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SPE Section Pledges First Professorship in Petroleum Engineering

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Erin D. McKenzie

In support of the University of Houston’s expanding petroleum engineering program, the Society of Petroleum Engineers Gulf Coast Section has committed $250,000 to establish a professorship.

The first of its kind for the program, the SPE-Gulf Coast Section College Endowed Professorship in Petroleum Engineering will support efforts to broaden course offerings, enhance community outreach and spearhead new research by a Cullen College of Engineering faculty member.

“The professorship established by the SPE-Gulf Coast Section will help expand our developing petroleum engineering program,” said Joseph Tedesco, Elizabeth D. Rockwell Endowed Chair and dean of the Cullen College. “Not only does it provide another incentive for faculty candidates who are interested in joining our program, but it supports our efforts to educate the next generation of petroleum engineers.”

The final agreement, inked this week, was the single largest gift given in the 74-year history of the section.

“We have never given this much money to one institution,” said Bill Bowers, past chair of the SPE-Gulf Coast Section, noting that in 2006 the organization initiated a plan to find new ways to support education beyond their traditional petroleum scholarships and education programs. "We believed that helping to support the establishment of the UH undergraduate PE program is essential to ensuring Houston’s place as the center of the oil industry. This and several other initiatives we are undertaking will have a significant impact on the petroleum industry as well as on the economy of Houston."

Already offering a master’s degree in petroleum engineering, the program introduced a new undergraduate degree option this fall.

The professorship will be key in further expanding the program, which plans to add six faculty members, grow its master’s option as well as add a doctoral degree during the course of the next five years, said Ray Flumerfelt, current program director and professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering.

“This is a critical gift that will allow us to start recruiting the kind of faculty we need to establish a program that is among the most attractive out there right now,” said Flumerfelt. “Petroleum engineering, as a discipline, is very attractive and its future is bright. There will be many career opportunities for our graduates.”

With nearly 40 percent of the industry’s workforce expected to reach retirement age next year, the new degree offering is intended to not only replenish this widening gap of professionals who search the world for reservoirs containing oil and natural gas, but also arm graduates with the technical skills necessary to meet the continually growing global energy demand.

The program’s curriculum was created after consulting extensively with the college’s petroleum engineering advisory board, which consisted of industry professionals. The core curriculum melds geosciences with the technical aspects of petroleum engineering—computer systems, data mining and database management—and includes instruction in project management and entrepreneurship.

Overall, instruction is aimed at better preparing students to discover and design new methods and equipment to effectively extract natural resources from harder to reach places.

With less than 25 bachelor’s degree options offered at universities nationwide, Flumerfelt said, UH’s program is especially unique.

“There are few programs out there like this,” he said. “If there is any place to have a petroleum engineering program, it is Houston. We are at the center of industry and plan to use Ph.D. industry professionals to teach courses to ensure that our program is at the leading edge of industry and technical developments.”

The hope, Bowers said, is the professorship will assist the university to grow its niche program and, together, UH and the SPE-Gulf Coast Section can be a catalyst for future collaborative initiatives.

The largest section of the Society of Petroleum Engineers, the Gulf Coast Section is made up of 14,000 members. Since 1935, it has been their mission to collect, disseminate and exchange technical knowledge about oil and gas exploration, development and production. As a section, the organization strives to support technical knowledge through programs giving to primary and secondary schools as well as community colleges and universities in their 21-county-area.

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