The transition from Broadway to the Houston energy industry might seem like an unusual one for some, but for Jennifer Stewart, it was one facilitated by her sister, Rebecca, and her mother, Judith.
Stewart initially graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in Musical Theatre, and she moved to New York City to pursue a childhood dream of being on Broadway. She is now studying Petroleum Engineering at the University of Houston's Cullen College of Engineering.
“I got an agent, and did a few jobs, but I was only there for the summer,” she said. “I quickly realized that I didn't enjoy the instability. Even though I didn't pursue it as a career, I am still heavily involved in the local Houston theatre scene. I love acting too much to give it up for good! I just do it as a hobby now, and make and style wigs for several theatres in town.”
Stewart said she was unsure of what to pursue next, but discussions with her sister – a petroleum geologist in Houston – rekindled her interest in engineering.
“While working as a GIS analyst for a midstream oil company, I found that I enjoyed the industry and being involved in something where the produced commodity is an essential part of our daily lives,” she said. “I've always loved STEM subjects – I was torn between engineering and theatre for my first degree. So going back to school for engineering was a natural next step.”
Part of her initial interest in engineering was due to a strong family history in STEM fields.
“My mother and my sister were my original role models,” Stewart said. “My mother is a Biology professor at the College of Southern Nevada, and she taught me to think critically from a young age. Due to her training, when I was 7, I discovered the tooth fairy wasn't real by utilizing the scientific method.”
Stewart describes her mother as her “biggest supporter.”
“I remember calling during my first semester, unsure if I had what it took to be an engineer. She bridged that gap in my confidence with bolstering words, and continues to do so every day,” Stewart said. “My sister has also always encouraged me. I am so glad she pushed me to push myself.”
When it came to the UH Petroleum Engineering Department, Stewart said that while she was grateful of all of its members, two of her professors had especially pushed her to excel.
“Firstly, Dr. Konstantinos Kostarelos, who taught me reservoir fluids,” she said. “He recommended me for a summer job with Oxy Petroleum working on a CO2 ground sequestration project. It was an incredible experience, and I will always be grateful to him! Also, Dr. Christine Economides, my professor for Pressure Transient Testing. Her passion for this industry is infectious, and she made school exciting.”
Although there seemingly wouldn't be much overlap between the science-based engineering and artistic-based theatre, Stewart said her skills from the latter have consistently helped her with the former.
“Engineers are often required to present their work and ideas, and due to my time in theatre performing for large audiences, I have no fear of public speaking,” she said. “Another big part of engineering is problem solving, and trust me when I say theatre people are the ultimate problem solvers! Whether it was finding a way to fasten a broken zipper five seconds before you have to be on stage, or improvising when your co-star suddenly bolts off stage due to stomach flu – a true story for me – I I have spent years honing the skill of creative and out of the box thinking, which has come in handy many times as an engineer.”
Stewart is on schedule to graduate in December 2021, and currently has a 3.94 GPA. In addition, she received the 2021 Cynthia Oliver Coleman Women in Engineering Rising Star Award, served as UH Tau Beta Pi president and membership chairwoman for 2020, and was named the Outstanding Petroleum Engineering Student at the Houston Engineers Week Awards in 2020 and 2021. Stewart was also awarded one of the Texas Energy Council's scholarships for 2020, the first UH student to earn the honor since 2013. She is completing a summer internship for Wood PLC on their subsea team.