Students Start First Subsea Engineering Organization


Toby Weber

Subsea engineers are responsible for multi-billion dollar investments in offshore petroleum exploration and retrieval, so it’s surprising that there’s been no association or organization dedicated to serving these engineers – until now.

A group of students from the University Of Houston Cullen College Of Engineering have started the Subsea Engineering Society (SES), the first organization for engineers, geotechnicians, technologists and other individuals who specialize in underwater petroleum exploration and production.

SES was founded by Nebolisa Egbunike, a senior mechanical engineering student who this spring will begin pursuing a master’s degree in the college’s Subsea Engineering Program, the first such program of its kind in the country.

Egbunike and some friends got the idea for the society while looking to join a group that specialized in subsea engineering. While he found related organizations like the Society of Petroleum Engineers and the Society for Underwater Technology, there simply wasn’t an association that focused exclusively on his field – so Egbunike decided to start one on his own. “I felt there was a huge gap between students and industry, and that starting an organization would be a way to create a network between professionals and students,” he said.

Egbunike took the idea, along with a small stack of fliers, to last May’s Offshore Technology Conference in Houston. The businesses he met with showed almost immediate interest in the project, he said. “Within two days I had companies asking when we could start working on this. At that point I knew it was going to become a real organization.”

In the months since, SES has rapidly gained members and supporters. It now has about 40 students on its roster, with more expected to join during its first official meeting tonight. All students studying in subsea-related fields, including technology students and those in the sciences, are welcome to join the group, Egbunike said.

Those who become members will see the benefits almost immediately, he added. This Friday, SES is hosting a mock interview session for paid members in preparation for the Engineering Career Fair on Sept. 12. On the calendar for later in the semester are networking events, volunteer days at the Houston Food Bank, attendance at subsea technical conferences, educational seminars and tours of subsea engineering firms.

Several companies in the sector have stepped up to help SES provide these opportunities to its members. BP has signed on as the group’s first official major sponsor, while other firms are offering guidance, access to facilities for tours, and manpower in the form of seminar speakers and mock interviewers.

Phaneendra Kondapi, KBR Adjunct Professor in the subsea engineering program and an engineering manager with FMC Technologies, is serving as SES’s founding faculty advisor. As a brand new organization, SES will have a great impact on both students and industry, he said, with students in particular benefitting from the increased industry exposure. Companies, meanwhile, are enthusiastic about the group because it helps them establish relationships with young engineers entering a field where talent is in high demand.

Professional engineers from many different disciplines are also interested in getting involved, Kondapi added – a key ingredient to the group’s success. Not only do they enjoy mentoring students, they also see SES as an organization that can support their own careers. As SES grows, Kondapi said, it will likely add an arm for professionals that will help working engineers expand their own networks and stay on top of advances in the subsea field.

Indeed, Egbunike envisions growing SES to include a professional section as well as student chapters at other universities that offer subsea engineering curricula. Expansion will likely start with schools that, along with UH, are members of the Global Subsea University Alliance, an association of the top subsea engineering education programs in the world.

“The Subsea Engineering Society is going to expand outside of the University of Houston,” Egbunike said. “We want to get every group that works in subsea involved in the long run.”

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