Since earning his master’s degree in petroleum engineering from the UH Cullen College in 1986 Stuart Filler has witnessed his alma mater undergo many positive transformations, eventually outgrowing its reputation as a “city commuter school” to break into the list of the nation’s top-ranked research universities.
Most notably to Filler, vice president and project coordinator at Ryder Scott Company in Houston, was the relaunch of the Cullen College’s petroleum engineering bachelor’s program in 2009. With support from Ryder Scott and a swath of top energy companies across the region, enrollment in the program exploded to over 900 students by 2014.
As the fledgling program continued to soar, earning ABET accreditation in 2015, Filler said he felt compelled to give back to the college that opened up so many doors in his career.
“I earned my master’s degree in petroleum engineering from UH in May of 1986, and I still credit that degree for allowing me to keep my job during those years,” says Filler, recounting the oil bust of the 1980s that put thousands of Houstonians out of work and drove hordes of companies out of business.
Finding that his education was a gift that kept giving to him over the course of his career, Filler saw a fitting gift for up-and-coming petroleum engineering students at UH – more than 200 of them, in fact, all lining the shelves of his office walls.
A new chapter
“I’m a bit of a bibliophile,” Filler admits, adding that his library of textbooks and documents often proved valuable in pushing his career forward. “Much like my education at UH opened doors, being hungry for knowledge and seeking answers to big engineering questions propelled my career.”
So Filler loaded up his car with hundreds of technical books, textbooks and documents and drove them to the UH petroleum engineering department in UH’s Energy Research Park.
Tom Holley, former director of the UH petroleum engineering program, helped Filler unload his car. Together they filled a series of empty shelves inside the department with books – gifts that can be opened again and again by countless students. And with that the first petroleum engineering department library was established.
Bibliography of success
Filler recalls his time as a UH petroleum engineering graduate student in the 1980s with both fondness and relief. “It was a rough time,” he says. “I got my M.S. at just the right time and I truly believe it got me through those bust years.”
Filler’s long list of career successes include more than four years in the army, nearly 10 years as a senior advisor with Devon Energy and three years as a reservoir engineer at Southwestern Energy before joining Ryder Scott in 2014.
UH engineering programs, especially at the graduate level, are tailored for working professionals. Curricula are shaped with direct input from industry leaders and address both current and future workforce needs.
“One of the greatest strengths of the program were the professors,” Filler says. “My courses were taught by a diversity of faculty members who really knew the business because they were the ones doing the business, and they brought that experience into the classroom.”
Although the petroleum engineering program has grown exponentially since his college days, Filler notes many of the same qualities that drew him to the UH Cullen College remain today – with one exception: “UH has always had a great petroleum engineering program but now the program and its students are exponentially better.”
Filler, for his part, likes to ensure Ryder Scott is tapping into the world-class engineering talent at UH, laying down the pipelines for petroleum engineering graduates to enter into the company ranks.
In working with new petroleum engineering graduates, Filler says he often reminds them not to chase the paycheck. “If you’re doing it for the money, you’re not going to be happy,” he says, noting the high salaries in the field don’t take into the account the bust years in the biz.
For all his years of experience, Filler says there’s one more important piece of advice for new grads to keep in mind as they embark on their careers: “Be broad based and be willing to take a job that’s not exactly what you want to do because you need to learn.”
Fitting advice from a man who gave the broad gift of knowledge to those UH petroleum engineering students who are eager enough to seek it.