Texas Community Colleges

WTC Petroleum Technology Program Producing Sought After Employees

Petroleum is big business. Especially in Texas where gas and/or oil is produced in over 80% of its counties. One key to every growing business is finding and maintaining qualified employees. Oil companies are no exception. As petroleum exploration and production rely heavily on expanding technology, there is an increasing demand for skilled workers.
Western Texas College in Snyder, Texas is preparing students to be the highly trained employees the petroleum industry needs. Dana Fahntrap, a West Texas native, leads the Petroleum Technology Program at WTC. A Texas Tech graduate working as a geologist for oil companies in Colorado, she returned to her home area to teach and prepare students for their own careers.
"Some companies in the oil industry approached the college several years ago about offering a petroleum technology program. In 2011 we started building the curriculum and in 2012 we had our first class. Our goal was to put together a course of instruction most beneficial to students and prospective employers."
The learning is both academic and hands on. In the classroom, WTC trains their students on a variety of pumps , fan coolers, heat exchangers, flow and control valves, and programmable controllers.
 The custom training station designed by Polaris Engineering allows students to work with actual equipment used in the field. Says Dana, "The Polaris unit allows us to train on 70 different applications and 70 different procedures. Students are able to learn how to handle different scenarios. Like how to remove and replace a control valve without shutting down the overall system. Computer technology has changed the industry.You may have a computer in Houston monitoring production taking place 500 miles away. Our students are learning these monitoring systems and how to run them."
Classroom learning is enhanced by actual on-site training. The college operates a 30-acre field station with equipment used in oil fields. Students learn how to operate and make repairs. "The fact that it's off site from the campus is a good thing. The stations are what they will see in the field after they graduate. Having a petroleum lab allows them to work on a tank battery, pipe and valve fittings and pump jacks. And our students help construct the field lab. Everything from pouring concrete pads to setting up underground lines for electricity, it's part of what they'll be doing when building a new drilling site in the field."
Fahntrap affirms that cooperation with companies like Chevron and Oxy Petroleum has been exciting for all involved. "We actively communicate with oil companies to build mutually beneficial relationships. What has helped us most is contacting the companies as to what we want to do and what we'd like to build. They invite us out to show us what they do and how they train. Chevron's training field in Midland is excellent. We are modeling our tank battery program after theirs. Chevron builds their training units from scratch so they can train for specifics that employees will encounter in the field. We are training our students in the same way."
"We want to show companies what we are building here for several reasons. Obviously we want our students to have excellent opportunities after they graduate. Oil companies need more highly trained employees as production expands and tenured employees retire."
WTC is confident their petroleum technology program will graduate the type of employee companies like Oxy and Chevron desire. Says Fahntrap, "Recently, Chevron came to campus to interview our 2014 graduates. 5 of the 9 received offers to start working for Chevron. The other 4 will likely have positions by graduation next spring. Students are also interviewing with Oxy for internship positions. Internships allow the company to get to know you and the student to get to know the company. If the internship is successful it often leads to a job after graduation. Sometimes companies will even help employees pay to finish their degrees."
About her experience teaching in the Petroleum Technology Program, Fahntrap says, "I think I'm learning more than the students. There's no reason this program will not keep growing. Our Polaris Training Unit is expandable. We will continue to add units to our current training. We'll be incorporating the latest technology developments like horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracking."
Given all the technology, students say one of the best lessons learned from the program comes from a simple assignment. "We want our students to develop critical thinking skills. The assignment we give for this has nothing to do with computers. We give them some 1" pipe, some angles and some unions. Then we tell them to make a stool to sit on. They come back with different designs that work." Students reflect that this simple exercise teaches them a lot about design, problem solving and how to work with others to develop solutions."