Engineering Grad Sam Nieslanik Turns on the Water Works

Sam Nieslanik at a basketball game in The Kennel
Sam Nieslanik at a basketball game in The Kennel

August 24, 2020
Juliette Carey ('21)

SPOKANE, Wash. — Sam Nieslanik, a 2020 Gonzaga graduate, is using his civil engineering degree to pursue more sustainable technologies for water systems.

Originally from the small town of Meeker, Colorado, Nieslanik grew up on a ranch in a fourth- generation farming family. He believes civil engineering was a natural path to explore.

“I’ve always kind of been outside and as cliche as it sounds, worked with my hands,” Nieslanik says. “I thought civil engineering was an avenue I could take and be a little bit more active as far as working outside in the field, not just at a desk.”

Throughout his academic career at Gonzaga, Nieslanik concentrated on taking his electives in water resources.

“A wastewater treatment plant is a giant system that handle millions of gallons of water a day and it's all interconnected,” Nieslanik says. “The problems faced at those types of facilities are more challenging and difficult to solve. Thinking more on a systems level is really intriguing and fun.”

Nieslanik’s senior design project at the Spokane County Regional Water Reclamation Facility gave him the opportunity to study the impact of Vivianite crystallization on anaerobic digesters. It slows the efficiency of the facility, and costs hundreds of thousands of dollars per year to treat.

The team discovered that very few groups in the world were seeking solutions for this issue. Nieslanik made a connection with the leading Vivianite research facility, the Technical University of Delft in the Netherlands, which counseled the team.

He looks forward to following the project for years to come.

In his time at Gonzaga, Nieslanik was vice president of the American Society of Civil Engineering, the secretary for the engineering honor society Tao Beta Pi, participated in service projects through Knights Of Columbus, and worked in intramurals at the Rudolf Fitness Center. He was also nominated as “Outstanding Student of the Year” by the Civil Engineering Department. 

Tyler Seth, assistant director at the Rudolf Fitness Center, says Nieslanik “got me pumped up to be at the RFC and serving the Gonzaga community. The thing I admire about Sam the most is his love and energy for everything. Love for people, work, fun, the kid is just amazing.”

A spirited Zag, one of Nieslanik’s favorite memories is a freshman road trip to the Sweet Sixteen and the Elite Eight, watching the Zags make it to the championship.

Loving the Community of Zags

During his four years, Nieslanik experienced an unbreakable community. “Living in the Logan Neighborhood with 5,000 people my age that are all super fun to be around and genuinely just good people is wild.”

They made the COVID-19 pandemic bearable, he says. “In the two months that my five housemates and I were locked in our house, getting to spend time with just them, was really special,” Nieslanik says. “I guess it was the silver lining to that whole deal.”

Nieslanik will miss the people from Gonzaga the most.

He loves sharing his Gonzaga pride and the comradery among other graduates.

Turn on the Water Works

Today, Nieslanik is an engineer in training at Mountain Waterworks in Boise, Idaho. The firm undertakes water resource engineering for both drinking water and wastewater related projects.

It goes hand in hand with his desire to address critical environmental challenges with more sustainable technologies.

“I will work to protect the public health of citizens by making sure people aren’t drinking polluted water and that the water we discharge from treatment facilities is not going to harm the river ecosystem, especially the fish,” Nieslanik says.

His plans include graduate studies in wastewater engineering, achieving his professional engineering license, and then perhaps earning a doctorate to teach at a university.

“At some point in my life I would like to be involved with students again because I think college is a magical time and college students are awesome.”

His Gonzaga professors would not be surprised to see him do those things.

Kyle Shimabuku, Nieslanik’s professor and an advisor for senior design, says he learned a great deal from Sam. Sue Niezgoda, Ph.D., who helped him find a civil engineering internship he was passionate about says,

“He truly is an inspiration and I am confident he will be a leader and prolific contributor to the environmental engineering field. I have no doubt he will find numerous ways to provide creative solutions to global water resources, environmental, and sustainability problems that will have a profound impact on us all.”

Nieslanik received numerous scholarships at Gonzaga: the Regent Scholarship, Dr. James C McGovern Scholarship, ACME Scholarship, Alpha Sigma Nu Scholarship, Carol L Herak Scholarship, Albert A Kelly Memorial Scholarship, GIF Mary Catherine Shaw Scholarship and the John E. Cannon Sr. Scholarship.

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