Sometimes, a Plan Comes Together

Bill Bowers

by Bill Bowers, Exterran
2008-2009 SPE GCS Chairman


If you have followed the musings of the various authors of this column over recent years, you will be aware that the Gulf Coast Section has steadily increased its support of education to ensure the Houston area energy industry has access to a trained, professional workforce. Readers have also learned that our support of education has broadened far beyond providing scholarships for undergraduates majoring in Petroleum Engineering. You may also know that our educational initiatives are sometimes not solely targeted at training a workforce, but also aim to improve the quality of life for individuals in the community who may need a hand. Thereby we hope to improve the quality of life for all of us who live and work in the Houston area.

In 2006, GCS established an ad hoc Education Committee to find opportunities for investment in education beyond the petroleum engineering scholarship program, support for science fairs, Magic Suitcase, and other education-related efforts that were traditional activities for the Section. This effort resulted in a range of new programs touching middle and high schools, community colleges, and universities. The SPE GCS leadership recently had the opportunity to review the results of one of these expanded educational programs.

HCC Petroleum Engineering Technology Program
There has been a well-publicized need for new petroleum engineers to learn from and eventually replace an aging workforce. Coupled with this is a growing need for petroleum technologists—men and women trained to support professionals engaged in the development and operation of oil and natural gas extraction and processing facilities. With a 70–80% job turnover rate predicted in the next 10 to 15 years and an average salary between $44,000 and $60,000 for graduates with a two-year degree, petroleum technology was identified as an excellent career path for Houston Community College students.

With extensive input from representatives of local companies looking to hire petroleum technologists, John Galiotos and his team at the Energy Institute at HCC–Northeast developed courses to prepare students for certificates and AAS degrees in petroleum engineering technology (PET). Work that began at the end of 2006 culminated in approval of a formalized curriculum for the Gulf Coast’s first petroleum engineering technology program in the summer of 2007. The program is also the first of its kind at any community college. The first “Introduction to the Petroleum Industry” classes began that semester at HCC–Northeast Energy Institute and were simultaneously offered offsite at BP’s Westlake campus in Houston.

PET Scholarship Program
At the same time as the PET program was being developed, representatives of the SPE GCS Education Committee contacted HCC looking for suggestions on how the Section could most effectively support industry-related education. We were quickly made aware of the PET program and received a proposal from the Energy Institute to fund a scholarship program to help attract students.

The Society of Petroleum Engineers Gulf Coast Section PET Scholarship Fund was established in September 2007 with a pledge of $20,000 and gift of $10,000 for the 2007–08 and $10,000 for the 2008–09 academic years. Since then, 22 qualified petroleum engineering technology students have received SPE GCS scholarships. Fourteen scholarships were awarded in the 2007–08 academic year, and 17 were awarded in the 2008–09 academic year. Seven students received support during two semesters, and one received support over three semesters. The average award amount over those two years was $624, reflecting the fact that most students carried twelve hours or more during their semesters of award.

PET Program Highlights

  • The PET program is growing fast. Currently, student enrollment for the spring 2009 semester stands at 136—more than 15 times the number enrolled less than two years ago.
  • Four students earned their PET certificate and associate of applied science in the fall of 2008, and all were recipients of the SPE-GCS scholarship.
  • Students show 100% persistence with their studies—all students enrolled have continued studies in consecutive semesters.
  • The PET program now offers nine courses at three locations: HCC–Northeast’s Energy Institute, BP’s Westlake campus, and Shell’s Woodcreek campus. The new Energy Institute building at Codwell includes a dedicated petroleum engineering technology laboratory as well as process and chemical engineering technology labs for students in the program.
  • Approximately 80% of current PET students are either working or have received offers for employment upon graduation. BP interviewed seven PET applicants and extended offers to four of the seven. Additional students are working with Oxy, Transocean, Geokinetics, Chevron, Shell Exploration & Production, and other leading oil and gas companies.
  • Currently, the department is accepting applications for a full-time petroleum engineering technology professor.
  • The program is served by seven part-time instructors, two of whom are graduates of the program.
  • HCC–Northeast held the grand opening of its new building built specifically to house the Energy Institute on April 29. The event combined an open house, science fair, and industry partner exhibits.

  • PET Students
    PET students come from diverse backgrounds. Nearly 50% of those enrolled are women, and many come from west African oil-producing nations. The vast majority are working and attending classes at the same time. The program includes a family studying together with mother, father, two daughters, and a cousin all enrolled in the PET program. PET students have formed PETSA—the Petroleum Engineering Technology Student Association. PETSA President Lourdes Goodson from Houston is a single mother of six children. Though the SPE GCS scholarship helped her get started in the PET program, she gained employment with BP during her first semester and was able to give up her scholarship so it could be used to help others. She is now a graduate, employed full time, and is one of several HCC–Northeast PET graduates with plans to move on to bachelor’s degree petroleum engineering programs this fall.

    Scholarship Funding Proposal
    The Gulf Coast Section is currently the sole provider of scholarship funding to students in the HCC–Northeast PET program. HCC has requested that SPE GCS continue and expand its leadership support for students of the PET program for the 2009–10 and 2010–11 academic years. As of this writing, the request is under consideration by GCS leadership and will have been brought to a vote at the May 21 meeting of the GCS board of directors. The results of this vote, along with more information on the PET program are posted at the SPE GCS Education Committee web page at

    SPE GCS leadership believes that both the HCC–Northeast petroleum engineering technologist program and the supporting SPE GCS scholarship program have been highly successful, and we hope that the relationship will continue into the future. As always, we welcome SPE member comments on this and other GCS initiatives, and your suggestions for new plans that we can help to “come together” in the future.

    Bill Bowers