by Victor Lopez
ODESSA--Whether it's producing oil and gas, wind, or nuclear power, school officials say this program is the starting point needed to put the Permian Basin at the head of the class.
"No matter what the type of energy, the Permian Basin is going to lead. But it's going to have difficulty leading if it doesn't provide engineers who are ready and equipped to work in this area of our country," UTPB President Dr. David Watts, said.
UTPB last offered an engineering program in the mid 1980's. Financial problems and the end of the oil boom forced it to close. With nuclear energy becoming the wave of the future, the Mechanical Engineering degree is good way to be a part of it.
According to Dr. Watts, "Mechanical Engineering is the foundation discipline for Nuclear Engineering. As we're all aware, a lot of nuclear industry development is occuring in eastern New Mexico and western Texas, near Andrews. We would like to play a critical part in supporting that development."
One local oil expert says this doesn't mean we're steering away from oil and gas, in fact, it's quite the opposite.
"Production of world oil is peaking right now and declining. Yet the demand in the future is going to continue to grow. The only way we can replace this, efficiently and economically, is with nuclear power. We must have nuclear power," Henry Petroleum CEO Jim Henry, said.
If students are hesitant about starting the program, Jack Ladd, the Dean of the School of Business at UTPB says, there are some pretty attractive hooks, like scholarships, "A full tution, books, room and board plus $1,300 per month stipend for the top tier and on down to ones for $1,000 per semester."
The Nuclear Regulatory Commision, who is providing the scholarships, is also throwing in a couple of jobs for a few lucky graduates. The program is open to students from all over the Permian Basin. Dr. Watts explains, "We already have a close working relationship with Odessa College, Midland College and Howard College, so that any students that take pre-engineering courses at those community colleges, will be able to transfer here."
Dean Ladd says this program will open doors for students they never knew existed. While Henry hopes it will keep them a little closer to home, "If they're home grown then they'll stay in this area. I think that's very important too."
UTPB currently has 60 pre-engineering students enrolled. The first Mechanical Engineering degree could be handed out as early as 2010.