Accelerating development – and connections

Student Chapters Breed Professional Success

American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG)

AAPG student chapter program began modestly enough – more modestly and probably in fewer numbers than you think.

“Initially it was approved for a three-year pilot program comprised of six institutions: New Orleans, Oklahoma, Southern Methodist, Texas A&M, Texas Tech and Maryland.”

That’s AAPG member Bryant Fulk, who started his AAPG career as a dedicated member of the San Diego State University student chapter and now heads the Student Chapter Committee, talking about the history and importance of the concept behind such entities.

It is a history that began in 1978 and has since grown to more than 320 institutions in more than 40 countries – and thanks in part to the AAPG/AAPG Foundation’s Imperial Barrel Award, it’s also a history that now stretches around the world.

To that end, “Outstanding Student Chapter” awards are now presented annually both to the top domestic and international groups – and the competition for the prize intensifies each year.

This year’s winners, announced in Houston at the recent AAPG Annual Conventional and Exhibition, are:


♦ First: University of Utah.

♦ Honorable mention: University of Oklahoma and the University of Auburn.


♦ First: Pembangunan Nasional University (Surabaya, East Java, Indonesia).

♦ Honorable mention: Diponegoro University (Semarang, Central Java, Indonesia) and Gadjah Mada University (Yogyakarta, Indonesia).

Making a Connection

The initial purpose of AAPG’s student chapters program, Fulk said, was to bring students together with the profession – and vice versa – and to provide “a means of contact with the geological profession both inside and outside academia.”

As the trajectory of the AAPG commitment to the programs grew over the decades, so did the trajectory of individual school’s commitments to both their geology department and their student chapters.

One such case is one of this year’s top student chapters, the University of Utah.

“I’ve been the faculty advisor for this group since I arrived here in 2003,” said AAPG member Cari Johnson, associate professor of geology and geophysics at the University of Utah.

In the early days, she said of Utah’s program, it was a smaller but always very active group.

There were telltale signs.

“I’m not sure what our numbers were like,” she said, “but the growth over time is evident in the large masses of pizza and bagels we now order for the meetings.”

Specifically, something special about this year’s winning team, she said, is its perseverance.

“One thing that I love about the group is that they seem to have adopted what I think is an informal mantra for many of us in the department,” she said.

That would be “Work hard, play hard.”

“These students tend to be leaders, vocal and energetic department supporters,” she said, “and they produce some of the best research I’ve seen.”

And that, according to Fulk, is why the chapters were deemed such a good idea in the first place. It would foster the kind of drive and passion the industry needs.

“I don’t think it’s an accident that many of the students I encounter at our leadership summits experience early success in their careers,” he said, adding that many student chapter leaders go on to serve in the committee or on other committees within AAPG.

“Additionally, many of them, even after they leave school, take active leadership roles in their companies,” he added.

“I’d like to think the enrichment we are providing young leaders is leading to their success, but correlation does not indicate causation,” he said.

“The more likely cause is that the individuals who pursue our student chapter leadership opportunities are natural leaders, and we simply provide a vehicle to bring their ambitions to fruition,” he said.

“We like to think we accelerate their development in the petroleum industry.”

Pay It Forward

Johnson, too, is aware of the link.

“The AAPG Foundation and student chapter coordinators have been great about logistical and financial support,” she said. “It’s a really nice partnership.”

These student coordinators pay it forward, too.

“There is also a lot of important mentoring that goes on through the student chapter,” Johnson said.

For example:

“Our recruiting companies start showing up just one week into fall term,” she said. “Some of the master’s students literally just finished their bachelor degrees, know very little about the petroleum industry and are thinking about starting grad school, not necessarily finding a job. The returning students do a great job of helping everyone come up to speed on what to expect and why it’s important.”

And Fulk has noticed what’s been going on at Utah.

“The University of Utah is a great recent example of an entire university that has improved its standing within industry through success in the Imperial Barrel Award and by being active in student chapter programs,” he said.

Birgita Laksmi, from award-winning Pembangunan Nasional University, said its student chapter program consists of 48 students and operates as smoothly as “a clock that hangs on the wall.

“It is an integration of many small gears inside,” Laksmi said, “working with rhymes and harmony in order to fulfill its main purpose,” which is to work as “a family” to “achieve what’s never been achieved before.”

The Pembangunan chapter includes nine geophysical engineering students and 39 geological engineering students.

“We hope that our spirit may spark other student chapters to have more integration than ever before,” she continued, “that our main purpose of being an AAPG student chapter will be fulfilled, in order to spread the awareness of geoscience, advancing them worldwide.

“Being in this student chapter is not a burden,” she said. “It’s a responsibility, it’s a commitment. It’s a passion on its purest form.”

The Right Stuff

In Utah’s case, according to Johnson, student chapters helped take the school to the next level.

“Nothing is new at the school – it is and has always been an outstanding source of stratigraphers and a breeding ground for great fundamental mappers – but (the school) has increased its exposure to talent recruiters through participation in AAPG student programs.”

Fulk believes you can see the difference these programs are making.

“Student chapters can be successful for many reasons,” he said, “but the common theme I’ve seen among the great ones are enthusiasm and sustaining that enthusiasm.”

And you can just tell when a student is truly excited about the opportunity to learn about AAPG and the industry, he believes.

“They ask questions like, ‘How do I get exposure to someone with this expertise? What resources are currently available for a guest lecturer? Where are the best recruiting events? Why is the Bakken and Eagle Ford so successful from a reservoir characterization standpoint?’

“They just truly want to know more about the industry, and they want to be the best scientists they can be,” Fulk said. “Those are the students we want to continue to support. They don’t ask ‘How do I get money for pizza or beer?’”

Well, not until the work’s done, anyway.

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Auburn Cracks the Top SC Tier

David King
David King
One of the wonderful byproducts of the AAPG/AAPG Foundation Imperial Barrel Award is how it allows all schools – even those not normally regarded to be in the top echelon of the nation’s geology schools – a chance to shine.

Remember when Butler University reached the NCAA basketball finals a few years back?

Well, such was the case this year in the competition for the top AAPG student chapter: Auburn University won honorable mention this year, along with the University of Oklahoma.

Oklahoma is a name that’s been there before. But Auburn?

This would be the school’s first time in the student chapter spotlight.

Auburn University’s student chapter has been around since 1986, and according to AAPG member David T. King, professor of geology at the school, the program’s success is due to a unique combination of corporate sponsorship, university support and student quality.

“I would say that we average about 12-15 members in our whole chapter each year,” King said. “Since Chevron and other companies have taken over paying dues for students who want to join, the membership has been steady, and everyone who is qualified and wants to join does so.”

Additionally, the Auburn chapter works closely with the school’s other geology student group, Sigma Gamma Epsilon (SGE, the geology honor society), of which he has been its adviser since 1983 – but mostly, he said, the recognition belongs to the DNA of those in the program.

“We have a group of interested and enthusiastic students at Auburn,” he said. “It is the students who make the organizations work, not the adviser.”

One former student and member of the school’s IBA team, Jeff Keevan, said that while at Auburn he “had a great experience with IBA.”

He now works for Anadarko Petroleum.

“After coming to work for an oil and gas operator, I can now say that the experience is invaluable for anyone who wants to work in the energy industry,” he said. “It gives a good baseline understanding of what some oilfield geologists do on a daily basis, and I know that people here look highly upon students who have competed in IBA.”

As for this year’s award, King is pleased with the school’s success – but not especially surprised.

“Auburn is not in the traditional oil patch, but we have many highly motivated and well qualified students who want to join the oil business,” he said.

And perhaps that may be just the kind of encouragement a school not in the traditional oil industry mix can build on for its next IBA run.

“A student,” King said, “does not have to be at an oil patch university to dream of working in the oil business for such a career.”

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