Reinstated UW Petroleum Engineering Program to Graduate First Students

May 7, 2008

Just two years after the University of Wyoming reinstated an undergraduate degree program in petroleum engineering, 12 students will receive bachelor of science degrees in the discipline. Commencement is scheduled May 10.

"That (reinstating the B.S. degree) was a good decision," says H. Gordon Harris, who heads the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering in the College of Engineering and Applied Science. "All of the graduating students have been offered positions in the oil and gas industry."

Harris was on the UW faculty during the oil and gas boom of the late 1970s and early '80s, which was followed by a steady decline in industry activity, oil prices and student interest. UW in 1997 eliminated the undergraduate degree, although it maintained its masters and doctoral degrees programs in petroleum engineering. Harris doesn't anticipate a similar decline happening anytime soon.

"The worldwide demand for oil and gas is not going away anytime in the foreseeable future," he says. "We anticipate a steady increase in the number of students interested in our program." He says 66 students were enrolled in petroleum engineering this spring.

Industry interest in recruiting UW students is also on the rise. The UW Center for Advising and Career Services reports that 16 specific oil and gas companies requested petroleum engineers for summer employment, internships or full-time jobs. Additionally, 12 companies attended the fall career day and 10 attended the spring job fair, and six already are scheduled for the coming fall semester.

True Oil LLC, based in Casper, is among the companies that have recruited UW students. John Fanto, the company's production superintendent for Wyoming, says True Oil has hired two UW undergraduate petroleum engineering students, Joel Dill of Thermopolis and Luke Opitz of Casper, to work as interns this summer. He says if the company has full-time openings, it would consider UW a good source for future employees.

"We are an independent oil company that will be looking to hire workers who would want a career with a Wyoming-based company," he says. "A student from Wyoming would have a leg up on someone from elsewhere who plans to move on."

David Brinkerhoff of Powell is among the first class scheduled to graduate this spring. A 2002 graduate of Powell High School, he started out majoring in mechanical engineering, but when the word got out that UW had reinstated the program, he changed his major to petroleum engineering.

"My dad (Bart Brinkerhoff of Powell) had worked in the oil fields for 28 years, and it was something I always wanted to do," he says about the decision to enter the petroleum engineering profession. To make job contacts, Brinkerhoff took advantage of UW job fairs, including the annual Rocky Mountain Rendezvous of Geoscience Students and Employers, hosted by the Department of Geology and Geophysics. He served an internship with the Enhanced Oil Recovery Institute and worked on drilling rigs during the summer.

"We (UW students) have opportunities to learn about all phases of drilling and production," he says, adding that he really appreciated learning from Jack Evers, a UW professor who came out of retirement to teach in the program. Brinkerhoff has accepted a position with EOG Resources in Vernal, Utah, and will start work for the company later this month.

Brian Towler, who was the department head when the degree was reinstated, says about 10 students in the petroleum engineering program are from the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology, where they earned two-year associate degrees and then came to UW to complete their four-year degrees. He says the university has had a long history recruiting Canadian students to finish their degrees at UW.

"For this reason, the Calgary oil patch is strongly influenced by UW engineering graduates," he says. For example, he says several EnCana executives, including CEO Randy Eresman, are UW graduates, as well as Hank Swartout, majority owner and former CEO of Precision Drilling, and Colin McPhee, owner of NBC Technologies.

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