AWWA Articles

2019 Abel Wolman Fellowship Recipient -- Aleksandra Szczuka, Stanford, CA

The Abel Wolman Fellowship is one of 22 scholarships totaling $160,000 being awarded by Water Equation at today’s Water Industry Luncheon, noon to 1:15 p.m., Four Seasons Ballroom.

Education: Bachelor of Science, Chemical and Biological Engineering, Princeton; Master of Science, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Stanford; Ph.D. (ongoing), Civil and Alexksandra SzczukaEnvironmental Engineering, Stanford. (Photos courtesy of Aleksandra Szczuka)

What is the focus of your research and studies? My focus is to improve the sustainability of our water supply and treatment. My approach is to help make sure there is enough water to meet demand, that this water is safe for its intended end use, and that we recover resources in our wastewater. As a Stanford graduate research assistant in Dr. William Mitch’s lab, I study energy recovery during potable reuse of wastewater. My focus is on incorporating energy-efficient technologies into potable reuse trains and optimal disinfection strategies for safe water. In my coursework I focus on the fundamental science of water treatment and on water policy.  

Why are you passionate about it? Access to water is a human right and safe water provision is one of the greatest challenges facing the world today and will become even more challenging in the future. I hope my career helps people – everyone needs water, and I want everyone, myself included, to have safe water that they can afford regardless of environmental (i.e., weather patterns) or political (i.e., funding, source water rights) pressures. This field is filled with people passionate about what they do, and the excitement is contagious. Being able to work outside is an extra perk.

How and when did you become interested in this? In high school I was interested in chemistry and physics and decided to pursue a chemical engineering undergraduate degree. After an oil-focused internship, I realized I enjoy the academic aspect of chemical engineering but was interested in more hands-on work. I joined Dr. Francois Morel's lab in the geosciences department and was mentored by Dr. Jeffra Schaefer, who made me fall in love with the process of research. I wanted to continue with research that could help people in a more applied context, which is how I ended up doing research in water sustainability. 

What do you hope to pursue in your career? My passions are research and water and I hope to find the intersection of the two throughout my career. I would like to lead a water sustainability focused laboratory in an academic, government or non-government organization. 

What do you enjoy most about this work? The people. Everyone I have worked with in this field is excited about what they do, and I have learned a great deal from the students, professors, operators and researchers I have had the pleasure to meet. 

Aleksandra hikingHow will the Abel Wolman Fellowship impact your ability to pursue your aspirations? The Abel Wolman fellowship will help me complete the final year of my Ph.D. I plan to transfer my laboratory findings to a pilot-scale plant at a full-scale utility. Working with a full-scale utility will help me better understand the needs of utilities and operators, which will help me develop practical and implementable solutions to water treatment challenges in the future. Utilities and operators are at the heart of water treatment: any solutions that are not operator or utility friendly will always be less helpful than those that are. Without the Abel Wolman Fellowship, I would not be able to complete and learn from this work. 

Where did you grow up and live prior to Stanford? I spent most of my childhood and school years in Scotch Plains, N.J. 

What are some of your other interests? I enjoy spending time with my friends and family. My sister is a big fan of tennis, so we always play a few sets when I see her. I like hiking and going on picnics. I am also a big fan of Pokémon GO, a game where you catch virtual creatures in real-world locations on your cell phone, but I am very much trying to quit that. 

What do you enjoy about being a student and teaching? Being a student has been amazing, and I have been fortunate to learn from amazing professors and peers. Since I started graduate school I get to be a student and a teacher at the same time, and education from a teaching perspective is very different than from a student perspective. Students have amazingly diverse backgrounds going into a class/lab experience and very different goals for what they want to get out of the experience, which makes teaching even more challenging and rewarding. What I enjoy most about teaching is that it’s like being a student: you become exposed to another person’s thinking and it helps you become better prepared for the next person you teach. 

Anything else you’d like to add? Just a big thank you to AWWA and the Abel Wolman Fellowship. I am super excited for ACE19 and the years of research ahead!

AWWA’s Water Equation invests in the future of the water industry by raising funds to support academic and operator scholarships. For information about sponsoring or applying for a scholarship, please contact Michelle Hektor, AWWA’s senior manager of development.