Back to the Underground: Fourth-generation family member to work underground in Lead

Back to the Underground: Fourth-generation family member to work underground in Lead


Wade Vandine, left, KAJV engineer, stands next to his father, George Vandine, Sanford Lab underground infrastructure coordinator, on the 4850 Level of Sanford Lab.

LEAD | The summer after graduating high school and just days after turning 18, Wade Vandine began an internship at Sanford Underground Research Facility, where he discovered an affinity for working underground.

Five years later, he’s back at the facility as an engineer with Kiewit Alberici Joint Venture (KAJV), helping to ready the underground for a massive project.

In 2014, Vandine, who was just preparing to start his freshman year at the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology (SD Mines), received the Chris Bauer Engineering Internship. As a part of this program, he spent his summer working with the Underground Maintenance Crew (UMC).

“We like to have our interns working underground, hands-on with the crew. They'll learn more from the crews than from being in the office. We want them to learn a little bit of everything, from rock bolting to construction,” said Bryce Pietzyk, underground access director at Sanford Lab.

“I went underground as often as I could,” said Vandine. “I didn't care what specific work we were doing, I just wanted to be there — experience it, do it.”

Vandine’s fascination for underground work didn’t come as much of a surprise, given his family history.

“You could say it’s in my DNA,” said Vandine, who is the fourth generation in his family to work underground in Lead, South Dakota. “Both of my grandpas and my great-grandpa worked here for Homestake. My dad worked at Homestake for 12 years and then came back when it reopened for science.”

Vandine proudly pointed out that, by going underground just days after he turned 18, he was the youngest Vandine to work underground.

“I grew up hearing my dad and grandpa talk about the mine and watching fireworks over the Open Cut on the Fourth of July,” Vandine said. “I remember my first Neutrino Day and getting a tour of the Yates Hoistroom.”

“I couldn’t be prouder to have him here,” said George Vandine, underground infrastructure coordinator. “When he talks about how much he loves being underground, I get it. It’s an amazing feeling.”

After his initial internship at Sanford Lab, Vandine knew he wanted to continue working in an underground environment. During his sophomore year, he went to the SD Mines' career fair and only talked to only one division in one company — the Underground Division of Kiewit Corporation.

“I didn’t speak with anyone else — I knew Kiewit was where I wanted to be,” said Vandine. “I got an interview the next day and they hired me the day after that. I was studying mechanical engineering, but my underground experience at Sanford Lab helped me join their underground division.”

Since then, Vandine has worked for Kiewit’s Underground Division on projects in Louisiana, New Mexico and Nebraska. He says he appreciates the permanence of the projects he works on.

“All the work that we do for these projects is stuff that will stick around for a long time,” he said. “I could go back in 20 years and still see the work that we are completing now.”

One project that will leave a lasting mark is the pre-excavation work for Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory’s Long-Baseline Neutrino Facility (LBNF), which will house the enormous particle detectors for the Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment (DUNE). The South Dakota portion of the facility will be built on the 4850 Level of Sanford Lab.

As a KAJV engineer on the project, Vandine has come full-circle.

“This project especially is huge; it’s a one-of-a-kind project and not many people get to be involved in something of this magnitude,” said Vandine. “It's even better that it's in my backyard — with all my family history — I definitely take pride in what I'm doing on this project.”

“I’ve been impressed by his hard work and the effort he puts into making things happen,” said Joshua Schurger, project engineer for KAJV. “Over time, he’s taken on more responsibilities, more projects and has become a major contributor. His enthusiasm for this project, especially as a fourth-generation worker, brings energy to the team.”

Vandine also frequently sees members of the UMC that he first worked with underground.

“I see him in meetings once in a while, sometimes he's even leading these meetings,” said Pietzyk. “It makes me feel good to see an intern that we brought in succeeding post-graduation — it also makes me feel a little old.”

Wade Vandine also runs into his father each time his is underground. “He’s really proud, and he’s always snapping pictures of me on the job,” said Vandine. “Now we’ve got photos of all four generations at work in these drifts.”

The internship program is a big part of Sanford Lab’s education and outreach efforts. Through this competitive program, students gain real-world experience that propels them toward a career in their chosen field. Internships are available in science; engineering; environment, safety and health; and communications and education fields.

“Working with interns is one of my favorite things. It's gratifying to see them move on in the industry,” said Pietzyk. “And it's not just me — the crews like working with these young adults who are excited to learn and eager to get out in the field.”

See for more information on the lab's internship programs.

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