Akron 'Rust Busters' take on Alaska


When University of Akron students Stephen Callow, Zackary Lerch and David Waligorski enrolled in UA's brand-new Corrosion Engineering Program three years ago, their collective nickname, "Rust Busters," quickly followed suit. Now the trio is on a rust-busting mission on the Alaska North Slope. Since September, the students have been working for BP in co-op positions, inspecting and monitoring oil and gas pipelines for corrosion.

By the time they graduate from UA in spring 2015, the students will be among the nation's first to earn bachelor's degrees in corrosion engineering. Launched in 2010, the University's Corrosion Engineering program emphasizes project management skills and responds to calls from government and industry for specialists to address what has become a $400 billion national infrastructure problem, due to damaging corrosion.

Challenging assignments

Stephen Callow is one of three corrosion engineering majors currently on a co-op assignment with BP in Alaska.

Callow and Lerch work on the North Slope in two-week intervals, alternating with each other. There, Lerch of Napoleon, Ohio, joined a team that examines corrosion rates in pipeline inspection gauges not under use. Meanwhile, Callow, of Youngstown, works with colleagues representing various facilities and groups across the slope to assess workflow and to develop a new system to track pipeline inspection results.

"Co-oping has been a great experience that has allowed me to gain knowledge that cannot be learned within the classroom," says Lerch, an Honors student. "One of my greatest opportunities has been working in the oilfields in Alaska … exposed to the day-to-day operations, issues and challenges encountered while producing oil."

After long, bone-chilling Arctic days on the slope, Callow and Lerch have enjoyed spending their two-week-off periods back in Ohio with their families.

"We work 12-hour days for two weeks, and when one of us is home on rest and relaxation, the other is hard at work," Callow says. "For the most part, I have taken the opportunity to relax at home and visit with friends and family during my breaks."

Real-world experience

With most of his co-op time spent off the slope in Anchorage, Waligorski, of Canal Fulton, works on two primary projects for BP: performing Corrosion Threat and Likelihood Assessments (CTALAs) on gas and seawater pipelines, and determining whether chemicals used to prevent freezing of pipelines not in use cause corrosion.

David Waligorski is been working in Anchorage, Alaska, for BP during his co-op assignment this semester.

"I've been tasked with performing corrosion threat assessments on various pipelines and systems throughout the Alaska assets, and have learned a lot in doing so," says Waligorski, who adds that he also has traveled to the North Slope twice for a brief project. "That has been a very interesting experience."

No matter their brevity or intensity, such co-op assignments — made available through the UA College of Engineering’s Cooperative Engineering Education Program — benefit both students and potential employers. While students receive real-world experience, employers gain potential future employees who can hit the ground running once they're hired.

"Students who participate in the co-op program gain valuable skills that employers look for when they're recruiting," says Deanna Dunn, director of cooperative engineering education. "Our corrosion engineering students on co-op in Alaska with BP this semester are gaining work experience that will truly set them apart at graduation."

Callow, Lerch and Waligorski are among the more than 70 students in UA’s Corrosion Engineering Program. Most of these students are expected to complete co-op assignments prior to their graduation from the program and 100 percent are expected to secure engineering jobs within three months of graduation.

Learn more about UA’s Corrosion Engineering Program.

Media contact: Denise Henry, 330-972-6477 or henryd@uakron.edu.