Every month, there’s an Ohio Higher Education Oil and Gas conference call.
Martin Abraham, dean of the College of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, phones in to see how other universities, community colleges and trade schools are capitalizing on Ohio’s oil and gas industry.
From those discussions, Abraham has discerned that no four-year university offers a fracking-specific program.
So, to prepare students who seek jobs in the shale industry, the board of trustees approved a proposal for a new Natural Gas and Water Resources Institute.
Youngstown State University President Cynthia Anderson recommended the approval of the proposal at Tuesday’s Academic Quality and Student Success committee meeting.
“This provides us with the opportunity in our strategic plan to work toward economic development and to serve our students well by being on the cutting edge of new technology,” Anderson said.
In October, the board first discussed the institute, which will begin accepting students for a potential minor in the fall. An initial, formal presentation of the proposal was given in December’s meeting.
Abraham said the program could see graduates as early as next spring semester. Abraham was astounded by how fast the board has acted to implement the program.
“We don’t do things at universities fast,” Abraham said. “The reaction of the board is really unprecedented.”
The board is expected to formally approve the institute at its March 14 meeting.
No prerequisites will be required for the proposed minor, and students from all majors can register.
Abraham doesn’t envision the program evolving into a full major because he’s skeptical about the longevity of the natural gas industry.
“[It’s] to prepare them for a 40- to 50-year career,” Abraham said. “Natural gas is a really significant opportunity, but is it going to continue to be? I’m not 100 percent convinced.”
The program requests $24,425 per year over the next three years. The low cost is attributable to the pulling together of faculty and resources, utilizing courses already available for the minor’s electives.
The 20-credit-hour minor will require eight hours of newly created instruction that will “provide a fundamental understanding of Utica and Marcellus Shale natural gas and liquids exploration,” the proposal reads.
While there won’t be a huge demand for technical jobs, Abraham said graduates with the minor would have a leg up on their competition.
“Those companies want to hire the best chemist and geologists they can find. These students, I will expect, will be looked at very favorably,” Abraham said.
Geographically, academically and strategically, YSU stands alone.
“We’re in a unique position,” Abraham said. “We have strong capability in connectivity with the industry. There’s a clear indication, to me at least, the board fully understands the unique situation.”