UND Petroleum Engineering program growing rapidly

By Ann Bailey | October 28, 2015

Though action in the Bakken oil patch has slowed in recent months, the petroleum engineering department at the University of North Dakota is humming with activity.

This fall, 330 students enrolled in the petroleum engineering program, said Vamegh Rasouli, the University's new department chair. He expects that number to grow to 350.

“This has been rapid growth,” said Rasouli who has chaired the department since March 2015. Rasouli came to UND from Curtin University in Western Australia where he had worked for nine years, three of them as petroleum engineering department chair. He helped to build the Australian university’s department and was hired to do the same at UND, Rasouli said. Rasouli, a Continental Resources distinguished professor, has in the past established advanced labs in geo-mechanics and drilling and is an engineer in NExT or Network of Excellence in Training program, teaching industry short courses across the world.

The UND Petroleum Engineering department is developing a program that will prepare students for hands-on, practical work that they can use in the oil industry, Rasouli said. The department’s goal is to develop workers for the petroleum industry in North Dakota, followed by the industry in the United States, and finally, the world. To achieve that goal, the department assigns students projects that involve problem solving in the Bakken, Rasouli said.

Since he arrived at UND this past spring, Rasouli has extensively revamped the curriculum of the undergraduate program in his department, so it is petroleum engineering, not geology focused, he said.

“We introduced some more course for petroleum engineering,” Rasouli said.

Besides undergraduate and graduate degrees in petroleum engineering, UND students also can earn certificates in petroleum engineering by taking online courses.

The university’s petroleum engineering department gets direction for what courses it should offer its students and which skills they should develop from its advisory board. The board, made up of about 15 oil industry representatives in North Dakota, meets with the UND petroleum engineering department throughout the year.

“We give them a detailed report on what we are doing, what we plan to do,” Rasouli said. The board, in turn, offers the department suggestions.

“This is all with the idea to produce the graduates they want,” he said.  “I think the opportunity for petroleum engineering is very bright. I think the future for North Dakota is very bright.”