Nick Chastain has a knack for recognizing an opportunity and making the most of it.
At his Colorado State University orientation, Chastain learned that students who declare a major sign up for classes earlier than undecided students. He’d done well in math and science in high school, and particularly enjoyed chemistry, so he made up his mind on the spot.
“Well, I guess I’ll pick chemical engineering,” Chastain recalled thinking. “It was a gut decision.”
To say that he made the right call would be an understatement. He earned a bachelor’s degree in chemical and biological engineering with a 3.94 GPA, three separate minors in mathematics, chemistry, and entrepreneurship and innovation, numerous scholarships, and a legacy of leadership with the men’s lacrosse team. Most recently, he added the Colorado Engineering Council’s Silver Medal Award to his collection of achievements.
The Silver Medal is awarded annually by the Council to one student at each of the state’s engineering colleges. The award is based on research skills, academic performance, and service. Chastain was chosen from a field of eight nominees provided by each department in the college, and was one of three finalists.
David Dandy, head of the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, praised Chastain’s selection.
“Nick has all the attributes of a natural leader,” Dandy said. “He is very intelligent and a strategic thinker, and readily engages with people of highly diverse backgrounds.
Finding a path through the pandemic
Chastain was taking a notoriously difficult thermodynamics course when the pandemic forced schools into lockdown in 2020. The transition to virtual instruction didn’t go well for him. When he learned that classes would again be online in the fall, he decided to find a co-op experience instead. An opportunity turned up in the finance division of Thermo-Fisher in North Carolina. It wasn’t an engineering position, but Chastain jumped at the chance anyway, knowing that it would open other doors if he performed well.
His adaptability paid off. He ended up serving in both financial and engineering roles over the course of a transformative year under the company’s wing.
“I was able to recognize where my weaknesses were,” Chastain said, “and get more value out of my college education by going to get some experience.”
Chastain also interned as an Entrepreneur-in-Training with CSU Strata, the innovation and technology transfer corporation serving the CSU System. The internship was a chance to explore his interest in the interface between engineering and business. He learned of the opportunity through one of Kipp Krukowski’s entrepreneurship classes in the College of Business. Later, he used an assignment in another of Krukowski’s classes to help land his post-graduation position with Merrick & Company in Denver, where he’ll join the nuclear services group.
For Krukowski, the pattern is clear.
“Even though we might help in creating opportunities or opening doors, students still need to show initiative,” he said. “I can tell that Nick not only listens, he takes action!”
Finding balance as a student-athlete
Chastain credits his involvement with CSU’s club lacrosse team with helping him stay centered and productive as a student. He’s worked to return that value, serving as captain for two years and as an officer in the club for three.
“It’s been a big component of my time here at CSU,” Chastain said. “It’s 15 to 20 hours per week with practices and traveling to games. But lacrosse has always been a haven from whatever life throws at you. I think it adds more value than the time it takes away.”
The athletic outlet seems to have done the trick, given his achievements and the praise of those who have seen his work in the classroom.
“Nick is the type of student that professors love to watch through their journey,” Krukowski said. “I look forward to seeing the great things that he will achieve.”
The Walter Scott, Jr. College of Engineering named eight nominees and three finalists for the 2023 Silver Medal:
- Aidan Allen, Environmental Engineering
- Ainsley Burch, Mechanical Engineering
- Catherine Burr, Biomedical and Mechanical Engineering
- Shawn Mellinger, Engineering Science and International Studies
- Gwyndolyn Tari, Computer Engineering
- Nicholas Chastain, Chemical and Biological Engineering
- Jordan Jeski, Electrical Engineering
- Joshua McMartin, Civil Engineering