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OC's new engineering program will offer a lot, but not everything

Though Washington State University is bringing its four-year mechanical engineering curriculum to Olympic College, local high school students say there are limits to what the Bremerton program could offer.

For one, the chance to get away.

"If you stayed in Bremerton, you wouldn't be exploring as much," said Bremerton High School senior Ashley Benedetti, who wants to study engineering in college. Benedetti added that part of the draw of college life would be the chance to meet new people.

Officials from both schools say the mechanical engineering program, likely coming to Olympic College this fall, would be almost identical to the one taught in Pullman, with the same coursework and lab requirements, culminating in a Washington State degree.

Students said that while it's a tempting offer to forego room and board costs to stay home, there's something to be said for the experience of going away to college.

"Part of me just wants to leave town and experience other things," said Katrina Dunn, a senior at Central Kitsap High who is considering Portland State University and New York University. The same goes for Jason Adamson, also a Central Kitsap senior, who applied to the University of Washington and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Michael Delacruz, a Bremerton High senior, is considering attending Washington State University for a mechanical engineering degree. Though he could get the same Washington State degree at Olympic College, he said he would rather attend a four-year university for his coursework because he thinks it would offer a more rigorous and competitive environment.

But the Olympic College program has another limitation that excludes even students who would consider staying home for college - it doesn't offer engineering degrees outside the mechanical field.

Wendy Alix is another Bremerton High senior interested in Washington State. She's been accepted to the school in Pullman, but is waiting to see whether scholarships will allow her to afford Seattle University. She'd like to stay as close to home as possible.

Alix can't take the Washington State program in Bremerton because her interest is in civil engineering. Otherwise, she might consider staying home.

"That would be a practical thing to do because we live here in Bremerton and we don't have to pay as much for a dorm and everything," she said. "So if it's the same curriculum and education that we're getting, that's a good program. That's a good thing."

Because the curriculum and faculty of the Bremerton engineering program will belong to Washington State, students would pay Washington State tuition. The Washington State Board of Regents passed a 3.5 percent increase in housing and dining rates at the end of January, bringing those costs to more than $8,700 for the 2010-2011 school year, something local students wouldn't have to worry about at Olympic College.

Olympic College engineering instructor Jeff Brown said in the future the school may expand its Washington State engineering offerings to other fields, such as civil or chemical engineering. If that happens, the school might be able to accommodate students like Chan Boriratrit, a Bremerton High junior and aspiring computer engineer who wants to attend Olympic College for two years before transferring to a four-year school.

"I think it would be a good choice for me to stay at my house," Boriratrit said of the prospect of getting his degree in Bremerton.

But the program is a perfect fit for students like Christin Waldhalm, for whom relocation is not an easy option.

Waldhalm, a second-year student at Olympic College, has an 11-year-old daughter and a child on the way in April. She already applied to the Washington State program at Olympic College, which will start with 15 students in the fall and expand to 30 the next year.

"I'm a single mother, so the fact that I don't have to relocate to finish my degree is phenomenal," she said.

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