From Hardship to Triumph
Chemical Engineering Grad Overcomes Adversity, Secures Micron Job
After graduating from the University of Idaho this spring, Zach Beaman has a job lined up at Micron in Boise, where he’ll be using a chemical process to smooth the surface of silicon wafers used in Micron’s innovative memory chips.
It’s a happy ending for the College of Engineering senior, his wife and four daughters, all under the age of 5 — and one that wasn’t always guaranteed.
At age 10, Beaman’s dad died from a drug overdose. Five years later, the Dumas, Texas, native was struggling with his own drug and alcohol issues.
“I didn’t have any direction,” Beaman said. “I went through this cycle where I’d make a plan and keep it together for about a year, and then things would just kind of crash and burn.”
In 2011, Beaman changed course. He enrolled at Elk Mountain Academy, a treatment facility near Clark Fork, which helped him overcome his addiction. He got married, and he and his wife had their first child. In 2012, he enrolled in classes at North Idaho College in Coeur d’Alene.
Each weekday, Beaman drove the 150 miles round trip to attend classes while living and working in Clark Fork.
In 2014, Beaman transferred to the University of Idaho. He received a fellowship through Idaho’s IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence (INBRE) Program to work with James Moberly, assistant professor of chemical and materials engineering.
Beaman worked on a project to help dairy owners harvest energy from gasses in cow manure. While the project proved unsuccessful — the power output didn’t justify the resources — Beaman continued with dairy research for his senior capstone project. He and his design team attempted to find a solution to the way manure and urine are washed from dairy cow hooves to avoid infectious hoof diseases.
Currently, copper sulfate is used as an antiseptic when washing off waste. In order to make the process more economically efficient and help farmers capitalize on their resources, Beaman’s team wanted to retrieve the copper from used hoof bath solution in order to sell it or reuse it.
They were also tasked with lessening copper’s environmental impact. Most Southern Idaho dairies dump used hoof bath solution in a wastewater lagoon, which eventually leads to soil toxicity. Beaman and his team wanted to remove copper after it was used, but prior to discharge, to alleviate the environmental damage.
Their results were promising, and the project won the group second place at an international environmental design contest at New Mexico State University in April 2017.
The shift from dairy operations research to a global corporation will be interesting, and Beaman recognizes that he’s never worked in an environment like Micron’s. He’s always had manual labor jobs that required him to “show up, work hard and go home.”
But he’s confident his outlook will serve him well.
“I’m still a pretty obsessive person,” he said. “If I can’t figure out a problem, I have this internal drive to keep going. If you can channel that into a positive thing instead of a negative, it usually works out.”
Beaman won U of I’s 2017 Outstanding Senior Award and is a member of Tau Beta Pi, the National Engineering Honor Society, for having maintained a 3.5 or higher GPA.
In his job at Micron, Beaman will be working in the dry etch processing lab.
“I’m excited to be working on the next biggest thing,” he said. “To be able to say, ‘I took part in developing the next greatest type of memory.’”
A few years ago, Beaman began building a cabin on his in-law’s property in Clark Fork. As he did along the pathway to his current successes, he relied on help from family and friends. His father-in-law helped him pour the concrete foundation, while he and his wife erected the end walls. Students from the treatment facility that Beaman attended stood up the side walls.
“I’m here today because people loved me, encouraged me and believed in me,” Beaman said. “That includes the faculty, staff and students at North Idaho College and the University of Idaho, along with my wife and kids, our extended families and the people at Elk Mountain Academy.”
Article by Kate Keenan, College of Engineering