UH nets $1.6 million for new degree

A combined contribution of $1.6 million from two major energy companies will fund a new degree at the Cullen College of Engineering for the next three years and go toward scholarships, laboratory equipment and renovations.

Pending approval from the UH System Board of Regents and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, the bachelor of science in petroleum engineering program will make UH one of five universities in Texas to offer the degree.

"The petroleum engineering degree at the University of Houston is especially timely," said Michael P. Harold, chairman of the Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Department. "By offering a B.S. degree in petroleum engineering we will be able to increase the supply of engineers to this critical industry."

A contribution of $1 million from Devon Energy Corp. will fund the degree program and renovations for the existing petroleum engineering lab.

The Devon Energy Petroleum Engineering Laboratory will provide UH students with hands-on training in petroleum engineering fundamentals, Harold said.

"We’re contributing this money at a time when the industry faces a shortage of manpower in terms of energy-related degrees," Devon spokeswoman Alesha Leemaster said. "Now that the baby boomer generation is about to retire, we try to promote education in disciplines dealing with oil and gas productions."

Experiments will cover topics such as phase behavior of petroleum water mixtures and permeability measurements of cores.

Marathon Oil Corp., an international energy company based in Houston, has offered an unrestricted $600,000 to support the degree program. At present, the Cullen College of Engineering offers a master’s degree in petroleum engineering as well as an undergraduate minor in petroleum engineering. The new degree program in petroleum engineering will be administered through the Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering program.

Paul Sheppard, Talent Acquisition manager at Marathon, said the company is dedicated to recruiting students into the field of engineering and providing the means for educating them.

"The main motivation for us is the need for engineers from quality programs like UH," Sheppard said.

According to a 2007 survey conducted by the Society of Petroleum Engineers, the average salary for petroleum engineers in the United States is $133,899. The report also showed the average age of petroleum engineers is 46 in the U.S., higher than the other nine regions surveyed, including Africa, the Middle East and Canada.

"The interest level of students is high, given the current demand as well as starting salaries in the upstream sector of the energy industry," Harold said. "We have opened a search to hire two faculty members, with more hires expected over the next several years."

The Cullen College of Engineering is expecting to enroll 50 new students every year to balance the student demand and the resources available to deliver the program and aims to open its doors to aspiring petroleum engineers as early as fall 2009.

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