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WSU receives $5 million from Boeing for student center in new engineering building

Oct. 27, 2022 Updated Thu., Oct. 27, 2022 at 8:28 p.m.

Mary Rezac, dean of WSU's Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture, speaks Thursday afternoon at WSU's Compton Union Building. The school and company were announcing a $5 million gift from Boeing to go to a new student center for the engineering department.  (Jayce Carral)
Mary Rezac, dean of WSU's Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture, speaks Thursday afternoon at WSU's Compton Union Building. The school and company were announcing a $5 million gift from Boeing to go to a new student center for the engineering department. (Jayce Carral)
By Jayce Carral For The Spokesman-Review

The Boeing Company announced Thursday it is investing $5 million to create a student success center for the Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture on Washington State University’s Pullman campus.

Intended to provide spaces for mentoring, tutoring and career services, the Boeing Center for Student Success will span an entire floor within Schweitzer Engineering Hall, which will be built beginning in early 2024. Ideally, the new center and hall will be one of many buildings and spaces for WSU engineering students, said Voiland College Dean Mary Rezac.

Rezac said Voiland College has steadily gained more students entering engineering majors in recent years, with a current count of over 4,000 students representing a 50% population increase. However, the college has also struggled to retain all of those students.

Rezac, joined by WSU Pullman Provost Elizabeth Chilton, WSU President Kirk Schulz and two Boeing representatives, attended an event on Thursday afternoon at WSU’s Compton Union Building to make the investment announcement. Administration, faculty, students and alumni attended the event, which ended with refreshments and a short performance by WSU’s marching band.

“It’s one thing to get engineers in the front door … you’ve got to do the right thing from a school perspective to give them the tools they need to succeed,” Craig Bomben, vice president of flight operation for Boeing Test and Evaluation Engineering, said during the event.

Across WSU, about 4,000 students entered as first-time freshmen during fall 2021, and 3,191 stayed through their first year. Over the last several years, the Voiland college’s retention rate for first-year students has increased by 10%, Rezac said. The increased retention coupled with the rise of the overall student population within the college is increasing the demand for building space.

Once the new Schweitzer Engineering Hall is built across Daggy and Carpenter Hall, currently the site of a parking lot, it will serve as the new home for some existing engineering programs as well as new ones. The Voiland College operates in 11 different buildings on campus, according to its website, including Carpenter Hall, Daggy Hall, Dana Hall and Sloane Hall.

“The Boeing Center for Student Success in Schweitzer Engineering Hall will now serve as a hub of activity where students can seek help, can explore ideas and can make connections,” Rezac said during the event.

Rezac credits Boeing’s financial investments to the Voiland College with the college’s ability to help its students succeed. She noted Boeing’s previous donations to WSU, one which gave $100,000 to help first-generation college students last year.

WSU and Boeing have had a relationship for over 55 years. During that time, the aerospace company has invested about $30 million in the university and spawned several programs, including the Boeing Scholars Program with the Carson College of Business.

During the event, Bill McSherry, vice president of state, local and government operation for the Boeing Co., said the $5 million investment will further help pave the way for WSU students pursuing their engineering dreams, some of which might include working at Boeing itself as the company continues its business with commercial aviation.

McSherry said the recent investment was almost not possible, as Boeing took a hit to its finances starting in 2020. The company had a nearly $12 billion loss in 2020.

“While we have navigated some of the most challenging times in our history over the last few years, we know our best days are still ahead,” he said during the event.

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