College of Engineering News • Iowa State University

Working with water, Derek Ten Pas is splitting his time between research and industry this summer

Graduate student in lab coat taking sample of water.
Graduate student in lab coat taking sample of water.

Graduate student Derek Ten Pas chose Iowa State to continue his education because of the opportunity to research water quality in Alaskan Native communities. This spring, he got to be on-site, sampling tap water to bring home to study.

“It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, meeting people my research impacts and collecting samples. ‘Safe water’ looks different to everyone. Every community has a different view of what safe, potable water looks like,” said Ten Pas.

Between the trip and rounds of samples, though, Ten Pas found another project to work on; identifying water treatment plants that struggle with monitoring and reporting violations with machine learning.

“In my first semester here, I took a data science course with Associate Professor Adina Howe, and it really opened my eyes to the amount of data out there and what we can do with it!” Said Ten Pas.

Utilizing data from facility operations and the communities they serve; Ten Pas is training the model to use that information to predict whether a facility is a “consistent violator” or not. Once the model can accurately predict violators, Ten Pas will look at what features the model leans on the most to make its predictions.

“The idea is that those features are the main drivers behind what’s causing these facilities to struggle with violations,” he continued, “I went from having little programming experience to applying it to my field. It has been a great project to work on with a steep learning curve,” said Ten Pas.

Planning for the future

Ten Pas aims to complete his master’s program this December, so he’s making the most of his summer interning with Bolton and Menk.

“It is not a common ask to do both research and an internship at the same time. So, I am especially grateful for my advisor, Associate Professor Kaoru Ikuma, and the flexibility from Bolton and Menk,” said Ten Pas.

In his internship, Ten Pas works with water and wastewater, writing technical documents, observing construction sites, and analyzing data.

“I chose to do both because I knew that after graduation, I wanted to stay in the area and consult before my PE exam. It also allows me to build communication and industry-specific skills,” said Ten Pas.

Doing impactful water research while building his career as an engineer at Iowa State CCEE.