First WSU electronics engineering grad revved up

Dec 9 2011 - 7:24am

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Heather Wokurka, of Sunset, will receive the first-ever degree in WSU’s electronics engineering department. At ATK, in Promontory, she works on static rocket tests. (Courtesy photo)
Heather Wokurka, of Sunset, will receive the first-ever degree in WSU’s electronics engineering department. At ATK, in Promontory, she works on static rocket tests. (Courtesy photo)

OGDEN -- When Heather Wokurka considered updating her Weber State University electronics engineering technology degree with night classes in WSU's new electronics engineering department, the decision wasn't exactly rocket science.

Rocket science is Wokurka's day job.

Today, the Sunset resident and ATK electrical test engineer will earn the first-ever degree in Weber State's new electronics engineering department, formed last school year.

Wokurka will receive her diploma at the university's commencement ceremony, which is set to begin at 1 p.m. in the Dee Events Center.

"There were several reasons to go after the degree," said Wokurka, 39. "One was for my continuing education and becoming more knowledgeable about the job I'm already doing. Another was moving forward with a master's degree in the future."

The electronics engineering (EE) degree is a more respected, scientific degree than the electronics engineering technology (EET) degree, which Wokurka earned in 2005, she said.

"The EE degree has more math associated with it, as opposed to the technology degree, which is more hands-on," she said.

"Technology is more about fixing something that's already been made. Engineering is more along the lines of designing something that's never been made."

The future job prospects for electronics engineers are bright, Wokurka said.

"As a career field, it's in constant demand," she said.

"You can't go anywhere these days without having things that are engineered. Engineers are designing your plasma televisions and making cellphones you can fit into your pocket. It's a huge career field that will grow for a very long time."

With her new degree, Wokurka said, the way is clear to apply to an EE master's degree program, perhaps at Utah State University in Logan because WSU does not yet offer an EE master's.

Continuing her education in Logan would add to Wokurka's already long commute.

She drives 52 miles to her ATK job, in Promontory, where she works on static rocket tests.

Wokurka applies testing equipment to rockets; then she prepares the surrounding area before the rockets are "launched." They fire at full power, in place, so workers can test how design elements would work under real launch conditions.

After long days at work, Wokurka said, a 10-minute drive from Sunset to WSU Davis, in Layton, for night classes, seemed pretty easy.

"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," she said. "During that time, I was like, 'Why am I doing this to myself?' "

Wokurka got her first technology testing experience as a member of the Air Force, stationed at Hill Air Force Base.

The WSU Davis campus, with its proximity to Hill, is a great place for engineering classes, which are in high demand among Air Force personnel, people who work for local defense contractors and others employed in industries that demand electronics engineering expertise.

The fact that classes are offered after the normal workday makes it easier for employed students to attend, Wokurka said.

The new EE program has been far more popular with students than anticipated, said Jeffrey Ward, associate electronics engineering professor.

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, 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. In May, seven more students are expected to earn EE degrees.

"We've had individuals from local industry request this degree, and we've had many students requesting an engineering program here," Jackson said.

"As far as Weber State's mission, it's getting employers the graduates they need while offering the programs that students want."

Wokurka said she takes great pride in the fact that she 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."

About commencement

*  Weber State University's 138th commencement is at 1 p.m. today at Dee Events Center, 4400 Harrison Blvd., Ogden.
*  More than 1,370 candidates will be awarded their associate, bachelor's or graduate degrees.
*  The keynote speaker will be Paul Cox, executive director for The Institute for EthnoMedicine. The student speaker will be Ogden resident Erica Larsen, who is earning her bachelor's degree in health promotion.
*  Admission is free. American Sign Language services will be available in Section S, at the base of Portal 17.
Source:  Weber State University

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