Energy management program updates reflect industry’s evolution

Two computer monitors sit atop energy Professor Tom Seng’s desk. One always displays commodity prices. The numbers fluctuate throughout the day, symbolic of an industry marked by highs and lows akin to the up-and-down motion of a pump jack in an oil field. Despite its cyclical nature, job prospects in the industry remain strong for graduates of TU’s energy management program, particularly as an aging workforce edges closer to retirement. TU students also benefit from the foresight of a faculty dedicated to ensuring graduates emerge from the program with an employable mix of skills that reflects the industry’s changing landscape.

Seng considers it a personal responsibility to ensure TU’s energy management students leave the program with solid job prospects, ideally, with offers in hand by the time they graduate. In 2015, oil prices fell below $34 for the first time since 2009, hitting exploration and production companies the hardest. “We knew jobs would be tougher for students in our upstream track and that we needed to expand the reach of our industry partner program to include more midstream companies,” said Seng, who serves as assistant director of TU’s School of Energy, responsible for the undergraduate energy management program.

Upstream companies find and produce crude oil and natural gas, while midstream companies process, store, market, transport and trade commodities. Companies in the downstream sector include oil refineries and natural gas distributors. A 30-year veteran of the industry, much of it spent in the midstream sector, Seng reached out to previous colleagues to seek input on how to modify the curriculum to fit their employment needs. “These companies looked at our existing curriculum and said it’s not really geared toward the midstream sector.”

Seng and Professor Tim Coburn, director of TU’s School of Energy Economics, Policy and Commerce, began working on a plan to add new courses that would both enhance and bring balance to the program. “Exploration and production companies are still hiring, and the bulk of our internships are still with upstream companies,” Seng explained. “We kept a curriculum that would satisfy the needs of those companies while adding courses like geographic information services and environmental health and safety.”

TU seeks input from an industry advisory council of 10 members represented by upstream, midstream and downstream companies. “We listen to the industry because our goal with this program is to have students employed when they graduate,” said Seng. The curriculum changes were approved by the advisory council and faculty members in April and will take effect for the fall 2017 semester.

For the second consecutive year, energy management students have reported 100 percent job placement upon graduation. Employers represent all facets of the industry and in locations across the country. Seng also notes that 80 percent of the non-graduating students enrolled in the program secured summer internships, which often lead to full-time job prospects. He credits classroom preparation, personal attention from faculty and resources that include résumé workshops and mock interviews for the students’ impressive statistics. “I get thrilled when placing a student in a company that has not previously recruited at TU before,” he said. “TU students shine, and that helps get us in the door for future opportunities.”

TU alumni represent another key source for recruitment efforts. “Our alumni are great ambassadors for TU,” said Seng. “Companies often send alums for the interview process, and they are always willing to help and to advocate for hiring TU students. They also generously support scholarships by making personal contributions that often receive matching funds from employers.”

Continued expansion for the program is on the horizon. Seng says the faculty will work toward adding more courses focused on renewables, sustainability and alternative energy, something the newer, younger generation has come to expect in an “energy” program.

TU’s energy management program is one of 9 in the U.S. accredited by the American Association of Professional Landmen (AAPL), and the organization recently renewed TU’s accreditation for another five years. In addition to the undergraduate program, the college also offers a Master of Energy Business degree for professionals already employed in the industry.