Questions and Answers

for Students and their Parents

Do I need to know what field of engineering I want to study?

You do not need to select a specific field of engineering until you apply for transfer or admission to the engineering university. Your courses will be very similar during your first two years of college regardless of which field of engineering you eventually pursue. You will take calculus, physics, chemistry and general engineering courses.

How long can I stay at UW-River Falls?

Some students decide that they want to stay at UWRF more than two or three years.  If you find that this is the case, you can finish your Applied Physics for Industry and Engineering (APIE) or Agricultural Engineering degree at UWRF in about four years.

How long do I have to stay at UW-River Falls?

Some students transfer to engineering universities after one or two years of pre-engineering work at UWRF.  In these pre-engineering cases, students apply directly to engineering universities for transfer admission.  There is no guarantee of admission.  You will want to select courses that will transfer to your engineering university. Several on-line transfer aids are available to help in this planning.

What if I change my mind and want to switch engineering paths?

Students do change their minds about which engineering program they would like to pursue:  the Physics and Chemistry Dual Degree program, pre-engineering, Applied Physics for Industry and Engineering, agricultural engineering, graduate school, etc. Faculty are always available to advise students about their options and the unique requirements of each program.  When a student is considering a change, the first step is to meet with Dr. Hardtke to see how already-completed courses can best fit into the new option.  Most courses can be applied to each of the engineering options.  Sometimes, students may need an extra semester or two to graduate, but advisers can help minimize the extra time.

I thought I wanted to be a civil engineer, but now I think I want to be a mechanical engineer.  Is that a problem?

Not at all.  Most courses at UWRF will be the same for engineering majors, regardless of their final engineering field: math, physics and general engineering.  We encourage students to explore their interests.  When transferring or applying to an engineering university, students will usually be asked to select an engineering field.  This does not happen until your second, third or fourth years at UWRF, depending on which engineering program you are pursuing.

I want to be a chemical engineer or a materials engineer/scientist.  Should I still take physics?

Yes, but you should also contact Professor Kevin McLaughlin in the UWRF Chemistry Department:  Professor McLaughlin coordinates the Chemical and Materials Engineering programs.  He should advise you about which chemistry courses to take.

What is reciprocity?

Reciprocity is the agreement that the State of Wisconsin has with the state of Minnesota to offer Minnesota students discounted tuition rates at Wisconsin's public universities, and vice versa.  Under the reciprocity agreement, Minnesota students can avoid paying non-resident tuition rates at public universities in Wisconsin, and Wisconsin students can avoid paying non-resident tuition rate at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities.

What do engineers do?

Engineers solve problems. Engineers apply math and physics principles to practical, technical problems. They may be involved in the research and development of products and processes, or in the testing and quality control of industrial or high-tech production. Engineers design buildings, airplanes and computers. They save and extend lives. They determine why objects fail and how to prevent it in the future. They often need to estimate the cost and duration of engineering projects. Some engineers are involved in engineering management or marketing. Most engineers use computers to do part or most of their work.

  • Civil engineers usually work on projects for public use and public safety. They design roads, bridges, dams, tunnels, water supply protections, airports, highways, levees, waste treatments centers, office buildings, research centers, and public transportation systems. Cities and states often hire civil engineers, as do many private companies and contractors.
  • Environmental engineers work to prevent environmental problems and to correct existing damage. They design projects to reduce air pollution, clean up hazardous waste, keep drinking water clean, treat sewage, protect wildlife and wetlands, reduce chemical run-off, and recycle water and goods.
  • Electrical engineers design and develop all products related to electricity, electrical systems, and electronics. They design computers, home entertainment products, video gaming systems, MP3 players, fuel cells, solar panels, cell phones, satellites, and power generation and distribution systems.
  • Mechanical engineers work design, test and analyze machines with moving parts like engines, factory components, tools, home appliances, air conditioners, bicycles, cars, or robotics. If an object uses power or delivers power, a mechanical engineer probably worked on it.
  • Chemical engineers use science to create useful chemicals and products, including cleaning products, petroleum derivatives, personal care products, scents, adhesives, pesticides, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals. Some large employers of chemical engineers are 3M, DuPont, Dow Chemical, Johnson Wax, drug companies, and the oil industry.
  • Agricultural engineers work in all fields related to food production and plant science. They study ways to give food plants proper nutrients and ways to dispose of agricultural waste, both in environmentally healthy ways. They design machines that harvest crops and develop methods to transport and store them.
  • Biomedical engineers and bioengineers apply science, math and engineering to biological and medical problems. They design artificial hearts, dialysis machines, hearing aids, medical instruments, prosthetics, and diagnostic machines.
  • Aeronautical and aerospace engineers design, develop and test commercial airplanes, military aircraft, spaceships, and satellites. They also study the aerodynamics and design of automobiles, race cars and golf balls.
  • Computer and software engineers address all aspects of computers: design, manufacturing, operating systems, hardware and software development, networking, and computational analysis. Some work with the desktop computers in offices and homes, but since computers are found nearly everywhere today (from cars to satellites to coffee makers to Wall Street), so are computer and software engineers.
  • Structural engineers design frameworks, supports, and layouts for buildings, bridges and other structures that meet the needs of the users while being economical and safe. Structural engineers often work with architects and building contractors to design a final product that meets the needs and budgets of their clients.
  • Industrial engineers study how factories and companies operate. They study how the raw resources, machines, processes, and people work together. They design ways to make operations safer, more efficient, and less costly. They are often involved in quality control, logistics, ergonomics, business planning, and management.
  • Material scientists and material engineers develop useful substances and study ways to make existing substances more useful. They work with plastics, metals, ceramics, alloys, polymers, and superconductors. They may develop materials that are stronger, more malleable, more resistant to wear and corrosion, more or less conductive, more or less insulating, or lighter.
  • Mining engineers study and locate natural resources. They design ways to extract natural resources, to build mines, and to move the extracted materials. Some mining engineers also work on returning mined areas to their natural state and on mining safety.
  • Nuclear engineers utilize the energy in atomic nuclei for energy production at nuclear power plants, medical diagnostics, industrial applications, and submarine and spacecraft propulsion. They also work on the safe storage and disposal of radioactive materials.
  • Geological engineers study the earth, its resources, and its environment. They often work for oil companies, government agencies, environmental firms, and for construction and mining companies. Some explore for minerals, some study the impact of earthquakes and volcanoes, and others analyze ground water systems. Geological engineers often work with other types of engineers, like civil engineers, mining engineers, and environmental engineers.

Do I have to pay for my graduate degree too?

Not in science and engineering.  Most graduate students in science and engineering have their tuition covered and they receive a stipend or salary.  Graduate students often work with faculty members on research projects.  Graduate students are often supported by the research grants of their faculty.  These research arrangements often include tuition remission and stipends for living expenses for students.  Some graduate students also work as teaching assistants for their department and can earn tuition remission and a stipend in that way.  Students considering a graduate degree (Master's or PhD) in engineering are encouraged to contact professors that are working on projects they find interesting.

I want to visit/take a tour.  Whom do I contact?

For a visit and tour of the UWRF Physics Department, contact Prof. Rellen Hardtke at or (715) 425-4230. You can visit any time of the year. Parents and families are welcome. Evening and weekend visits are available.

Campus tours and admissions presentations are available from the UWRF Admissions Office throughout the year.  You can contact the admissions office by email or by phone 715-425-3500.

What classes should I take in high school?

Take as much math and science, especially physics, in high school as possible.  If your high school offers calculus and physics, take them.  If your high school offers a second year of calculus and/or physics, take those too.  UWRF does offer college course credit  for successful A.P. exams. You should also take plenty of English courses, writing and speaking.  Chemistry, computer-aided design (CAD), and Computer Science are also helpful.

If I didn't take calculus in high school, can I still be an engineer?

Yes, you can You should take the free UWRF math placement test before you enroll so that you can be placed in the correct math course.  You can then take the math you need in order to prepare yourself for calculus and physics.  This may increase the time to graduation, but it can and has been done.  Again, be sure to take the math placement test so that you can start in the most advanced math course for which you qualify.

What classes would I start with?

A prepared engineering student will usually begin at UWRF by taking Calculus I (MATH 166) and Calculus-Based Physics I (PHYS 131).  Some students are ready for Calculus II (MATH 167) when they enroll at UWRF.  Academic advising and assistance with course planning is readily available from department faculty.

What kind of classes will I take in college?

Engineering students will take plenty of math courses like calculus, linear algebra, and differential equations.  They will also take a year of calculus-based physics.  Three engineering courses are taught at UWRF: engineering statics, engineering dynamics, and deformable bodies/mechanics of materials.  Depending on which engineering program students choose, they usually take more physics, scientific programming, electronics, some english and chemistry courses, economics, and general education electives.

How good do my ACT scores/GPA need to be?

Most engineering majors have scored at least 24 on the math portion of the ACT and are ranked in the top 20% of their high school class.  Because grade point averages vary from school to school, the most important criteria for engineering majors are: an aptitude for math, a sincere interest in engineering, and a commitment to working hard.  The engineering and physics programs at UWRF are rigorous and not for the halfhearted, but you will find a great deal of academic support if you decide to pursue your degree here.



UWRF Physics home page

Discussing Blueprints
Dave Wagner, owner of A.M. Structural Engineering, discusses blueprints with engineering students at UWRF.

Contact Us

Physics Department
Phone: 715-425-3235

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