[Editor's note: A version of this column appears in the April 2019 edition of Oil and Gas Investor. Subscribe to the magazine here.]
Fifteen years ago I found myself sitting in the lithostratigraphy laboratory onboard a scientific research drilling ship off the coast of the Azores contemplating my decision to study communications at Texas A&M University rather than science or engineering. At that time, I was part of a team that comprised engineers, geologists, geophysicists, geochemists and microbiologists analyzing the cores collected deep below the seafloor to learn more about the third rock from the Sun we call home. Two months in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean led to additional trips in the Gulf of Mexico, the Arctic Ocean and the Indian Ocean over a two-year timespan. The life lessons I learned aboard the riserless research vessel JOIDES Resolution will stay with me forever.
One lesson was to get creative if a needed tool was not available, since making a quick trip around the corner to the hardware store was not possible.Another was that it is OK to disagree, just be respectful about it because being mad at someone while stuck on a ship in the middle of an ocean is not healthy.
Recently, I was reminded of the third lesson—the importance of perspective—while attending Oil and Gas Investor’s 25 Influential Women in Energy luncheon on Feb. 12. Speaker M. Katherine Banks, vice chancellor of engineering and national laboratories at Texas A&M University, noted in her remarks, made while accepting the program’s Pinnacle Award, the need for young women to enter STEM fields.
“Currently, there are 1.6 million engineers working in the United States,and only 14% are women,” she said. “The percentage of women graduating with an engineering degree remains less than 20% nationally.”
She added that low numbers of women in STEM fields mean that the perspective of half the population is missing.
“Engineering relies on design creativity, and diversity of perspective leads to better product development,” she said. “If products are developed without the perspective of half of the consumer base, problems can arise.”
I agree that engineering relies on creativity. The complex genius that is an operational subsea compression system or the technology that makes remote drilling possible are just two of many examples of this. However, diversity of perspective is more than just including women in the conversation. It is the pairing of creative arts, like music, photography or writing, with STEM to develop the diversity of thought and the discipline to harness complexity positively.
The changing global energy markets are driving new ideas and technologies to ensure the world has the energy it needs. Meeting that demand by providing an energy supply at a lower emissions cost that is secure,competitive and sustainable will require the creativity and diversity of many to find the best path forward for all.