Zach Zaletel’s high school AP chemistry teacher started a discussion in class one day that turned out to be life changing for him. “What could be better,” said Zach, “Chemistry and problem solving combined into one!” It was this class that sparked his interest in chemical engineering.
In 2001, Zach attended McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, Canada graduating with a Bachelor of Science in chemical engineering. Though he had considered attending graduate school after completing his undergraduate degree, he also wanted to get his feet wet in the work world. “I needed to work for a few years to gain real-world knowledge.” Zach was able to get the experience he was looking for while working as an environmental consultant. This, in turn, broadened his curiosity and interest in the environmental field.
Zach moved to Alaska in fall 2005 and decided to pursue his master’s in environmental quality engineering at UAA. “Alaska seemed like a great place to learn about environmental engineering. It just made sense,” he said.
While at UAA, he worked closely with his advisors, Craig Woolard and Nyrée McDonald. “Craig provided initial guidance to me as I was entering the program, and suggested the work that turned into my research project. Nyrée provided me with the valuable support I needed toward the end of my research,” said Zach.
As a student at UAA, Zach was involved with the School of Engineering E-Week Student Competitions. This program gives students from kindergarten through high school the opportunity to compete in a number of small challenges at UAA exposing them to engineering. This competition challenges students to look at what resources they have available and use or combine them to the best of their ability to solve a problem. “It demonstrates and encourages students to become creative problem solvers,” he said.
Completing his research project was one of Zach’s most rewarding experiences at UAA. He spent a week testing capacitive deionization water treatment equipment in Chefornak, a small village on the lower Kuskokwim delta, hoping to develop an energy efficient way to remove dissolved solids from their water. The deposits negatively influence the look, taste and overall quality of the water if not correctly treated. The aquifer that the Chefornak drinking water is drawn from has very high levels of zinc, he said, which while not at levels that are problematic for human health, do significantly detract from its quality.
The opportunity to take my research into the field and work in Chefornak was an invaluable and a gratifying opportunity that I will never forget,” he said.
Given that Zach still lives and works in Alaska, maintaining contact with his previous professors is important to him. “In 2008, I was asked to take over the organization of the E-Week Student Competitions at UAA. I now have the opportunity to work collaboratively with the School of Engineering on an annual basis.”’
Zach says UAA is important to both the communities in Alaska and to the state as a whole. “The University prepares students for careers in many important fields of work throughout the state. In addition, it provides facilities for research, thought and innovation that are essential parts of a thriving and vibrant community.”
Currently, as the process technical lead at Doyon Emerald, Zach’s primary responsibilities include working with and leading the engineering team. Some of his team’s projects include, conceptual development work for an in-state natural gas pipeline from the North Slope to Fairbanks and Southcentral, conducting risk assessment studies and helping support its sister Doyon companies in their work. Recently Zach and his team helped with the construction and transport of the newest Doyon Drilling rig, Rig 25. They also provide studies for various Federal agencies such as the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
But, when Zach isn’t in the field or problem solving, he enjoys the outdoors. “I really like anything that gets you moving outside like hiking, biking and skiing. I also enjoy tinkering with classic vehicles.”
“As someone new to Alaska, UAA provided me with the opportunities I needed to connect to a network of professionals in Anchorage and around the state that continues to pay dividends to this day.”