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Powell Graduates Among Highly Sought UW Petroleum Engineering Students

November 16, 2012
Man working with equipment
University of Wyoming petroleum engineering student Brad Brinkerhoff assembles a core holder that will help determine the permeability of a core sample. The Powell native is among UW students in the petroleum engineering program that has seen a large surge in enrollment the past year. (UW Photo)

With two full semesters remaining before he graduates, University of Wyoming student Brad Brinkerhoff from Powell already knows that his petroleum engineering career will help meet the nation’s ever-growing demands for energy.

Demand for quality petroleum engineers is high nationwide, and the timing couldn’t be better for students such as Brinkerhoff, who is seeking a petroleum engineering degree at UW. The national demand also helped Everett Koelling, a recent UW petroleum engineering graduate, also from Powell, secure an engineer position with EOG Resources, based in North Dakota’s Bakken oil fields.

The combined UW Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering reports the highest enrollment of any department in the College of Engineering and Applied Science -- especially on the petroleum side, which has experienced a huge 55 percent increase from a year ago, from 144 students to 219 this fall.

“Our petroleum engineering program has such a large enrollment because there is a strong demand from industry for petroleum engineers,” says David Bagley, head of the UW Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering. “That demand has translated into high starting salaries for petroleum engineers compared to other engineering fields.”

It was just seven years ago that the petroleum engineering program was reinstated at UW. Just 26 students were enrolled when UW officials, in 1996, decided to eliminate the program. The industry was suffering from falling energy prices worldwide.

UW restarted the program in 2005 and, the following fall, 47 students enrolled. Collectively, the chemical and petroleum engineering department today has 444 total students, including undergraduate, graduate and doctoral candidate students.

The resurgent petroleum engineering program at UW attracted Brinkerhoff, who graduated from Powell High School in 2006. He is the son of Jan and Bart Brinkerhoff.

“My decision to come to the University of Wyoming was an easy choice since the petroleum engineering program -- and other engineering programs at UW -- is one of the best in the nation,” Brinkerhoff says. “I knew that, by coming to the University of Wyoming, I would be able to achieve my goals and be directed down a successful career path.”

Throughout his life, Brinkerhoff has been exposed to the oil and gas industry. His father has worked at the Elk Basin gas plant in Powell for years. Brad’s older brother, David, one of the first students to graduate from the reinstated UW petroleum engineering program, works as a petroleum engineer for an oil company. Those two influences made Brad’s decision to pursue a degree in the UW Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering “easy and swayed me in the oil and gas direction.”

He hopes to gain extensive field experience early in his career while working closely with the equipment, field personnel and technologies that make “energy possible and useable.” With that experience, he will seek the opportunity to oversee and manage many aspects of the oil and gas industry, and share his knowledge with others entering the field.

“The UW petroleum engineering course work is a challenging and is a rigorous undergraduate program. These challenges have helped shape me into the young engineer I’ve wanted to become, while giving me the confidence and assurance that I will be a great engineer in the future,” Brinkerhoff adds.

Koelling, the son of Robert and Deborah Koelling and a 2006 PHS graduate, started as a chemical engineering major at UW after transferring from Northwest College. He switched to the petroleum field after interning for oil companies in Cody and Bakersfield, Calif., for three summers. He says UW’s program was attractive because those who actually work for oil and gas companies said he would get as good an education and opportunities at UW than he would at bigger name schools.

 “One of the things I think UW really has going for it, is that even though it has a smaller faculty, the faculty have all been out and have worked in industry,” Koelling says. “To me, this made a big difference to have been able learn from people who had ‘been up at 1 a.m. when things are going south in a hurry.’ I could draw from their real world experiences to help explain the theoretical stuff, the right applications to apply it, and the reason some of these calculations are so important.”

Because of such faculty experiences, UW provided him with a technical foundation and, more important, “instilled a solid methodology for real-world problem solving where the answer isn't at the back of the book,” he adds.

Bagley says the timing is right for UW students because of the market’s demands for quality petroleum engineers. He says industry demand is driven by factors such as the price of crude oil, which has been strong for a number of years due, in no small part, to China’s increasing demand for crude oil.

Representatives from many of the top energy companies come to UW each fall to recruit the department’s students. Among them are Marathon Oil, Hess Oil, Occidental, BP, Encana, Baker Hughes, Sinclair and Halliburton.

Also, companies such as Murex, DCP Midstream, ConocoPhillips, Anadarko, EOG, ONEOK and QEP Resources have sent representatives looking for UW petroleum students during the annual career fair or for on-campus interviews and possible internships.

Brinkerhoff says he secured two internships attending UW career fairs where industry representatives recruited students.

“The three summers I spent with Arch Coal and last summer working with EOG Resources have given me great insight and real world experiences I can carry on,” he says. “This coming summer, before graduating, I will be interning with ConocoPhillips and hope to gain even more experience to prepare me for my career.”

“As you can see, companies from all over are seeking our UW graduates,” Bagley adds.

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