Academics & Research News

Petroleum engineering program elevated to full department

A program that started with 20 students in 2009 has about 1,100 now and was recently designated as a full department.

Until a month ago, the petroleum engineering program was within the Chemical and Bio-molecular Engineering Department, but is now housed under the Cullen College of Engineering.

“The program has grown very, very rapidly,” Petroleum Engineering Director Tom Holley said. “A lot of that has to do with the excellent job prospects for students.”

The new department status comes at the heels of the program gaining accreditation by the Accrediting Board for Engineering Technology in August.

UH has had a petroleum engineering masters program for many years and used to have an undergraduate program in the 1970s. Holley said the ups and downs of the petroleum energy industry caused that program to vanish but the same caused it to return in 2009.

“One reason why we didn’t have a petroleum program for undergraduates for so long was because two of the premier programs, University of Texas and Texas A&M, aren’t very far way,” Holley said.

Holley said there is a growing need for petroleum engineers especially in Texas, and that growing need has begun to surpass the UT and Texas A&M University programs.

“The demand has grown beyond their capacity, and so it was a no-brainer to start one up at UH,” Holley said.

Cullen College of Engineering Dean Joseph Tedesco said that there is no major U.S. city where demand for engineering talent is greater than in Houston. He also said he believes that UH petroleum engineering graduates are the “next-generation of global, entrepreneurial energy leaders.”

The newly elevated department is expected to see a rise in faculty recruitment who want to come be a part of a the new department.

“We are recruiting highly sought-after faculty that want to come to a prestigious, thriving program and getting department status is an indicator that’s happening,” Holley said.

Petroleum Engineering Department Chair Christine Ehlig-Economides said resources will start to become available to undergraduate students as a result of this new designation.

“In addition to more permanent staff teaching classes, we should start to gain more access to classroom space and research space,” Ehlig-Economides said.

Tedesco said plans are in the works for a new building as well.

The engineering program was launched in direct response to industry needs and with significant support and contributions from industry leaders such as Conoco-Phillips, Devon Energy and Marathon Oil.

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