Energy Schools Are Getting Down to Business


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Oil and Gas Investor

Oil and Gas Investor

For more on Oil and Gas Investor’s Executive Education Special Report check out the Graduate Energy Programs Report featured in the March 2022 issue.

As the energy sector transitions, so does the educational pipeline between energy business schools and the oil and gas industry.

While operators and service providers work on implementing decarbonization and renewable strategies within their companies, business schools across the country are working to prepare future engineers and business leaders for the evolving landscape of the energy sector. For the time being, this primarily consists of ensuring that they have the flexibility to embrace traditional forms of energy as well as ESG-friendly practices.

“[Schools] need to convey to the students that solutions are going to be hybrid,” Stephen Arbogast, professor of the practice of finance and director of the Kenan-Flagler Energy Center at University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill, told Hart Energy in an August 2021 interview.

According to Sarah Derdowski, executive director of global energy management at University of Colorado Denver (CU Denver), the schools that update their curriculum to reflect the evolving landscape of the energy industry are the ones that will attract more students.

Oil and Gas Investor March 2022 Executive Education - Stephen Arbogast University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill headshot

Oil and Gas Investor March 2022 Executive Education – Stephen Arbogast University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill headshot

“[Schools] need to convey to the students that solutions are going to be hybrid.” — Stephen Arbogast, professor and director, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

“Initially, we had predominantly 75% oil and gas students who started in the program, and then that waned as the program matured and in general,” Derdowski said. “I think that speaks to people’s [changing mindsets]. We’ve seen an increase in renewables or larger-scale utility projects. Things like that come online, our student bases shifted and changed that way as well.”

Providing the means

UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Energy Center, founded in 1919 and renamed in 1991, uniquely focuses on making money in commodity businesses such as the energy industry versus other MBA programs that have shifted their sights on the technical side.

“We teach the students, whether you are going to go into renewables, whether you are going to go into utilities, whether you’re going to go into oil and gas, you better be prepared to compete on the basis of cost leadership and unit cost leadership,” Arbogast said.

At CU Denver, the energy curriculum is reviewed annually to keep the information as upto-date as possible. Additionally, alumni can come back for free to refresh their knowledge and learn about the newest advances in energy to remain competitive in the job market.

“We believe in lifelong learning,” Derdowski said. “Anyone who took any one of my graduate classes and graduated can come back and sit in on any class because energy is constantly changing. We want to make sure they get the value out of both their community and the curriculum that we offer.”

“Anyone who took a class in 2009 and they came back and take a class today, it’s not the same class,” she continued. “They get to sit in in that class for free because that’s how much we believe in what we offer in our degree. That’s a big piece of what we do to try to stay current and to talk to our alumni.”

In December, the Harold Hamm Foundation and Continental Resources Inc. announced the creation of the Hamm Institute for American Energy at Oklahoma State University, pledging a combined total of $50 million. With the goal of educating a new wave of energy leaders, the institute will touch on each aspect of the energy industry, setting aside money for speakers to ensure the best education possible.

“What we’re after here today is creating the basis for reliable, affordable energy,” Harold Hamm, founder and chairman of Continental Resources, told Oil and Gas Investor. “This is nonpartisan. This is not about politics. This is about energy solutions and about what we can do in the future.”

Oil and Gas Investor March 2022 Executive Education - CU Denver Business School Energy School

(Source: CU Denver Business School)

Oil and Gas Investor March 2022 Executive Education - University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill McColl Buidling Energy School

(Source: University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill)

The right skills

Workforce candidates will need to be well-based in the “commercialization of new technology,” meaning how to make money using new technology.

“In the oil and gas industry, technology adoption has been very incremental, but now we’re talking about going outside our comfort zone and building new businesses in places where we haven’t operated,” Arbogast said. “How are you actually going to make a business that makes money out of carbon capture, for example?”

Since the energy transition has brought forth an onslaught of new technology, both in creating renewable energy and cleaning up existing pollutants in the atmosphere, this skill set is a vital one to have. And it doesn’t look like the technological advances will be slowing down anytime soon.

“Technology’s changed. Business models have changed. The way you get capital, all of that has changed,” Derdowski said. “Data analytics is going to just be your bread and butter for folks to be able to manage and handle, whether you’re talking about being able to manage AI [artificial intelligence] systems or what have you.”

However, if students aren’t open-minded and willing to embrace different forms of energy, they aren’t going to get far. According to Derdowski, students who see themselves as “energy professionals” as opposed to oil and gas people or renewables people will be able to build a bigger network and have an easier time finding work.

Oil and Gas Investor March 2022 Executive Education - Sarah Derdowski University of Colorado Denver headshot

Oil and Gas Investor March 2022 Executive Education – Sarah Derdowski University of Colorado Denver headshot

“We believe in lifelong learning.” — Sarah Derdowski, executive director, University of Colorado Denver

“Whether they’re fresh out of school or going to school, they expand their mind a little bit and not just take such very specific classes,” she added. “Whether they’re taking some economics and geopolitical classes, ensure they understand where their industry or the piece that they are fit, that’s really important. Especially if they want to move into management or upward leadership at some point.”

Purposeful careers

Due to the negative press surrounding the oil and gas industry, Arbogast said that most MBA candidates going in have a renewables-first mindset, but the school helps them to see that compromises need to be made within the two industries.

“Although they come through the door deeply devoted to renewables, they’re educable,” he said. “We show them these other issues, and we show them the reasons why oil and gas has been so fundamental. And we talk to them about ways in which the oil and gas industry is going to be extremely important to solving the energy transition.”

Derdowski has also seen CU Denver’s classroom makeup change as well, shifting as the solid oil and gas-based student majority deteriorated over the years. However, as she believes that not just one industry can solve emissions problems, she encourages differing thoughts to all have a space in the energy transition conversation.

“Our dialogue around energy has changed,” she said. “We’ve always had great debates in class, which is what we want. We want diversity of thought. We want to make people feel comfortable to ask those questions within class with their classmates, to call them when they disagree.”

“I’ve seen it from our students, I know my faculty have as well, is that they want to have these purposeful careers,” Derdowski continued. “When they think of that, they want to work for an energy company that they feel like is making a positive impact. That doesn’t mean it’s not oil and gas. It just means they could be part of an oil and gas company that is more entrenched in the community.”


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