Zach Maier

UWRF’s first environmental engineering degree student to graduate Saturday

May 6, 2022 -- When the University of Wisconsin-River Falls added an environmental engineering major two years ago, Zach Maier knew it was a good fit for him.

Maier, of Spring Valley, was studying environmental science and enjoyed working outdoors with water. He would have graduated last spring from UWRF but instead decided to pursue an environmental engineering degree.

“I liked problem-solving,” he said. “I could still work with water quality but more on the applied side.”

Maier, who graduates Saturday, accepted a job in January as a water resource engineer for Westwood Professional Services in Minnetonka, Minn. He starts June 1. He will be determining runoff from after solar power panels or wind farms are added to agriculture fields as well as determining if farm and field roads can handle the weight of the wind turbines.

“I am looking forward to solving real-world problems,” he added.

Going into environmental engineering, Maier didn’t realize he would be the first person to graduate from UWRF with the degree. 

“I was just really attracted to what an environmental engineer would do,” he said. “I’m very proud of graduating with the degree. It was a lot of hard work. Because it is new, there is a learning process as students are going through the program.”

Joel Peterson, professor and department chair of the Environmental Engineering Department, said Maier will do well in the industry.

“Zach is thoughtful and thinks through the range of potential solutions before deciding on a course of action,” Peterson said. “I also think he’ll do well because he is personable and is able to get along with people. That will serve him well because in the private industry, you not only work with clients but go out and get new clients. I think his future employer also saw that the engineering courses Zach has taken have prepared him to hit the ground running. Because our engineering professors have industry experience, they are aware of the kinds of skills, knowledge and abilities that will make students successful engineers and structure courses and course content appropriately.”

Having Maier as the first graduate in environmental engineering shows UWRF is serious about engineering, Peterson added. 

“It shows that UWRF is committed to producing high-quality engineering graduates,” Peterson said. “Students studying engineering at UWRF have small class sizes, lots of interaction with professors who have worked in industry, and we are substantially less expensive than large public universities or private universities.”

After he graduates, Maier will be taking his Fundamentals of Engineering Exam and after four years of work experience, he will take a Principles and Practice of Engineering Exam to become a professional engineer.

“I want to become a professional engineer because it would give me more responsibility and the ability to lead a team of engineers,” he noted.

While going to UWRF, Maier worked for three years at a nearby dairy farm, Southern Fork Dairy, milking cows twice a day and doing some fieldwork. This past summer he worked in landscaping at Pondering Gardens in River Falls as a landscaper.

He is a member of Phi Kappa Phi, an honor society for superior scholarship, and has been the co-vice president for the past two years.

He also enjoys fishing, ice fishing in the winter, bass fishing and trout fly fishing.

Maier chose UWRF because he liked the smaller class sizes.

“I feel like I have a good connection with my professors,” he said. “Anytime I have a question, I am able to ask them because it is easy to get in touch with them.”

He also encouraged other students to consider majoring in environmental engineering.

“I think if anyone has a strong interest in math and problem solving and the natural side of problems, it would be a good fit,” he said. “You are providing solutions.”

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