Hands-on, real-world opportunities all part of WSU Tri-Cities engineering student’s journey

Engineering student Louis Theriault

Hands-on, real-world opportunities all part of WSU Tri-Cities engineering student’s journey

By Maegan Murray, WSU Tri-Cities

RICHLAND, Wash. – It was the proximity that brought Louis Theriault to Washington State University Tri-Cities, but it has been the valuable opportunities that have made him successful as a student and so far in his goal of becoming a civil engineer.

WSU Tri-Cities engineering student Louis Theriault poses for a photo while on a ziplining experience in Tennessee. Theriault interned at the Bechtel campus in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, this summer for engineering.

Theriault was homeschooled for most of his life, taking courses through the Mid-Columbia Partnership offered by the Kennewick School District. So when he had the opportunity to take running start classes at the university level at WSU Tri-Cities, he thought he would give it a go.

The option turned out to be a perfect fit. Theriault completed his entire general education requirements for his university degree in two years at no cost to him through running start, all before entering as a full-time student at WSU Tri-Cities. Before entering as a junior standing, he applied for and was awarded the STEM Scholars scholarship, which would pay for $8,400 per year for up to four academics years in tuition. And in his remaining few years at WSU Tri-Cities, he could dive right into his engineering classes.

As a result of connections he had built at WSU Tri-Cities, Theriault landed an internship at the Bechtel National campus in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, this summer, which paired perfectly with what he had learned and is continuing to learn in his engineering classes.

The combination of the experiences, he said, has provided him with the foundation to be successful both in his career and as a young professional.

“I’ve had an amazing experience here at WSU Tri-Cities,” he said. “The combination of what I’ve learned through my classes, my internship at Bechtel, and even opportunities for student life activities on campus, has allowed me to stretch myself as an individual and learn lots about my path as an engineer and as a professional.”

Small classes, large potential

In his courses, Theriault said he continues to learn essential engineering fundamentals and theory that applies directly to his future work as an engineer. And in conjunction with his work, his small class sizes have allowed him to really get to know his classmates, which he formed study groups with and therefore, a tightknit peer group that he could count on.

Combining those things with getting to know his professors and their teaching styles, he has been able to excel in his engineering classes and thrive on campus.

“The personalization of the courses here and all of the individualized attention through the small classes has been really nice,” he said. “It’s easy to ask our professors questions because we get to know them. And I’m in a lot of the same classes as my peers throughout my time here at WSU Tri-Cities.”

From course work to dream work

Through his internship this summer, he was able to apply what he’s learned and experienced in his classes to his job.

His work this summer focused on designing a support structure for a tank pertaining to the nuclear industry. He was responsible for the design, calculations to ensure that it would support the structure and for getting it reviewed and approved by his peers. By the end of the experience, he had an approximately 30-page report detailing the design. The support structure will be implemented to support a tank in the next several years.

Theriault said not only did the experience provide him with real-world, on-the-job skills in engineering, but it was an opportunity that allowed him to directly put to use all the things he had learned in his classes and more.

Theriault said he has been invited back for another summer experience next year. He hopes it will throttle him into a full-time job after graduating in the spring of 2020.

“I think that practical experience is crucial,” he said. “I am going into week three in some of my courses, and I know exactly what they’re talking about before we get to that material. I’ve been able to already apply some of those ideas. It’s been a big learning curve, but it’s definitely increased my knowledge, for sure.”

Feeling at home through student life

Louis Theriault, left, networks with classmates and community professionals during a dinner networking event at WSU Tri-Cities.

In addition to his academic experiences, Theriault also formerly served as a student ambassador with the WSU Tri-Cities Office of Admissions. He gave campus tours and presented to students a genuine feel for what he had experienced through WSU Tri-Cities.

He also participates in many of the campus activities. Whether it be resource fairs and networking events held by the Office of Student Life and the Career Development Office, or fun activities between classes in the Student Union Building or in the Floyd Atrium as hosted by the Student Entertainment Board, he said he tries to participate in as much as he can.

“It’s these types of activities that really help students get involved and have fun on campus,” he said. “I try to go to as many of the campus events as I can. I really appreciate that they have so many options for students, in addition to the academic-based activities and events.”