By Janet Miranda
2020 UH SPE
Despite the ups and downs, 2020 turned out to have a silver lining for at least one energy-related student chapter at the University of Houston.
The UH Society of Petroleum Engineers (UH SPE) was awarded its first Student Chapter Excellence Award for 2020. The award is the second-highest honor student chapters can receive, recognizing the top 20% of eligible student chapters. The prestigious award recognizes the group’s programs in industry engagement, operations and planning, community involvement, professional development and innovation.
“We know the past year has been unique, and we thank you for continuing to fulfill the Society of Petroleum Engineer’s mission and serve your members,” Erin O’Sullivan, sections and student chapters manager, said in an email congratulating the winners.
Makpal Sariyeva, petroleum engineering senior, was president of UHSPE for the 2019-2020 academic year. She and her board, consisting of an additional 33 student members, coordinated, planned and executed a new strategy to increase involvement in both community events and industry competitions.
"When I started out as president, our board’s main goal was to expand our voices, get new student members enrolled, along with sending a delegation to international sections,” Sariyeva said. “Our university chapter was established in 2014. It’s still very new, so it took some time to reach our goals.”
The team produced 86 events and won six awards, including first place in both undergraduate and graduate student divisions of the SPE-CGS Regional Student Paper Contest. Chapter members also placed third in the PetroBowl, a competition in which SPE chapters compete in a fast-paced quiz challenge. Members also qualified for Phase 2 in the Drillbotics competition, a SPE international university competition where students design and build a small drilling rig. Chapter members also won the three top spots in the SPE Gulf Coast Section’s poster competition.
“We were definitely confident that we were going to get recognition for our hard work in the form of an award such as this,” Sariveya said. “Our board and our members worked hard to attain these accolades.”
UHSPE boasts more than 400 members, with both undergraduate and graduate students from a variety of majors, not just petroleum engineering. In fact, the organization says it is the home of managers, engineers, scientists and any other professional aiming to serve in the upstream segment of the oil and gas industry.
The challenge for Juan Vaca, a petroleum engineering senior who graduated in May 2020 and served as vice president of internal affairs, was to mobilize members effectively.
"We started planning for the fall 2019 semester early and three months in advance for the spring 2020 semester,” Vaca said. “My main goal was to increase member involvement and interest in the industry, especially because the oil and gas industry has had a growing gap in petroleum engineers since 2014.”
Vaca succeeded, growing membership by more than 400 percent during the academic year. He and other board members set up industry field trips and scheduled company representatives to speak to students, for a total of 10 training courses, seven field trips and 20 workshops.
"Our members learned what a drilling rig looks like, what tools are used and how the fluids go through in the rig,” Vaca said. “We prepared our members to be exposed to different aspects of the industry.”
Vaca says extensive planning sparked the chapter’s success, even after the coronavirus pandemic shifted many events online and forced others to be cancelled.
“We’re very proud of our board, our advisors and faculty who assisted us as mentors for our papers, and of all of our petroleum engineering department,” Sariveya said. “Our members felt very energized by the win, because it’s something that we were aiming at since Day 1. We have done so much, and it wouldn’t have been possible without our members.”