In what could be called a "perfect storm" of opportunity, a cross-section of individuals and organizations, both public and private, have joined forces to create a new academic emphasis at Fort Hays State University that will meet a critical need in the state's booming oil patch.
Representatives of those various groups gathered for a news conference today to announce donations that will help FHSU prepare students for careers in the petroleum industry. The news conference was held at Hays High School in conjunction with the mid-year meeting of the Kansas Independent Oil & Gas Association.
"This effort combines the support of state government, businesses and individuals," Dr. Edward H. Hammond, FHSU president, said. "With the help of these partners, our Department of Geosciences will educate FHSU students to fill critical vacancies in the rapidly expanding petroleum segment of the Kansas economy."
The Kansas Department of Commerce has awarded $108,000 in Workforce Solutions Funds to help FHSU expand its petroleum geology and technology curriculum. The award will help FHSU create a new petroleum geology/technology degree emphasis within the school's Department of Geosciences.
The Commerce Department award provides for equipment upgrades, including large projection screens on three walls of a laboratory and the capability for 3D seismic analysis, which creates a virtual "sonogram" of the earth that is then interpreted by a geologist to locate potential accumulations of oil and natural gas. The technique is so successful that it has become a crucial part of the oil exploration process in recent years. Also in the lab, existing computers will be replaced with 20 high-powered tablet computer stations capable of running 3D seismic and other large visualization software.
President Hammond said that individuals and companies in the petroleum industry had committed $555,000 to help get the program off the ground. "The goal is to produce graduates with the expertise to meet the severe shortage of trained professionals in the petroleum industry," he said. "Those who have committed funding to the initiative to date are: John O. Farmer III of John O. Farmer Inc., WW Drilling, Trilobite Testing, Lockhart Geophysical, Penguin Petroleum, American Warrior, Downing-Nelson Oil, Lebsack Oil, Zinszer Oil, Curtis Longpine of DaMar Resources, and Alan and Dianne DeGood.
The David M. Shumaker Geology Scholarship has been created for students majoring in geology with an emphasis in petroleum exploration or operations. David Shumaker, a Russell native, graduated from FHSU in 1980 with a degree in geology. He was a petroleum geologist who owned Shumaker Operations. He died in 2005. The scholarship is established in honor and memory of his contributions to the gas and oil industry and in recognition of the scholarship assistance that made the donor's education and career success possible. A substantial number of scholarships -- likely in the range of $1,000 to $1,500 -- will be available for incoming freshmen beginning in the fall semester of 2008.
The petroleum degree emphasis also will include a new Ph.D.-level petroleum geology faculty member. FHSU expects to begin graduating at least 10 geologists per year beginning in 2012.
Petroleum industry leaders approached the Geosciences Department at FHSU more than two years ago about the possibility of developing a petroleum geology emphasis. The current shortage of skilled workers can be traced back to a 15-year period, beginning in the mid 1980s, when the price of oil plummeted and employees were laid off. According to KIOGA, the industry lost 60 percent of its workforce between 1986 and 2000. A combination of factors in recent years -- including demand for new oil, rising oil prices and the baby boom generation nearing retirement -- has stimulated the need for petroleum geologists and engineers.
"This is another first for FHSU," said Susan Nickerson, western regional director for workforce services in the Department of Commerce. "FHSU is the first Kansas Regents university to receive this grant. The petroleum industry is extremely valuable to the Kansas economy. As we look to the future, we're always looking for opportunities to partner where there is industry need."
Nickerson also shared a message from Secretary of Commerce David Kerr: "We all recognize that the need for energy in the United States and abroad will continue to rise. Fort Hays State University is preparing students for careers in this critical industry. We appreciate the efforts of FHSU and its partners in helping us address this critical workforce need."
The petroleum geology emphasis will include two tracks, one in petroleum exploration and one in petroleum operations. In both areas students will receive a wide range of training in all aspects of the petroleum industry, such as geophysics, remote sensing, well-logging analysis, oil field operations, formation stimulation treatments, accounting, and business law. Having a well-rounded education in the petroleum process, including practical hands-on experience with oil rigs, was important to those in the industry.
Dr. John Heinrichs, chair of FHSU's Department of Geosciences, said the department was more than willing to take on the challenge of adding the new emphasis. "We welcomed the opportunity," he said. "It will take a few years to get our enrollment numbers up, but ultimately we will provide the industry some top-notch individuals to move into those petroleum jobs. We are extremely grateful to industry leaders and the state's Commerce Department for what they’ve done to make this initiative possible."
Heinrichs said the addition of a faculty member to teach upper-level petroleum courses and the funding for scholarships would be instrumental in the success of the petroleum emphasis. "With the value of oil increasing and the money that can be made in the industry, people will surely be attracted to the program, but we need a solid scholarship program to ensure that we attract good students," Heinrichs explained.
FHSU is in an ideal area to provide such a unique education. Ellis County is the top oil-producing county in Kansas and the next four counties are within 60 miles of Hays.
Edward P. "Ed" Cross, executive vice president of KIOGA, said it was important to attract students from western Kansas because of their roots and work ethic. "You've got kids in western Kansas who know how to work with their hands, are practical and want to stay in this part of the state," Cross said. "I would like to see them have the chance to spend their whole working lives in this area and feel like they've had a great opportunity. I want to emphasize that this is only the beginning of a Kansas oil industry initiative."
President Hammond said additional funding was still needed to support the new faculty position and scholarships. "We have more than a half-million dollars in hand and we feel very confident that we will reach our goal of over a million dollars by this summer," he said. Those wanting more information or interested in donating should contact Cathy Van Doren at the FHSU Foundation at (785) 628-5947 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the Commerce Department's Workforce Solutions Fund
The fund allows the secretary of commerce to help workforce training institutions respond to the needs of Kansas businesses. Funds are invested in projects that enhance postsecondary institutions' training services or facilities for the benefit of all Kansas companies. The Workforce Solutions Fund has funded various workforce projects since its inception in 2004. Examples include a 2006 award to Wichita Area Technical College to assist in the construction of a new aviation technology training center and a 2007 grant to Hutchinson Community College to create a Science and Allied Health Center. For more information, contact Public Information Officer Joe Monaco with the Kansas Department of Commerce at (785) 296-3760 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
About the Kansas Independent Oil & Gas Association
KIOGA was founded in 1937 to improve the market for Kansas crude oil and promote the welfare of and improved economic conditions for the Kansas independent oil industry. It has provided needed leadership in many crises since that time. By doing many things that individuals could not do for themselves, it merits the support of every independent person in the Kansas oil and gas industry. With a mission to provide up-to-date oil and gas information to its members, KIOGA is the voice of the Kansas independent petroleum industry.