Paola Carbonara - College of Engineering & Computer Science

Paola Carbonara

Externship program empowers future petroleum engineers

Like college students just about everywhere, students in The University of Tulsa’s McDougall School of Petroleum Engineering are thirsty for real-world work experiences so they can apply the knowledge they are learning in the classroom and bolster their employment prospects. For petroleum engineering (PE) undergraduate and graduate students at TU, their opportunity to accomplish both goals is enhanced by a robust externship program.

woman standing outdoors in a field beside drilling equipment
Kendall Sack at a well site

In 2016, the job market was particularly tough for petroleum engineering graduates. TU’s School of Petroleum Engineering decided to address this challenge head on by starting an externship program for students during the summer immediately after they graduated from the bachelor of science program.

“This initiative enabled recent graduates to work on meaningful projects while they looked for jobs,” explained Department Chairperson Mohan Kelkar. In summer 2019, externships were extended to all PE students. “We are very grateful to the 12 companies that provided projects and mentors to our students,” noted Kelkar, “and we deeply appreciate the generosity of the 15 individuals and firms that provided the $115,000 to pay the externs for their work.”

A robust experience

group of people standing outdoors wearing white and orange safety hats
Field trip to EOG gas field

While other colleges offer PE externships, several features set TU’s at the head of the pack. “In addition to being very well organized, our program welcomes both domestic and international students as well as undergraduates and graduate students,” noted Kelkar. “We also this year added field trips and paid each extern full-time wages. Those elements, coupled with the mentoring of TU faculty and industry professionals, ensured robust experiences.”

Kelkar and his colleague Mike Stafford co-direct the PE externships program. Each externship lasts 10 weeks, running from June 1 to Aug. 15. During the externship program’s first few years, as few as 7 and as many as 12 students took part. Last year, the number shot up to 27. For summer 2021, 28 students applied and the school was able to arrange externships for 26 eager participants: 1 freshman, 4 sophomores, 5 juniors, 9 seniors and 6 graduate students.

Students get paid directly by TU and they do many of the project on campus. Each company selects the projects and the students work closely with their industry mentors by meeting on a weekly basis.

Essential hands-on learning

During summer 2021, firms that provided externship opportunities included some of the leading names in the sector: DeGolyer and MacNaughton, Calyx Energy, Helmerich & Payne, GATE Energy, LPD Energy, Rebellion Energy, Cox Petroleum Consultants, Ever-Green Energy, Jura Energy, Treadstone Energy Partners, Oxy and Schlumberger.

Over the last several years, those experiences have encompassed a wide array of essential jobs within the PE industry, including:

  • Field roustabouts (i.e., working on and fixing equipment in the field)
  • Optimizing field performance
  • Programming to develop now reservoir-modeling methodologies
  • Designing methods for estimating fluid properties
  • Developing recommendations for water flooding
  • Improving fracturing methodologies
  • Designing solar panels for pumping water
  • Simulating horizontal wells
  • Optimizing artificial lifts for oil wells
  • Evaluating new oil fields for potential acquisition

This summer, Ryan McGregor, a junior in the PE program, gained hands-on experience operating multiphase research facilities as part of the Fluid Flow Projects at TU’s North Campus. “My direct work was with a facility in which I was examining the effect of water cut on pipeline corrosion,” McGregor explained. “I got to manually run pumps and separators, as well as gain a keen eye for catching pipeline valves to open or shut.” By the end of the 10 weeks, he said, “I had learned so many useful things as well as developed a better grasp of what life as a petroleum engineer could entail. I’m very thankful to have had this experience.”

group of people standing in an office with the word CIMAREX on a wall behind them
Field trip to Cimarex

The externs who worked with Cox Petroleum Consultants in summer 2021 were involved in two projects. The first was an evaluation of refracturing (refrac) performance of the Bakken Reservoir in North Dakota. This study developed evaluation techniques that can be applied to state-reported monthly production data to identify potential refrac candidates.

Paula Carbonara, a junior, was an extern on this project, which enabled her to develop skills in decline curve and production analysis. She also mined public data for fracture stimulation and completion data. “The knowledge and skills I acquired will be valuable for my future,” noted Carbonara. “These externships offer great opportunities for students willing to step out of their comfort zones. I am very thankful for this program.”

The second Cox initiative was a study of fracture interference in the Oklahoma Woodford formation to better understand the reservoir and completion parameters that contribute to the loss of productivity of parent wells. This project included reservoir characterization and simulation. The work completed in this project will be used to further study these complex interactions.

High praise for TU externs

Industry leaders who took on TU externs could not say enough good things about the students who took part. “The externs helped us to accelerate our project and we could see real benefits within a short time,” said Raj Banerjee, a reservoir engineering advisor at Schlumberger. “The students were knowledgeable, hardworking and eager to learn.”

David Craig, the director of stimulation design at OXY, noted, “it was a pleasure working with TU and extern Danzhu Zheng. Danzhu was very eager to learn and quickly studied the background material necessary to further the project interpretations.” And while the chief benefit of an externship is bound to be the expansion of a student’s knowledge and skills, it is not unusual to learn that PE externs also provided significant value to the companies that employed them. In the case of Zheng, for instance, Craig noted that “the result of the externship program was two actionable steps that OXY is currently evaluating for field implementation.”

We’ll be back

man wearing a white hardhat standing outdoors near heavy equipment
Leo Vazquez treating an oil well

As in most areas of human enterprise, the willingness of industry partners to return to the program and bring TU externs on board their projects is a sure sign of a vital, flourishing endeavor.

In this light, Michael Levinson, the controller at LPD Energy, cited the benefits of working with extern Leo Vazquez: “He did a great job and we feel he learned a lot working out in the oil field. We look forward to working with the TU externship program in the future.” Striking a similar note, Stuart Cox, president of Cox Petroleum Consultants, extolled the benefits of brining TU externs on board and hopes to repeat that success again: “It was a pleasure working with the TU students this summer, and I look forward to participating in the externship program again next year.”

Are you interested in advancing your knowledge, skills and career prospects in the field of petroleum engineering? If so, send an email to or for more information about externship opportunities.