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Director of Petroleum Engineering Program Wins SPE Faculty Award

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By: 

Audrey Grayson

Tom Holley, professor and director of the UH Cullen College of Engineering’s petroleum engineering program, has won the Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE) Gulf Coast Regional Distinguished Achievement Award for Petroleum Engineering Faculty. This prestigious award recognizes petroleum engineering faculty members for their superiority in classroom teaching, excellence in research, significant contributions to the petroleum engineering profession and/or special effectiveness in advising and guiding students.

SPE is the primary professional organization for petroleum engineers around the world, with the Gulf Coast Section of SPE alone boasting more than 16,000 members. The mission of the SPE-GCS is to enhance technical knowledge among its members, promote professional development and networking in industry, support local education initiatives and perform community service in the Greater Houston area.

In the case of the newly relaunched bachelor’s program in petroleum engineering within the UH Cullen College of Engineering, the SPE-GCS has certainly lived up to its mission. In addition to providing instrumental support for the program’s relaunch in 2009, the SPE-GCS established an endowed professorship – “Gulf Coast Section of the Society of Petroleum Engineers Professor” – which is currently awarded to associate professor Guan Qin. The SPE-GCS also provided generous funding for the University of Houston to host the SPE Gulf Coast Region Student Paper Contest for the first time last April.

This latest award is yet another example of SPE's ongoing support that the Cullen College’s petroleum engineering program has benefitted from in recent years, said Holley. “I think this award is recognition of the need for our petroleum engineering program in the Gulf Coast region, as well as validation by the SPE of their support of the UH petroleum engineering program,” he said.

Holley joined the UH Cullen College of Engineering to lead the petroleum engineering program in 2010, leaving behind a longtime position as a researcher at Shell. Holley’s first order of business as the program’s director was to preside over the relaunch of the petroleum engineering undergraduate degree. Under Holley’s guidance, the B.S. program grew from 20 students to today’s total of more than 600 students in just four short years.

And thanks to the unwavering support of local industry for the Cullen College’s petroleum engineering program, Holley foresees the program continuing to grow and take up more building space at UH’s Energy Research Park (ERP), a 74-acre campus designed to bring academia and industry together to solve the world’s most pressing energy-related issues.

“Tom Holley has done a wonderful job in resurrecting the undergraduate petroleum engineering program at UH,” said Jeanne Perdue, Vice Chair of the SPE Gulf Coast Section, who served on the Nominations Committee for the SPE Gulf Coast Regional Distinguished Achievement Award for Petroleum Engineering Faculty. “Enrollment is increasing exponentially, world-renowned faculty members are being recruited, and accreditation activities are under way.”

Perdue, who also serves as a technical writer at Occidental Petroleum and a member of the University of Houston Petroleum Engineering Advisory Board, noted that Holley’s leadership of the petroleum engineering program at UH has also benefitted local industry by providing a locally grown, highly skilled petroleum engineering workforce for Houston’s energy companies. “Tom’s hard work and dedication to make the University of Houston the preferred supplier of petroleum engineering talent in the Energy Capital of the World is certainly worthy of this SPE award,” Perdue explained.

Holley, however, credits the petroleum engineering faculty, staff and students for the explosive success of the program. “I’m very honored and grateful to receive this award, but I think it is important to note right up front that this isn’t particularly about me. A lot of people have been involved in this – our faculty, staff, students, advisory board, and the UH administration,” Holley said. “This program is so successful because of them.”

One reason for the Cullen College’s particularly talented body of petroleum engineering faculty, staff and students is its proximity to the Energy Capital of the World, the City of Houston. Located just a few miles down the road from the U.S. city with the second highest number of local Fortune 500 companies, there is no shortage of energy talent from which to recruit both faculty and students.

“With regard to our program being special, one special feature is just geography,” Holley noted. “In particular, our proximity to a huge concentration of energy companies enables our students to have year-long internships while pursuing their degrees. It also enables us to have a large number of adjuncts teaching in our program who are active employees at the world’s leading energy companies, like Shell, Halliburton, Ryder Scott, and the list goes on.”

Although the Cullen College’s petroleum engineering program has made enormous strides under Holley’s leadership, he said he has no plans to slow down in the foreseeable future. “We have more faculty coming, including full-time professors and National Academy of Engineering members, and the student demand continues to grow,” Holley said.

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