University Launches Subsea Engineering Program


Anthresia McWashington
Phaneendra B. Kondapi
Phaneendra B. Kondapi
H. Brian Skeels
H. Brian Skeels

The University of Houston’s Subsea Engineering program is the first of its kind in the U.S. The program—founded by mechanical engineering professor and director of UH Subsea, Matthew Franchek—is in its inaugural year operating with a 10-course Master of Science curriculum since receiving approval from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board in 2012.

Franchek received an overwhelming response from companies about starting the subsea engineering program. Engineers and executives throughout the industry helped formulate the curriculum and joined the program’s staff and advisory board.

“It’s such a new field that there really weren’t any textbooks or faculty available with experience in the subsea field,” said Franchek. “They decided to come in and serve as adjunct professors for us. They’re sharing their knowledge with the next generation of engineers and people who want to come over to subsea engineering.”

The program has 70 students enrolled and Franchek predicts that the numbers will triple by January 2015, when the university implements interactive classrooms for students unable to physically attend. Courses now offered include subsea processing and artificial lift, riser and pipeline design, and the program’s most popular class, flow assurance.

According to Franchek, flow assurance—taught by FMC engineering manager Dr. Phaneendra Kondapi— has created many career opportunities.

“Students enrolled in Dr. Kondapi’s flow assurance course are getting job offers just on taking that class.” Franchek said. “I don’t have anyone in subsea coming up to me and saying they can’t find a job.”

Kondapi recently won the SPE teaching excellence award, presented to active faculty who use innovative teaching techniques. His decision to integrate practical problems from industry and promote networking between students and professionals cemented his award.

“I didn’t want to make it a typical course like other classes,”Kondapi said. “I wanted to make this as complicated as an industry-related or industry application course, while creating motivation towards the subject.”

Kondapi assigns his students projects that are used within the industry, without identifying information. He shows them how to use industry standard software, and provides insight into what they can expect after graduation.

“I also teach them how to present their projects as though they are presenting to the customer, and I invite industry professionals to come to the classes as guest lecturers, and to judge student presentations,” Kondapi said. “I take them on field trips so they can see what is happening and be prepared for the industry. This course exposes them to the science, and realworld problems. It usually takes them at least six months to go through the training.”

Kondapi said his flow assurance course now has more than 40 students, the largest graduate course at the university.

The advisory board plans to add more courses to the curriculum, said FMC Technologies Director Brian Skeels. As the program grows, Skeels says that employees of FMC and other companies work to stay ahead of the industry’s need for different skill sets. He teaches subsea processing and pumping, and helps teach the downhole portion of gas lift.

There is a strong need for young professionals to gain the skills necessary to maintain the industry, Skeels explained. The subsea program at the university saves companies that hire recent graduates significant time in training.

“As more of the older generation retires, the industry is losing experienced people and subsea is getting more complicated and more extreme, so it’s important for younger generations to get up to speed that much faster,” Skeels said. “You could easily shave a year or maybe even a year and a half off of that learning curve for students coming out of the master’s program.”

The program is funded by student fees and contributions from companies such as Cameron, FMC Technologies, GE Oil and Gas, and Weatherford. Franchek said they are coordinating with other universities across the globe that offer subsea engineering programs. The Global Subsea University Alliance that he created is evaluating trends within the subsea industry, and plans to present a more detailed outlook for the subsea sector at OTC 2014. The alliance is looking to offer student exchange programs and international research opportunities for students as well as industry professionals involved with the program.

Article originally published at


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