Transportation made mostly out of paper products might be laughable to most but it is serving as an engineering challenge for Rich Casey, a Centralia College STEM scholar and returning combat veteran. He and two other Centralia College students constructed paper-made, human-powered modes of transportation as part of a team class project. Casey put together a 90 percent paper bike that he rode in a state-wide contest.
Casey is a second year engineering student who received a prestigious STEM scholarship, which provided $10,000 to pay three quarters of tuition, books, lab fees and help with other expenses. Casey’s path to his early academic success is somewhat by happenstance. After what he labels as a less than spectacular high school career, he joined the Army and was sent to Ft. Lewis. He completed a 15-month tour of duty in Iraq. Life took another turn when on a blind date he met Kathleen Nicholas, the woman who would become his wife and they started working on growing a family. But even after his four-plus years in the Army, marriage and a first child, college wasn’t on Casey’s to-do list.
“Then the economy started going south and there weren’t that many job opportunities for me,” said Casey. He applied for a job with the state patrol and the sheriff’s office but without success. The couple recognized that, especially with children, the smart thing to do would be to get a college education. Wife Kathleen entered and completed the college’s registered nursing program. “We decided we should both be college graduates,” said Casey. His wife’s extended family, area residents, offered babysitting services, giving the couple more time for school and homework.
Originally Casey planned on a career in energy technology and enrolled in that program. “I kept asking how this works, why this works and the response was always, well, this is something an engineer would know or an engineer would do,” said Casey. It was his natural curiosity that drove him to make the switch to engineering. He began that course of study in summer quarter 2009.
“I called my wife one afternoon and asked what if I was in school for four years. She said she’d support me whatever I needed to do.” There was still a lot of work in front of him. Casey needed refresher math courses and started with the pre-college offerings. “I took a lot of classes that didn’t count toward my degree but I took them to get up to speed,” he said, and it was worth it.
There came a realization that he understood engineering and was good at it. “With math classes, I’d look at the board and understand (problems and formulas) and say how do I know this stuff? I had a classmate who I thought was unbelievable smart and he’d be asking me questions,” said Casey.
The couple now has three children and the STEM scholarship has been put to use purchasing a computer for school work, appliances and other household items necessary to support a family. “The scholarship makes a tremendous difference,” he said. “We have been able to get a lot of the things we’ve needed.”
He will transfer to Saint Martin’s University in Lacey this fall to get his degree in mechanical engineering. He may also continue his education to earn a master’s degree. At some point, the family will decide where to work. While extended family offers an attraction to stay local Casey may need to move to work in an area of his interest: working for the military, a job in the automotive industry or working on roller coasters. “That would be a lot of fun,” he said.