No one ever said it was easy to work fulltime and pursue a master's degree in petroleum engineering from the University of Houston -- especially if you live in Mexico.
But it can be done.
Thanks to a new distance-education program at the UH Cullen College of Engineering, 16 students who are employed by Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex) in Mexico will graduate this week at the UH Hilton Hotel. It will be the first time any of the students have ever been on campus at UH.
The program, developed jointly with Universidad La Salle in Mexico City, has provided a model for possible future distance education efforts and, perhaps as important, has prompted enhancement of the courses taught at UH, says Christine Ehlig-Economides, director of petroleum engineering at the Cullen College of Engineering.
"This program is an important first step in developing our distance education efforts, and we are extremely proud of our faculty, students and partners at LaSalle and Pemex," says Ehlig-Economides. "But the hidden value has been the positive effect on the courses themselves. The process of capturing the courses electronically has improved the way we organize and teach all our courses here in Houston."
The program consists of the same courses traditionally offered at UH, but the format is very different. Each course is taught in a condensed, five-week session, with the first week consisting of 40 hours of lectures from UH professors and the following four weeks involving assignments and tests conducted via CD and the Internet. Courses are taught one at a time, sequentially, and in optimal order.
Using an Internet interface program by Blackboard.com, students and professors are able to maintain communication during the four weeks of independent study. Lectures and assignments are posted online and the students submitted homework electronically. A discussion board enables class members and professors to interact electronically.
"We found a format that is workable so that we can provide face-to-face, classroom instruction, and that's what makes this program unique," Ehlig-Economides says. "The students know the professors so it's not classic distance learning where all they get are videos or self-paced content through some kind of an Internet program. It's much better than that."
After the 40 hours of lectures, the follow up enables students to learn the material. "When we started this I coached our own professors to remember that during the 40 hours of direct classroom instruction, that's when the teaching happens," Ehlig-Economides says. "But most of the learning happens in the wake of that, as the students go back over what they heard in the lectures, read the textbooks, do the homework, and prepare for exams."
Preparing the courses for presentation in Mexico has been a wonderful opportunity to upgrade all of the courses, even as they are taught here in Houston, says Ehlig-Economides.
"To organize a course, any course, in Blackboard provides a proper framework because it accommodates lectures, assignments, additional reading material, communications, links to online sources of relevant material, chat and message board capabilities," she says. "So this has really upgraded significantly what we are doing. Plus, once you have electronically captured a course, you can just keep improving it."
The origins of the program stem back to the summer of 1999 when Dr. Jorge Ignacio Galicia Perez of LaSalle approached UH professor Michael Economides to ask if UH could offer its masters degree in petroleum engineering to Pemex engineers in collaboration with his university, which is a private Catholic university in the Christian Brothers group of universities.
Economides proposed a format that was agreed upon with some refinement the following year to conform to guidelines from the Texas Coordinating Board for Higher Education. An agreement was signed for both universities in the fall of 2000, and the first course was offered in April of 2001.
"Dr. Galicia will arrive on Nov. 19 to work with us on future programs," says Ehlig-Economides. "He expects the petroleum program to resume early next year, and we are discussing both a masters program like the one we have already done, as well as a certificate program with six courses for extension credit."
The graduating students will arrive on Wednesday. On Thursday they will take a field trip hosted by Schlumberger. On Friday the students will present their reports to Pemex management, La Salle administrators, and UH faculty and students. The graduation ceremony will be at 3 p.m., with a reception to follow.
Pemex management and dignitaries from Universidad La Salle will join UH faculty and students for the graduation at 3 p.m., Friday, Nov. 22.
Pomp and Circumstance by Sir Edward Elgar
Raymond W. Flumerfelt
Dean, Cullen College of Engineering
Raúl Valadez García
Rector, Universidad La Salle
Hector Leyva Torres
Sub-Director Pemex Exploration and Production
Chairman, Cheniere Energy
Recognition of Degrees
E. Joe Charlson
Associate Dean, Cullen College of Engineering
Administration of the Engineers' Creed
E. Joe Charlson
War March of the Priests by Felix Mendelssohn
José Antonio Bello Medrano
Esteban Soriano Mercado (will not be in attendance)
Daniel Carrillo Moreno
Alejandro Cruz Vidal
Gilberto Alejandro Díaz Alcocer
Luis Gerardo Estañol Vadillo
Jorge Alejandro Hurtado Bollaín y Goytia
Benito Martínez Peña
Bernardo Martínez Hernández
Lázaro Rafael Moreno Lara
Orlando Peralta Duarte
José Manuel Reyes Casarreal
Jesús Santiago Rojas González
Daniel Rubio González
Romeo Ariosto Solis Estrada
Jorge Luis Tenorio Lavín
Porfirio Vázquez Colorado