The University of Houston's student chapter of the Society of Petroleum Engineers continues to make headlines, as a chapter-best third place finish in the prestigious PetroBowl competition comes on the heels of its first-ever Presidential award designation.
The PetroBowl competition pitches SPE student chapter teams against each other in a series of quick-fire trivia rounds, answering technical and nontechnical industry-related questions. The contest has grown in size and popularity since its debut in 2002, and in 2015 was taken global with the introduction of six regional qualifier contests.
Regional qualifier SPE competitions take place in the Africa, the Pacific region of Asia, Europe, South America and the Caribbean, the Middle East, and North America. The top 32 teams are invited to the PetroBowl Championship. The competition tests the knowledge of students on the entire energy value chain – upstream, downstream, marketing, geopolitics, history, alternative energies, human factors engineering, energy statistics, sustainability and more.
“Being top placed in the competition is a testament to the depth of the curriculum in Energy here at UH,” said Lotanna Ohazuruike, the president of the UHSPE chapter and the captain of their PetroBowl squad. “For the past three years, we have been in the Top 16 teams globally. Coming in third this year was a huge improvement in our team performance. I have to give a big thanks to my fellow teammates for the excellent job we did – Master's student Nhung Nguyen and undergraduate Kevin Tran.”
The UH squad first competed in a round of regional qualifiers in March, coming in fifth among 24 teams in the North America region. That qualified them for the International championship, where the top 32 schools from all over the world competed virtually.
UH finished in a third place tie with the National Autonomous University of Mexico. The University of Oklahoma won the competition, with the University of Stavanger (Norway) taking second.
“After three rounds of games, UH and UNAM were still tied,” Ohazuruike said. “Inspired by the sharing of medals at Tokyo Olympics 2020, both teams opted to share the prize and honors of the third place finish. It was the first time it had ever been done in PetroBowl history.”
The strong placement in PetroBowl comes shortly after the student chapter was notified in May 2021 that it had been chosen for the Presidential Award.
“It was unbelievable – we had never won it before,” Ohazuruike said. “The award recognizes the top 5 percent of SPE chapters around the world. Winning it in the very unique circumstances caused by the pandemic made it even more special. At the start of the board year, we set this award as our goal, and laid out our strategy to get it. Actually winning still felt unbelievable. We just wanted to win it for UH, because we believed UH deserved it so much. The support from the Petroleum Engineering Department, faculty members, students and more needed to be recognized globally. “
The chapter has seen tremendous growth. It ranks swelled to 548 for the 2020-21 academic year, from less than 300 the previous year. Ohazuruike said they've made an effort to reach out to students beyond the Petroleum Engineering Department – to other engineering disciplines, along with science and business majors that are interested in the industry.
Because of the pandemic, Ohazuruike said they also looked closely at how they raised money and spent it. They developed fundraising strategies for fully in-person, fully virtual and a hybrid year, and tried to engage with professional companies earlier and more often on events.
“We met with company representatives virtually to sell them our plan for the year and get their commitment,” he said. “More than 30 companies were on board for different kinds of events – tournaments, info sessions, resume reviews, mock interviews, mentoring and other activities. Thanking these volunteers and company reps was an integral part of our strategy, because we needed to build a relationship that subsequent SPE boards could benefit from. We also followed a similar strategy for our collaborations with student organizations. All these was driven by our team’s deep desire to support our UH students, faculty and the Houston community. Our 27 person team ended up executing 106 events and programs.”
Ohazuruike highlighted some of the unique programs they ran this year:
A Peer Afar was a mentorship program targeting international students that could not enter the United States due to travel restrictions.
The Houston Strong PC Drive collected old PCs, repaired them and distributed them to low-income families that were forced to study from home.
Digitalization School comprised of Python and the Machine Learning bootcamps.
The last effort was especially intensive. Students partnered with the Hewlett Packard Data Science Institute (HPE DSI) to deliver a two-day Python training session, open to all majors, with 124 students participated. Based on student performance at the Python boot camp and other requirements, 20 students were selected for an intensive nine-week Machine Learning boot camp. The program culminated in a Machine Learning competition with five teams of four students vying for prizes.
“We collaborated with i2k and Halliburton to judge their presentations,” Ohazuruike said. “The industry professionals were so pleased that they made additional donations to the winning teams. Halliburton offered them scholarships to Nvidia's deep learning institute, while i2k's development team mentored them on taking their projects further.”
Ohazuruike is in the fourth year of his Ph.D. program, and as a result, he serves as more of an advisor for the current UH SPE board. However, he was proud of the success that UH SPE had the previous year, as it netted more than 10 different awards.
“In summary, all we thought of was how to support our members to be successful, help our community through Covid, while growing our chapter,” he said.