Outcomes in Action: Daniel Owens ’23

When alumnus Daniel Owens ’23 thinks back to his childhood career dreams, there’s quite a few that come to mind: chef, movie star, musician, and professional soccer player (running not included). While Dan cultivated each of those passions during his time at Valpo — and has continued to do so every day since — it was environmental engineering that ultimately took residence on his undergraduate diploma. Out of so many interests, it’s easy to wonder “Why environmental engineering?” But the answer is wrapped simply in brown and gold.

Following the many footsteps of generations of Valpo alumni, Dan has his sights set on a better, brighter world. His dedication to his work is grounded in both interest and skill, but also in the desire to make a positive difference in the lives of others. As an undergraduate student, that drive manifested in joining the Social Action Leadership Team (SALT) and Society of Women Engineers (SWE) — as well as becoming a resident assistant (RA) and Writing Center consultant. Now, it all culminates in real-world, purpose-filled progress as an industrial wastewater engineer at WSP Global, Inc.

Daniel Owens '23 smiles at the camera from the front seat of an automobile in a selfie-style photo.

“I think that in selecting a major, I always wanted to pick something where I felt like I was having a positive impact during my nine-to-five, with the environment being a big focus,” Dan says. “I’m fortunate that this line of work allows me to actually see tangible improvements in the environment at the end of a project — with rivers even changing color after our treatment plans are implemented.”

While the end goal remained the same throughout his college journey, Dan’s draw to this line of work was somewhat unexpected. 100% of graduates from the College of Engineering participate in experiential learning while on campus, which continues to prove instrumental in leading them to their post-graduate calling. Likewise, Dan’s calling was discovered during a previous internship with his current employer.

“For most of my tenure at college, I thought that municipal wastewater was not something I would be involved with,” Dan says, looking back. “But, during my internship, I learned that a few [WSP Global, Inc.] offices around the country deal with industrial wastewater rather than municipal. That includes cleaning up the water of mines, Superfund sites, coal manufacturing plants, and various other pollutants,” he explains. “This application was a lot more variable and exciting to me, and provided me with the chance to directly help clean up the environment in several different ways.”

Fast forward to today and Dan has been a beacon in this role for just over a year. Already, he’s contributed to several different projects by drafting site layout configurations, performing lab work at treatment sites, providing design calculations, contacting key vendors, and much more. It’s worth noting that he was offered the position in January of 2023 — five months before he officially graduated — and waited only five weeks after Commencement before leaving his Valparaiso hometown to start this new chapter of his life in Denver.

To start his first full-time job halfway across the country was surely an intimidating adjustment, and one we’re proud of Dan for not only overcoming but for embracing. Along with personal grit, he humbly credits his success to his connections and quality education. “I think the engineering faculty is owed a lot of the credit for my success so far. Their classes helped hone many of the non-technical skills that my managers have already voiced being very impressed with,” Dan says. “I think with just about every job, most of what you need to know is learned by actually doing it. That being said, I think my coursework at Valpo prepared me for being able to quickly learn and adapt, helping me excel very soon after the beginning.”

Yet, Dan reminds us that it wasn’t just engineering that equipped him with the skills needed to tackle life’s adventures and adversities. Valpo encourages Beacons of all academic vocations to discover all that lies beyond their major — a goal which many students fulfill through Christ College — The Honors College

“My mom, Patrice Weil, served as assistant to the dean in Christ College from the time I was in fifth grade until my second year at Valpo, so I had a lot of exposure to the program growing up,” Dan says, specifically referencing symposiums on Lady Gaga and “The Lord of the Rings.” “When I decided on going into engineering, the idea of having a largely humanities-based curriculum that would push me in ways that weren’t STEM-related was really appealing to me. [It was] a kind of different academic outlet,” he shares.

Since he enrolled in Christ College as a freshman, this historic honors college has made a lasting impact on Dan’s life: one of his favorite Valpo memories is Christ College’s traditional first-year production, a Christ College-sponsored trip that took him to Italy during his junior year, and the value placed on the arts that continues to resonate with him every day. “Christ College has definitely been a huge influence in my success after graduation. Skills, like writing, honed in those classes have demonstrably been valuable, but the professional value which personal growth and reflection fostered within the curriculum itself cannot be understated,” he shares. “Through these classes, I feel like I gained the tools to enter the corporate world mindfully and ethically, and have a greater understanding of my priorities and way of existing in the world,” he shares excitedly.

Daniel Owens '23 poses with a companion on top of a rust-colored rock while on a hiking trip in Colorado.

With a year of full-time work under his belt, Dan looks back at these four years with some words of advice. (And trust us, Beacons and alumni alike will want to listen up!) “First, worry about learning, not the grades… Take hard classes when you can so you can learn how to learn, ask questions frequently, and figure out how to handle deadlines and expectations,” he says. “Second, even with [4.0 GPA] and extracurricular involvement, connections by far played the most important role in securing my internships and my job now… Focus your job search on people in the field in addition to whatever postings come up online, and then just follow that lead. You can even just search for people in the profession on LinkedIn and send a message their way; one, if not many, are almost guaranteed to reply,” he shares. Just take it from the professional himself!

We’re proud to have played a role in the good that Dan is doing in the world, as well as to have supported his life-changing step toward the beginning of a successful career. We know that no matter where Dan turns next, whether that be graduate school or even another state, he will only continue to thrive and radiate joy in the lives of all those whom his light touches. 

If you’re feeling inspired by Dan’s story, start your journey with Valpo’s College of Engineering today.

alumnus Daniel Owens '23 speaking to an audience out of frame during the TEDxValparaisoUniversity conference.