cities area economy. Those interested in attending should RSVP at

The event also will feature a career development student spotlight program that allows students to practice and deliver their one-minute resume pitches to on-site recruiters.

For more information about the WSU Tri-Cities career fair, visit


Media Contacts:

By Adrian Aumen, WSU College of Arts & Sciences

In a cold, dimly blue-lit room, a strange human–animal hybrid paces before the entrance to a fiery red cave. When the “Huminal” senses a viewer approaching, it stops, turns its head to stare at the visitor and emits its own red-hot glow. The viewer must then decide how to respond to the apparent challenge: continue toward the creature or retreat.

WSU Tri-Cities fine arts professor Sena Clara Creston and engineering student Gordan Gavric work on the "Huminal," an interactive robot that responds to its environment.

WSU Tri-Cities fine arts professor Sena Clara Creston and engineering student Gordan Gavric work on the “Huminal,” an interactive robot that responds to its environment.

The Huminal is an interactive, kinetic sculptural installation featuring an autonomous, mobile robot that senses and responds to changes in its environment. Created by an interdisciplinary team at Washington State University Tri-Cities, it incorporates research and techniques in fine arts, design, electrical and mechanical engineering and robotics to provide a unique platform for exploring the relationship between humans and machines—and, it turns out, between artists and engineers, too.

Two years in the making and nearing completion this month, The Huminal is the third and most complex art-machine designed and built in as many years by fine arts professor Sena Clara Creston in collaboration with WSU engineering students and faculty. It debuted recently to rave reviews at a robotics exposition for employees of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, where Gordan Gavric, a key member of the Huminal development team, is an electrical engineering intern.

“The feedback we’ve gotten so far is really great,” said Gavric, a senior in engineering and president of the WSU Tri-Cities Robotics Club. “People recognize it’s a robot, but at the same time they’re a little creeped out. How do people want to interact with a creepy robot?”

Designed to pique curiosity along with uneasiness, the Huminal is about the size and shape of a large dog and covered with white plastic discs resembling scales or fur. Its four jointed legs give the appearance of walking as it rolls in an elliptical path outside its apparent den.

Multiple internal sensors, a camera and a small Raspberry Pi computer communicate with microcontrollers across two electronic systems to direct the robot’s movements and trigger the pulsing red LED lights in its chest. The steady hum of its heart—two 8.6 volt motors—is interrupted only when a sensor detects nearby movement. At that point, the Huminal is programmed to stop in its tracks, turn its head to face the approaching object and transmit its warning glow.

“I look forward to seeing how more people react to it,” Gavric said. “Is it alive? Is it human? The mystery is unnerving and it’s this uneasiness that Sena is trying to exploit.”

A corporeal experience

new media artist, Creston builds interactive art-machines to create a corporeal experience for viewers. Her artworks invite people to engage with machines and familiar materials in unfamiliar settings and ways. Environmental impact and social consciousness are frequent themes.

Sena Clara Creston and Gordan Gavric work on the Huminal

WSU Tri-Cities fine arts professor Sena Clara Creston and engineering student Gordan Gavric work on the “Huminal” at WSU Tri-Cities.

“Some people get really aggressive with the work and some are really careful with it,” she said.

By enabling viewers to choose their response to her art, she hopes to help them understand other ways they affect the wider world.

From the haunting Huminal to the satirical Machinescape—an immersive environment of post-consumer electronics—to the dreamlike Umbrellaship—a land-roving, steampunk-style sailboat—much of Creston’s art employs fantasy while exploring intersections between the natural and the man-made.

“Part of it is movement, part of it is response, part of it is material and part of it is social engagement,” she said.

She will talk about her innovative artwork at 1:00 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 16, as part of TEDxRichland events at Uptown Theatre in Richland, Washington.

To create the Huminal’s skin, Creston cut up dozens of discarded plastic water bottles—familiar and somewhat controversial objects that connect the organic and inorganic.

“Many people across the world live with an unsafe water supply, yet we think of water as the source of life and the source of health and wellbeing, and water bottles deliver that,” Creston said. “However, the water bottle itself is not biological or biodegradable—it’s inorganic and it’s not going away. So the material itself becomes this questionable component.

“How do we actually feel for the inorganic and how do these things elicit responses?”

Collaborating in uncommon opportunities

Giving form to Creston’s layered ideas and complex inventions often requires more technical skills than she possesses. So for the past 10 years, she has been learning and implementing modest means of physical computing and mechanical engineering.

WSU Tri-Cities fine arts professor Sena Clara Creston and engineering student Gordan Gavric observe the Huminal as it interacts with its environment.

WSU Tri-Cities fine arts professor Sena Clara Creston and engineering student Gordan Gavric observe the “Huminal” as it interacts with its environment.

“But, as my mentor explained, I didn’t need to learn how to do everything—I needed to learn how to collaborate,” she said.

Fortunately, interdisciplinary collaborations are strongly encouraged and available at WSU. Engineering professors Changki Mo at WSU Tri-Cities and Charles Pezeshki and Jacob Leachman at WSU Pullman recognized the uncommon opportunities Creston’s projects offered their students and wove them into their coursework.

“Her projects presented the perfect combination of an interesting customer, an achievable design and the monetary scope to take some risks in a shared learning experience,” Pezeshki said.

Students in Pezeshki and Leachman’s junior-level design classes worked remotely with Creston to create The Umbrellaship and Machinescape. The installations were designed, like The Huminal, to question the relationship between humans and their perceived environment.

Eric Loeffler, a May graduate in engineering who constructed the Huminal’s aluminum frame, said he and other students on the project gained a variety of valuable hands-on experiences not usually available to undergraduates.

For example, Loeffler learned new design software applications that he can use in his master’s degree program, and he expanded his welding skills to include aluminum materials.

“There were a lot of new things to work with from an engineering standpoint, and getting the chance to interact with Sena as a client was huge, too,” he said. “There’s really not a class that teaches you how to interact with a person who has their own particular wants, ideas and capabilities. That experience will definitely be useful in the future.”

Shared purposes, different approaches

“Some people might think engineering and arts are very different, but artists and engineers kind of have a shared purpose,” Gavric said. “They create things. They bring things into existence, and have ideas and concepts that they want to make. The difference lies in medium and motive. An engineer might design a circuit board to save a life, while an artist might paint a picture to change a life.”

“Working with Sena, I kind of opened up to ‘why are we doing this this?’ Oh, it’s for the aesthetic, or it’s for trying to get the point across.”

Gavric admits, “There’s no way I ever thought I’d be working on a robot for an art project.” But even before Creston finished presenting her concept sketches to the Robotics Club, he was hooked.

“It intrigued me immediately as an interesting concept and totally something new. There was a lot of back and forth on what we could do with the given technology and funding, and a lot of compromises, abstractions and problems that were solved. It was a rare opportunity. I’m glad I did it.”

Loeffler especially appreciated the chance to think outside the box.

“I really enjoyed the opportunity to collaborate and come up with different ways to solve a problem,” he said. “I think we’re fairly close to what Sena originally envisioned, with the aesthetic and the function she was looking for, and that’s very satisfying.”

The interactive art machine projects encouraged the engineering students to consider their role as engineer, inventor, creator and artist, Creston said. As they grew comfortable working on art projects and expressing their own creative ideas, they sought new collaborations with artists and invited them to participate with the Robotics Club.

Some of the rising engineers began working with fine art students on interactive media projects and even created an interactive art installation of their own, called Lux Flux. The large-scale ceiling installation was designed to sense when a viewer entered a darkened hallway and to send a river of light shooting along the ceiling.

“The project was completely collaborative with a fluid crossover between artists and engineers filling in the rolls of conceptualizers, designers and technicians as needed,” Creston said. “It was beautiful to see.”

Creston is now working with a team of mechanical engineering design students to develop their collective senior year project. Her creative and scholarly work has received financial support from the WSU Office of Academic Affairs, the Department of Fine Arts and the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, as well as a chancellor’s seed grant to provide tools and materials and a project grant from Artist Trust.

The interdisciplinary projects align with the WSU Grand Challenges goal of improving education. They further the University’s Drive to 25 efforts by delivering innovative teaching, community outreach and transformative student experience.

Photos and video by Maegan Murray, WSU Tri-Cities marketing and communications

RICHLAND, Wash. – Five local freshman at Washington State University Tri-Cities are among the university’s latest class of STEM Scholars.

As part of earning the distinction, where STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics, the students are honored with a $8,400 per year scholarship and will join the university’s STEM Learning Community. The community consists of a cohort of students that pursue a range of extracurricular opportunities and activities in the STEM fields.

WSU Tri-Cities STEM Scholars – (from left) Louis Theriault, Aaron Engebretson, Jared Johnson, Destiny Ledesma and Diamond Madden

The students awarded include:

  • Aaron Engebretson – Liberty Christian High School
  • Jared Johnson – Richland High School
  • Destiny Ledesma – Hanford High School
  • Diamond Madden – Southridge High School
  • Louis Theriault – Mid-Columbia Partnership

In order to be eligible for the program, students must have a minimum high school grade-point average of 3.75 based on a 4.0-scale, officially pursue a STEM-based major available at WSU Tri-Cities, be enrolled as a full-time student at WSU Tri-Cities, as well as actively participate in STEM Learning Community activities offered through the campus. Undergraduate majors eligible include: civil engineering, computer science, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, environmental sciences, general biological science, general mathematics and general physical sciences.

“The students selected display an incredible work-ethic and strong potential for careers in the STEM fields,” WSU Tri-Cities Chancellor Keith Moo-Young said. “We’re excited to offer them a variety of resources to propel them into their respective STEM majors, which will encourage them to lead their fellow students within those majors, pursue prominent research at WSU Tri-Cities, as well as inspire future students to follow in their footsteps.”

Kate McAteer, WSU Tri-Cities assistant vice chancellor of academic affairs, said the research component of the experience will provide the students with a solid foundation for their academic futures.

“These STEM Scholars have the opportunity to conduct undergraduate research right from the beginning of their academic careers,” she said. “It provides them with an early start on building a solid foundation of skills required to be successful scientists and engineers.”

Aaron Engebretson

Aaron Engebretson


Engebretson plans to major in engineering. In high school, he served as class president during his senior year and was his class valedictorian. He was a member of Key Club where he served as the vice president of the club. He received the Northwest Nazarene Bridge Academy Scholar Award for taking 15 or more college credits while in high school and maintaining a 3.5 or higher GPA. He also received the Essence of Liberty Scholarship from Liberty Christian School. He hopes to one-day join Engineers Without Borders, which works with developing countries to find solutions for water supply, sanitation, agriculture and civil works. He also hopes to explore research in nuclear science while attending WSU Tri-Cities.

“The STEM Scholars program is very important to me,” he said. “It will surround me with fellow students that are driven, intelligent and interested in STEM … STEM careers are on the forefront of modern-day advancements and research. From the future of cars, to the future of modern medicine, STEM Careers provide solutions to a variety of different problems and challenges.”


Jared Johnson

Jared Johnson

Johnson plans to major in electrical engineering. He is currently finishing his associate’s degree through Columbia Basin College’s running start program where he continues to receive high honors and is a member of the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society. At Richland High School, he earned Summa Cum Laude. Additionally, Johnson gives back to the community through his role with the National Honor Society, as well as helping with Second Harvest food distribution, tutoring high school math and assisting with various elementary school functions. He said he is looking forward to exploring the variety of research opportunities at WSU Tri-Cities.

“With a STEM education, there will be many job opportunities and career advancements,” he said. “STEM subjects have always been interesting to me in school. WSU Tri-Cities provides a wonderful university experience, while still having small classrooms for personalized education. WSU Tri-Cities is also a high-ranking STEM university.”

Destiny Ledesma

Destiny Ledesma


Ledesma plans to major in biology. In high school, she participated in the running start program at WSU Tri-Cities, in addition to serving as her class senator during her junior and senior years. It is with that role that she and her fellow peers brought back the “Every 15 Minutes Program,” a two-day event that sheds light on drinking and driving. Ledesma also gives back to the community by volunteering every year with the Tri-Cities Union Gospel Mission where she makes dinner boxes for the homeless with her family. She also volunteers at the Tri-Cities Water Follies, where she has served in various roles throughout the last few years. She hopes to attend medical school and pursue either a career as a reconstructive surgeon or dermatologist. She looks forward to pursuing research opportunities at WSU Tri-Cities, as well as getting involved with campus student government.

“It’s been such an honor and a blessing to have been able to receive such a prestigious scholarship,” she said. “I have been truly blessed with this opportunity to further my education … It will help prepare me to take on professional life after college and into the workforce. This program has truly changed my life.”


Diamond Madden

Diamond Madden

Madden plans to major in the physical sciences, with possibly an emphasis in chemistry. She earned 38 credits from Central Washington University’s running start program while she played softball, basketball and track and field for Southridge High School. Additionally, she played cello, violin and piano with the school’s orchestra, served in the school debate club, worked part-time for Tropical Sno and participated in the school’s Ignite program, which helps incoming freshmen transition to high school. She also volunteers occasionally with a local food bank. She hopes to pursue a career as a research scientist at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, which has been a dream of hers for years.

“Words can’t even describe how much the STEM Scholars program means to me and my family,” she said. “Being the second youngest of seven children in a single-income family, this gives me the assurance that I can continue and complete my education for a degree in the sciences … I believe WSU is a remarkable college, with Tri-Cities being the perfect location for me and given the fact that the university partners with PNNL.”

Louis Theriault

Louis Theriault


Theriault plans to major in civil engineering. In high school, as a home-schooled student, he participated in the WSU Tri-Cities running start program, which is what helped him decide on attending WSU Tri-Cities for his undergraduate degree. Over the years, he volunteered to help the Academy of Children’s theater put on its summer camps, helped at his home school program’s “Camp Invention” and continues to serve as a camp counselor for numerous camps, including for the upcoming STEM Camps at WSU Tri-Cities this July. He hopes to participate in WSU’s engineering study abroad opportunity at the Zurich University of Applied Sciences while earning his undergraduate degree at WSU Tri-Cities. After graduation, he hopes to serve as a civil engineer, working possibly around the United States or for an international engineering firm.

“The STEM Scholars Award means the world to me,” he said. “I didn’t believe that I would be one of the chosen people when I signed up. It is going to help me pay for almost all of my college and help me save money for my future … I want to pursue a career in the STEM fields because I want to be able to make a difference in the world.”

RICHLAND, Wash – WSU Tri-Cities is launching a series of workshops to prepare engineers for the professional engineering exam.

Participants choose their engineering discipline – chemical, civil, electrical or mechanical. They then receive 42 hours of classroom-based exam review focused on solving theory and high-probability practice problems. Participants also learn exam day techniques, strategies and complete a simulated practice exam.

The first two workshops are:

  • Civil, electrical and mechanical engineering, June 22-Oct. 19
  • Chemical engineering, Oct. 12 – Feb. 16

The workshop costs $975. To register and for more information, visit Individuals can also contact the Professional Development and Community Education office at 509-372-7174 or

By Maegan Murray, WSU Tri-Cities

The United States power grid is connected by more than 450,000 miles of high-voltage transmission lines to provide electricity to more than 300 million people. But as the saying goes, with great power, comes great responsibility.

Yousu Chen – PNNL

With the increase of renewable energy sources, the growth of the increasingly complex system and increases in terrorist threats, engineers have to come up with new methods to protect the power grid.

Yousu Chen (WSU Tri-Cities MS, environmental engineering), staff research engineer at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, is using high-performance computing techniques to safeguard the electrical grid against potential threats and outages.

“The power grid is the largest man-made machine in the world,” he said. “It is the most important infrastructure, and we need it daily for almost all of our daily activities. I’m always eager to know what I can do in this fast-growing area to solve new problems.”

During his time as a student at WSU Tri-Cities, Chen got his first internship at PNNL. He also learned skills in simulation and modeling that have proven invaluable to his career.

He has been involved in the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, increasing opportunities for current students.

Solving problems before they happen

Chen‘s work focuses primarily on modern computing techniques that both simulate potential hazards and provide ways for monitoring information within the grid. Through the advancement of high-performing computing techniques, he and his team at PNNL are developing simulations to predict and combat problems before they occur.

Chen’s computing systems utilize complex algorithms to measure power flow, identify potential problem areas, simulate possible outcomes if there were to be an outage or a catastrophic event, as well as provide solutions in how to deal with those potential problem areas.Power pole

“For example, if we want to evaluate the impact of newer smart grid technologies on the power grid, we use our simulation techniques to prepare for the event before we apply those new technologies to the grid,” he said. “Using our simulation, we could determine how that issue would impact the grid, and as a result, how we can prevent that from occurring.”

Chen said he and his team are always developing newer computing techniques to run simulations at a faster rate, which will be crucial in the event of a major outage or disruption.

“Some systems will take minutes, depending on the system, to run a limited number of contingencies,” he said. “My code is able to run 1 million contingencies in less than 30 seconds. That is a major achievement.”

With all of the data generated through advanced computing methods, Chen and his team are also always looking take the massive data caches and efficiently turn them into something usable and visual.

“Because high-performance computing systems can create a lot of data, it is challenging to digest that data in the short-term,” he said. “We develop advanced visualization tools, which allow us to view that data in real time and provide a quick response for potential events.”

Giving back to the future of engineering

Even though Chen has achieved much in his career as an engineer, he has used his position to increase opportunities for disseminating knowledge of his field into the community, as well as create pathways for other students to follow in his footsteps.

Chen realized early in his higher education career just how valuable mentorship and extracurricular learning experiences could be to his own growth as an engineer. In addition to utilizing university resources to connect him with an internship at PNNL, he also sought advice for how to improve his resume, his interview skills and more through the university’s career development center. After landing a full-time position of his own at PNNL, he wanted to keep paying forward what he learned, using his connections in engineering and computer science to provide resources and mentoring to aspiring engineering students.

Chen has since volunteered his time through a variety of capacities for the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. He serves as chair for the IEEE’s distinguished lecture program and formerly served as the regional representative of the IEEE Power & Energy Society and the regional chair for the IEEE Power Energy Society’s scholarship plus program. He also serves as the editor for two professional journals where he helps edit and review articles for publication pertaining to the smart grid.

As a result of his efforts, Chen was recently awarded the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers’ Leadership Award for the contributions he has made to IEEE activities and the leadership he’s displayed through IEEE at the local, regional and national levels. In a congratulatory letter, Wai-Choong Wong, vice president of the member and geographic activities at IEEE, stated that Chen has set a great example in carrying forward the goals and objectives of the IEEE MGA board.

Chen said he is grateful for all he learned in his education at WSU Tri-Cities, as well as what he has been able to accomplish since then by means of his work at PNNL, as well as through his involvement with the IEEE.

“These opportunities changed my life,” he said. “I’ve been fortunate to accomplish a lot in my career as an engineer and I believe it is my responsibility to not only increase the capabilities of the power grid, but to also increase the potential for the world’s future engineers who will solve many of these energy-related problems.”