Student Chapters Show New Vitality in Canada

American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG)

AAPG Student Chapters in Canada first sprang up between 1998 and 2000 at three western Canada universities. Today, after an eight-year gap, five more chapters have emerged and taken root.

When the University of Regina Student Chapter of AAPG began in 1998, motivation and support from the Saskatchewan Geological Society made all the difference. Over the next two years, chapters were formed at University of Calgary in 1999 and University of Manitoba in 2000.

Between 2000 and 2008, the Canada Region experienced a hiatus in new student chapters being formed. The real cause for this break in the upward trend of new student chapters is unknown. It may be attributable to temporary global geopolitical instability or fears of reaching “peak oil.” Or perhaps at the time, AAPG services and career benefits were simply unknown to the student population in Canada.

Whatever the reason, there certainly was no shortage of university graduates with geoscience degrees – at least not at the University of Alberta from the years 2005-07. During those years, the graduating undergraduate classes were the largest in the history of the school’s Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences.

Following on the large undergrad graduating class of 2007, in December 2008 the upward growth trend in new student chapters resumed when the University of Alberta Student Chapter of AAPG became the second chapter in Alberta Province.

Ironically, this resurgence among AAPG’s youngest members came about virtually in tandem with the Q4 2008 economic slowdown that some refer to as the “Great Recession.”

But apparently despite the gloomy financial picture casting a shadow across much of North America, Europe, and parts of Asia that year, AAPG Student Chapters across Canada have asserted their vigor every year since. In fact, as of February 2013, Memorial University of Newfoundland became the Region’s latest AAPG Student Chapter.

What follows are three stories of motivation – three stories of Canada Region AAPG Student Chapters and the motivated young leaders behind them.

Ryan Lemiski was an undergrad student in 2008 when he and master’s student Andrew Mumpy initiated the University of Alberta AAPG Student Chapter.

That same year, after their team competed in the Imperial Barrel Award program, they were invited to attend the first-ever AAPG Student Chapter Leadership Summit (SCLS).

“Andrew and I returned to Canada educated and excited about AAPG, its services and how this organization could benefit every student,” Lemiski remembered.

The previous year, Lemiski and Mumpy had attended the student reception held during the 2007 ACE in Long Beach.

“We wondered what was going on as IBA awards were being presented,” Lemiski said. “When we figured out what the IBA competition was all about, I said to myself ‘Our school could do that, and we’d place well!’ IBA was something that we all wanted to be a part of.”

The result of their passion for AAPG?

“We gave a presentation during a general meeting at the University of Alberta,” he recalled, “and over 100 students registered as AAPG student members of our chapter.”

For Lemiski, starting the AAPG Student Chapter was just the beginning. He was quickly appointed as Student Chapter Committee liaison for the Canada Region, which positioned him to inform other schools about the benefits of AAPG.

“That AAPG made it a priority to globalize, focus on students and YPs (creating the SCLS and later the YPLS) and establish the IBA as its flagship competition, these are the main reasons I believe more student chapters were established,” he said.

Once the SCLS and YPLS were started, “the marketing involved with those initiatives was very appealing to students in Canada and motivated them to be active participants in the organization,” he concluded.

Recently, the University of Alberta and University of Calgary planned a joint field trip to visit Willapa Bay in Washington to study a modern estuarine environment – a popular trip for both members of industry and academia who work and study the McMurray Formation in Alberta, site of the world’s largest oil sands deposit.

The Willapa Bay environment is used to explain some of the complex depositional environments within the McMurray oil sands.

Lemiski, currently is working as a petrophysicist, technology management, northeast British Columbia shale gas, with Nexen Energy ULC in Calgary.

Andrew Mumpy is now living in Houston and works with Occidental Petroleum Corp.

Meriem Grifi started the first AAPG Student Chapter in Ontario as a young leader at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario, in 2009.

The next year, the AAPG chapter and the CSPG student chapter (founded in 2008) combined – and based on CSPG’s and AAPG’s shared goals, the Petrolia Pioneers Society emerged.

To this day, the Petrolia Pioneers Society is sponsored by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources. The society gets its name from nearby Petrolia, Ontario. The city boasts the world’s oldest oil company and home of North America’s first oil boom.

From Grifi’s perspective, the importance of an involved industry mentor or faculty member in student chapter success cannot be overstated.

“If the faculty is not willing to support the student chapter, it makes it very difficult for students to organize events where people are willing to attend,” she said.

Burns Cheadle represents the best of both worlds. Cheadle came to the University of Western Ontario after having worked over 23 years in the oil and gas industry in Calgary. Cheadle currently is professor of petroleum geology and student chapter faculty adviser.

“I am not sure I would have been as active and involved with AAPG had we not received Burns Cheadle as our petroleum geology professor in the department,” Grifi said. “He came to our school and got a team together for the IBA competition in 2010, of which I was proudly a member!”

The “huge eye opener” for Grifi occurred when she attended AAPG Leadership Days in 2010. It was there that she met other student chapter leaders from around the world who, like her, were trying to run good student chapters.

“I didn’t realize just how seriously some of the student chapter leaders took their work,” she remembers.

Inspired, Grifi organized a mini-Student Chapter Leadership Summit (SCLS) at Western in November 2011. The mini-SCLS included lectures from professors, an industry representative from the Ontario Petroleum Institute and tour of the oil, gas and salt library in London, Ontario.

According to Grifi, students were invited from seven other Ontario schools with earth science departments and were encouraged to start their own AAPG chapters.

(One participant apparently went back to Queen’s University and started a student chapter there; the Queen’s University Student Chapter began in June 2012 but since has gone inactive, according to AAPG records.)

Grifi’s motivation to help out with the AAPG student chapter program didn’t end when she completed her master’s in sedimentology and moved to Calgary.

After going to work with Husky Energy, she eventually joined Kevin Jackson, Canada Region liaison to the AAPG Student Chapter Committee, as vice liaison. Most recently, Grifi and Jackson organized the AAPG Canada Region 2013 Student Chapter reception during the annual CSPG convention in May.

“Schools with active AAPG chapters are spread out all over Canada,” Grifi said. “We took advantage of the fact that students were in Calgary in May for the start of summer industry jobs, as well as to attend the annual CSPG convention.”

Even more, she added, “it was fantastic to have them all in one room to meet each other” – and as Student Chapter liaisons, “It was a good way to get a feel for how the chapters are doing.”

Grifi thinks it’s easy being part of an organization that cares about its members.

“The AAPG student chapter program helped me a lot in terms of developing my people skills, network of industry people I know and support for my research through the Grants-in-Aid program,” she said.

“In return,” she added, “it’s a pleasure giving back by reaching out to the AAPG student groups in Canada.”

Grifi currently is a geologist-in-training in the oil sands business unit, Sunrise Energy Project, with Husky Energy in Calgary.

In the same year, Frank Ryan joined AAPG and stepped into the spotlight as captain of Memorial University’s IBA team, taking first place in the Canada Region competition and heading for the global IBA event at the 2012 ACE in Long Beach, Calif.

His IBA team’s NE-SW traverse from St. John’s, Newfoundland, to Long Beach would have been head-spinning enough. But he wanted to further accelerate his advancement in AAPG.

“At the event, my friend Tiffany Piercey took me along to a YP event, and there I was asked to start something on the east coast of Canada,” Ryan said. “And so, my title for the AAPG Canada Region became YP Lead for Eastern Canada.

“As it happens, there are very few Young Professionals out here,” he said. “In order to have any events or impact, I decided to become more involved with MUN (Memorial University of Newfoundland).

“At first, the senior students at MUN who had internships or full-time jobs starting this summer were my target audience to hook into our section,” he recalled. “I tossed out the idea to a handful of them to start a Student Chapter, so we could get some funds to do more exciting things – and before we knew it we were a certified SC.”

He also was the industry associate for the MUN IBA team.

The MUN AAPG Student Chapter held eight lectures last winter in its inaugural semester. The first few lectures were attended only by Student Chapter members and other earth science undergraduates, totaling about 10 people.

“By lecture eight we hosted a combination of engineering and earth science, professors, graduate students and undergrads (including the IBA team) totaling about 25 people interested in learning about the oil and gas industry,” he said.

“We saw this as a huge success and look to grow this fall.”

Harry Fowlow and Ryan himself gave the bulk of the lectures, with help from Angie Dearin (geoscientist, Exxon Mobil). Ryan started by lecturing on theory and interpretation methods, and Fowlow would continue with a combination of theory and explanation of field-based activities.

The lectures started with a history of the oil and gas industry, followed by an explanation of the components of a hydrocarbon system. Gradually they moved into types of hydrocarbon systems (conventional, unconventional), environments of deposition, seismic interpretation, log interpretation and an introduction to financials and the time value of money.

“Many evenings, we’d also open up the floor for discussion and to anyone in the audience who’d like to practice their class presentations,” he said. “Perhaps most interesting, they would tell us of the different scholarships and grants we could apply for, and introduce us to jargon of the industry.”

This effort started when one petroleum geology professor left for industry, and another professor took sabbatical.

“We were worried that the students would be left with no option to learn about or become interested in petroleum geology,” Ryan said. “We saw this as an opportunity for a win-win. We would build and give lectures enhancing our own skill and understanding, while the students would hopefully learn from us and be interested enough to research our topics discussed.”

Incidentally, the professor who left was Joe Macquaker, who was an AAPG Distinguished Lecturer last year; the one on sabbatical was IBA coach and AAPG member Elliott Burden.

This year, the Memorial University Student Chapter has reached out to past graduates and started a weekly guest lecture series where industry professional partners speak on reservoir characterization and hot topics in the local industry. The chapter also has put together a budgeting plan to be used as a model in Canada to generate fundraising ideas for field trips and social activities.

Today, Ryan works as a development geoscientist for Chevron Canada Resources in St. John’s, Newfoundland. Fowlow is a logging engineer with Weatherford in Newfoundland.

Returning from the recent AAPG Leadership Days event in Tulsa, Canada Region president Francois Marechal encouraged all AAPG members when he said, “Help spread the word to young geologists and other scientists alike, about the value AAPG represents.

“Personally, I cannot help but be inspired by the energy and aspirations of our growing number of Young Professionals from their various international chapters,” he added.

“Visibly, AAPG is in the hands of a strong contingent of future geoscientists,” he said, “the kind that I looked up to as a new grad back in 1982.”

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Carol Cain McGowen is the development manager for AAPG's Regions and Sections. She may be contacted via email , or telephone at 1-918-560-9403.

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