Two computer monitors sit on Professor Tom Seng’s desk, one of which always displays commodity prices. The numbers fluctuate throughout the day, symbolic of an industry historically marked by highs and lows. He’s a 34-year oil and gas industry veteran, much of that time spent in the midstream sector with a focus on energy markets and commodities trading. In 2008, he joined TU’s faculty as an adjunct professor and quickly established himself as an invaluable resource to the university’s energy business programs.
New role, same dedication to students
Seng was recently named director of the Collins College of Business School of Energy Economics, Policy and Commerce, a role that will draw from his industry expertise and the strong relationships he has forged with students and employers. “Tom has a vast amount of energy industry experience and numerous industry contacts and is often sought out to speak at energy-focused meetings,” said Linda Nichols, Genave King Rogers Dean of the Collins College of Business. “He is a top expert in his field but most importantly, he is a student-centered professor who serves as an example and mentor for all of the students in the School of Energy.”
Seng knows each energy business student by name and considers it a personal responsibility to ensure that they leave the program with solid job prospects and, ideally, with offers in hand by the time they graduate.
In recent years, energy management students have reported 100% job placement upon graduation. Employers represent all facets of the industry and in locations across the country. Seng also notes that 80% 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.”
Riding the industry’s highs and lows
Despite its cyclical nature and a steep downturn several years ago, job prospects in the industry remain strong for graduates of TU’s energy management program. 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.
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.
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. Seng reached out to previous colleagues to seek input on how to modify the curriculum to fit their employment needs. As a result, TU expanded its curriculum to include courses that cover all three sectors.
He’s also shifted the way that he talks about the industry to prospective students and their parents. “You have to overcome the idea that the oil and gas industry is dying,” he said. “We are producing record amounts of hydrocarbons, natural gas and natural gas liquids.” Seng asserts that the U.S. is poised to grow exports, which will create a ripple effect for midstream companies. And while Tulsa has historically housed major oil and gas companies, midstream companies like Williams, ONEOK, Magellan, NGL Energy Partners and Superior Pipeline now account for a large share of the city’s energy market. For TU students, it means expanded access to prospects for internships and jobs.
Teaching by the book
Seng took the commodities trading knowledge he compiled over his decades in the industry to write a textbook. He teamed with Tulsa-based PennWell Books to publish Energy Trading & Hedging: A Nontechnical Guide, published in the spring of 2019. “The idea for the book came from an online course I built for Penn State in 2012,” he said. “The course was online, so I had to organize the lessons in a way that flowed. When I was done with that, I thought it would make for a good textbook to use in that course and for another one I was teaching here at TU.”
Matt Dresher (MEB ’18), Seng’s publisher at PennWell, also was a student in TU’s Master of Energy Business program. “I used a draft of the book in one of my graduate classes,” said Seng. “Matt was in the class and was able to help me tweak the material during the editing process.” He says the book is a great tool for those newer to the industry, and that Penn State will use it for the course that he originally designed.
What’s next for TU’s energy business programs?
Continued expansion for the school’s programs is on the horizon. Seng says the faculty will work to add more courses focused on renewables, sustainability and alternative energy, something the newer, younger generation has come to expect in an energy program. Seng has already partnered with employers like Public Service Company of Oklahoma and the Grand River Dam Authority to identify opportunities for TU students interested in pursuing careers in alternative energy sources.
TU’s energy management program is one of only nine in the U.S. a accredited by the American Association of Professional Landmen (AAPL). The college also offers an AAPL-accredited Master of Energy Business degree for professionals already employed in the industry. Find out more here.