UH subsea society seeks to rise to the top

HOUSTON — Two men from a University of Houston engineering program are not content to ride the wave of the school’s new subsea program — they are working hard to put it on the map as a dynamic new offering to the energy industry.

Michael Ogiefo, who became one of the program’s first master’s degree recipients in December, and Nebolisa Egbunike, a senior, have formed what they say is the country’s first Subsea Engineering Society.

It’s an effort to generate broader recognition of subsea engineering as a separate discipline, akin to civil engineering or aeronautical engineering.

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The group hopes to join the ranks of long-established professional associations, including the American Society of Civil Engineers, founded in 1852, and the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, which traces its beginnings to the 1930s.

“I felt like if we had the society, it would increase the level of awareness of subsea,” Ogiefo said. “As a student trying to get a master’s degree in subsea, I was hoping that subsea could be recognized more in the industry as a dedicated degree and to make people more aware of the fact that the University of Houston has a very good subsea engineering program.”

The subsea association has the support of the Society for Underwater Technologies, an international multidisciplinary organization, and Egbunike said the two organizations plan to work together.

Networking

The chief aim of the Subsea Engineering Society is to provide additional networking and educational opportunities for its members.

The society is organizing visits to companies and hopes to help students make professional contacts by participating in technical conferences.

Egbunike hopes to expand to other campuses and says that he has fielded calls and emails from around the world, as students, individual professionals and companies look for ways to reach out to others in the field.

“We can definitely see that we have something the industry wants, and that the younger students and younger professionals are interested in,” Egbunike said, noting that more than 150 students came to the society’s first meeting, hosted by BP. It now has 80-plus members, who pay a $20 annual membership.

Egbunike and Ogiefo also hope to offer subsea software workshops to give students a chance to experiment with the tools used by major companies to analyze and test subsea equipment. And they want to establish a booth next year for the society at the industry’s mother ship of networking opportunities, Houston’s annual Offshore Technology Conference.

The society is gearing up alongside the University of Houston’s program – among only five worldwide, according to the university, and the only one in the United States teaching subsea engineering as a separate discipline leading to bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Texas A&M has outlined plans for a future program.

Subsea engineers oversee design and operation of underwater oil and gas exploration and production equipment and processes.

Going farther

UH developed its coursework based on the experiences of operators, services companies and technology contractors over the past decade as the quest for new oil and gas moved farther into the ocean’s chilly depths.

The university began offering the master’s program in response to industry leaders who said they were looking for skilled engineers to design technology and projects that can handle the extreme conditions of the deep.

“They kept saying subsea, subsea, subsea,” program director Matthew Franchek said.

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Ogiefo and Egbunike said they were drawn to UH by the chance to specialize in a field they believe will open many doors in the oil and gas sector. They also consider it a historic chance to help build the new field.

The master’s degree program began with 12 students and now has more than 180 enrolled in classes covering such topics as flow assurance, design of riser pipes that carry oil and gas from the wellhead to the surface, and blowout preventers designed as a last protection against loss of well control.

‘We’re your program’

The program is designed for prospective and experienced subsea engineers.

“If you’re an existing engineer and you want to change career paths, we’re your program,” Franchek said. “If you’re an engineer working in oil and gas and you want to work subsea, we’re your program. If you are a graduating engineer and you want to work in an exciting area, we’re your program.”

The classes are designed to be a mix of theory and practical problem-solving, said Phaneendra Kondapi, an engineering manager at FMC Technologies who teaches one of the core courses.

Ogiefo, who has accepted a flow assurance engineering position with Chevron Corp., said the program was invaluable for him in internships and in his job search.

“I could see the things I learned in class gave me a much bigger upper hand in comparison to a lot of my peers,” Ogiefo said.


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