BISMARCK — Chad Schoch thought he’d work in the North Dakota oilfields for two years, at most.
He wanted to roughneck, make and save money, pay off his bills, and then be out by the time he was 30. Six years later, the 34-year-old New England man is one of the state’s two Bakken U scholarship recipients and is slowly building a career as a petroleum industry professional.
“I’m in school mode right now,” Schoch said.
Schoch, a process plant technology student at Bismarck State College, was awarded one of this year’s two $5,000 Bakken U scholarships Tuesday by the North Dakota University System and the NDUS Foundation.
“I typed up a letter, an essay, and sent it in,” Schoch said. “I’d honestly forgot all about it until I got the phone call.”
Schoch is a health and environmental safety coordinator for Whiting Petroleum Corp. in Dickinson and said his boss convinced him to go back to school to finish up his bachelor’s degree. He graduated with a broadcast communications degree from Minot State University and then turned his sights on the oil industry.
Last December, he earned a petroleum production technology associate’s degree from BSC online is now in the process of earning his process plant technology associate’s degree.
“The whole key behind everything was to stay working,” Schoch said. “I’m kind of diversifying my portfolio, trying to make myself as well-rounded as possible.”
Schoch said he started in the oil business when he went to work as a roughneck for drilling company Helmerich & Payne. He spent 2½ years with H&P before moving to Baker Hughes, where he worked for a little more than a year. The oil bust hit western North Dakota when Schoch was working for Whiting near New Town.
Schoch said when oil prices dropped and jobs started being cut, he was certain he’d eventually end up back in the radio broadcasting world where he’d worked before joining the oil industry.
He said he knew that if he wanted to continue working in oil, he’d have to become a valuable asset to it.
“Drilling is going to go away, but production is always going to be there,” he said. “What could I do to keep working? I found that petroleum production tech program, just to make sure I always had a backup plan.”
Schoch praised his employer for allowing him to work while also furthering his education, and said he wants to stay with Whiting long term.
“Maybe move up the chain of command,” he said. “It’d be nice to find myself in a supervisor role either here in North Dakota or Colorado.”
Bakken U Coordinator Jerry Rostad said he thought Schoch had a great story of trying to further his success already achieved in the oilfields through enhancing his education.
“He’s one of those guys who it sure looks like he’s going to stay on his feet,” Rostad said.
Schoch was one of two people to receive scholarships out of around 40 applicants, Rostad added. Briley Crissler, a business management student at Minot State University from Belcourt, was also awarded a $5,000 Bakken U scholarship. Crissler began his education at Dickinson State University.
After six years in the oil industry, Schoch said he can’t imagine doing anything else. “It gets in your blood,” he said. “Now it’s hard to consider doing anything else right now.”