Undergraduate petroleum engineering studies will be offered in fall 2009 Given the importance of the oil and gas industry to the Houston area it may come as a surprise to learn that it isn’t possible today for local aspirants to seek an undergraduate degree in petroleum engineering without “going away” to school. That’s about to change, though, because in the fall of 2009 the first students will be admitted to the University of Houston Cullen College of Engineering undergraduate degree program in petroleum engineering. Like nearly every other facet of the oil and gas industry, the education of its engineers has been severely and detrimentally impacted by its cyclical nature. In recent years, a number of major universities — including, for example, Louisiana State and Mississippi State — have shuttered their petroleum engineering programs. It’s been quite some time since the University of Houston offered an undergraduate degree in the discipline, though it already does have a master’s degree program. The university recently held a reception at Houston’s Petroleum Club to build support for the new initiative. Ron Harrrell, chair of the university’s petroleum engineering advisory board, first formed seven years ago, said, “We had undergraduate petroleum engineering studies here throughout the 1950s and 1960s, but it was dropped during the ‘70s slump. Total US capacity to graduate petroleum engineers has fallen. To meet demand we should be graduating each year 1,000 additional engineers.” The university intends to supply some portion of the replacement engineers the industry says it needs, and in doing so is helping its own development in at least two respects. University of Houston President and UH System Chancellor Renu Khator said, “Over the next four years, our vision is to go from 1,500 students to more than 4,000 students being trained for energy industry jobs. We’re building a first-class research center, and petroleum engineering is the hook that will be a big part of it.” While appropriate in its own right, the focus on energy research also serves the university’s “primary goal of becoming a top-tier institution,” said Khator. “To be top tier the gap is the research dollars the engineering and scientific faculty brings with it.” Today, the University of Houston’s faculty in these disciplines is less than one-quarter the size of that at Texas A&M. The university already has received substantial support from Devon Energy Corp. and Marathon Oil Corp., which have contributed $1.6 million toward scholarships and laboratories. The Society of Petroleum Engineers also has been generous with its resources. “The program has been distinguished by the involvement of the industry from the beginning, said Harrell. “But more is needed. We need endowed chairs, and funds for professorships, instructors, and equipment.” Finally, the university believes that due to the close involvement of the petroleum industry in the program it has a unique curriculum to offer, reflective of actual needs. This includes business training and a focus on entrepreneurship, appropriate given the tradition of oil industry independents. Courses in emerging technologies, with business intelligence and data mining being particularly mentioned, will also be on offer.