BRUNSWICK — Six years after brainstorming a new engineering degree at the University of Akron, those involved gathered in Brunswick this week to discuss its success with outgoing university President Luis Proenza.
In 2008, Mike Baach, CEO of Brunswick-based Philpott, met with Akron U. leaders to talk about the goal of training engineers to produce long-lasting products. Philpott manufactures specialized rubber and plastic products tailored to the needs of clients.
Baach also has worked for Corrpro Industries in Medina, which specializes in corrosion control.
Baach wanted to see more college graduates with a specialized degree in corrosion engineering.
Dan Dunmire, director of corrosion policy and oversight for the U.S. Department of Defense, also wanted to see more graduates trained to look at engineering in a new way.
Dunmire and Baach then met with Sue Louscher, who at the time served as director of Akron U.’s Medina County University Center in Lafayette Township, to present their ideas for a specialized corrosion engineering major.
“The industry was taking engineering graduates and training them in corrosion,” Dunmire said. “But we never had this overall approach to train people to build things that will last longer.”
Louscher said she was impressed by the possibilities graduates with a specialized degree would have. No other college in the U.S. offers a corrosion engineering degree, and it would set Akron apart.
“I remember thinking this would be a real opportunity for us,” Louscher said Wednesday.
The group met with Proenza and he was on board.
Proenza said it made sense that a degree program focused on preventing corrosion should be anchored in Akron. He said the region, in the heart of America’s “Rust Belt,” helped produce the steel that built buildings, railroads and bridges that connect the country.
“What better thing to do, than create engineers who can rescue this nation’s infrastructure,” Proenza said.
Louscher now heads the National Center for Education and Research on Corrosion and Materials Performance at Akron U. Known by its acronym, NCERCAMP, the center includes the corrosion engineering degree, a research department and a workforce development program.
On the research end, the university has partnered with the Defense Department, developing research on corrosion along with the Ohio State University, the University of Virginia, the University of Southern Mississippi, the University of Hawaii and U.S. military academies.
In its first school year, 2010-11, 12 students were enrolled in the degree program. Now there are 55 students enrolled. The degree takes five years to complete, because it includes a hands-on co-op program aimed at getting students real-work experience.
The university has three faculty members dedicated to the major and is searching for two more.
Students also take engineering courses from other faculty members within the department.
Proenza said he has high hopes for the first graduating class in 2015.
“This nation needs corrosion engineers,” he said. “This is serving a national need.”
Baach said Philpott, Corrpro and RPM, all based in Medina County, have supported the Akron major and can benefit from the expertise of program graduates, Baach said.
“The vision of the university to offer this program will bring jobs to Northeast Ohio,” Baach said. “And they’re good-paying jobs.”
There are jobs for corrosion engineers in Northeast Ohio, including the salt mines along Lake Erie and in Ohio’s manufacturing sector.
There are also highly specialized engineering jobs that can serve the Defense Department, Dunmire said. From coming up with new solutions to prevent corrosion on helicopters in dry desert climates to finding ways to reduce the impact UV light has on spacecraft, the applications are endless, he said.
“The equipment we have is in more extreme environments,” Dunmire said.
That’s part of the reason the Defense Department supported the program with a check for $500,000 in 2008 to get it started.
“Wherever we put a graduate, whether it’s directly or indirectly, it will support the warrior, and that is always our goal,” Dunmire said.
Because the Defense Department supports the major, the university been able to connect with corrosion engineering programs in France, New Zealand, Australia and Germany.
Baach said graduates of the program can apply the skills they learned and find work anywhere in the world.
“Anywhere you go, there’s an interest in finding ways to keep what we build,” Baach said. “People around the world realize we can’t just let things fall apart. We have to find new ways to make them last.”
Dunmire and Louscher both plan another visit to Brunswick to celebrate Philpott’s 125th anniversary in August.