Cockrell School of Engineering
The University of Texas at Austin

A little less than 30 years after Spindletop started gushing to ignite the Texas oil boom, a small, but significant petroleum engineering department was formed at UT Austin.

Since 1930, the department has been internationally recognized for excellence in oil and gas education, research, and innovation. With a community of award-winning faculty and staff as well as exceptional students, it has developed industry-defining technologies and launched generations of influential business leaders and entrepreneurs.

Looking to the future, a transformational gift of $25 million, donated to the department in November of 2017, will serve as the catalyst for ensuring the department retains its position as a leading, global petroleum engineering program for decades to come. The Hildebrand Foundation, led by The University of Texas System Regent and UT PGE alumnus Jeff Hildebrand (MSPE ’85) and his wife Mindy Hildebrand (BBA ‘86), saw an investment opportunity for training the next generation of oil and gas leaders who will power the world. In recognition of the gift, the university renamed the department the Hildebrand Department of Petroleum and Geosystems Engineering.

During the Hildebrand Department naming ceremony last fall Hildebrand gave a motivational speech, reflecting back on his influential time as a student in the department, his inspiration for supporting UT PGE and the wisdom he has garnered throughout his impressive career.

jeff and greg

(left to right) Jeff Hildebrand shaking hands with UT Austin president Greg Fenves

“We are investing in UT Austin because liberating matter is crucial to the future of our country, and no one has more potential to contribute to that effort than the students and faculty of this university,” Hildebrand said. “In business, capital magically flows to the best companies, assets, and people. UT Austin is simply the best at what it does, and our gift represents a doubling down on a proven winner.”

To ensure the funding provides optimal outcomes for faculty and students, the department created a five-year strategic plan. Kicking-off in the 2018-19 academic year, the plan will enable the Hildebrand Department to launch several new initiatives and build on critical existing programs.

“This gift will create a new sense of excitement about our program, enabling us to further capitalize on our strengths of oil and gas teaching and technology development and positioning us to continue attracting the top talent from around the world to tackle the energy challenges of the future,” said Hildebrand Department chair Jon Olson.

The Hildebrand Department has identified three key priorities for its five-year strategic plan: creating a global hub for oil and gas innovation, advancing oil and gas education, and shaping the energy narrative.

Creating a Global Hub for Oil and Gas Innovation

By recruiting top talent and hosting thought leaders and professionals from around the world, the Hildebrand Department will strengthen its position as the preeminent destination for energy research. The department will be a global hub for oil and gas innovation where breakthrough technologies are developed and new ideas are born. Two examples of initiatives that will fulfill this goal are Visiting Professors and a Grand Challenge Seed Grant.

The Visiting Professors, who will be faculty invited from world-renowned institutions to the Hildebrand Department, will heighten the technical discourse and transfer technology for research and education. Among other responsibilities, the Visiting Professor will give a seminar and hold office hours to maximize opportunities for interaction with UT Austin students and faculty.

Through the Hildebrand Grand Challenge Seed Grant the department will continue to facilitate robust research in unconventionals, enhanced oil recovery, data analytics, nanoparticle applications, and other emerging areas. Innovators selected for this program will receive funding to support high-risk investigations for which faculty often struggle to acquire funding through other traditional channels. These grants will not only provide crucial assistance to faculty but will also encourage a focus on unexplored areas with the potential for significant societal impact matching funding.

Advancing Oil and Gas Education

The Hildebrand Department strives to have a tangible and lasting impact on the evolution of the oil and gas industry. By inventing and implementing new and exciting approaches to teaching, hands-on learning, and experiential energy education, the department will graduate future leaders who are willing to take risks and change the world. Two new significant programs in this area are Alumni-in-Residence and Professors of Practice.

The Alumni-in-Residence initiative will bring in experienced UT PGE alumni to mentor and teach students. Alumni from all areas of industry (law, business, consulting, technology, etc.) will come to campus for three to four visits during one semester to mentor a cohort of 15 students about real-world industry problems and processes, particularly in legal and business aspects that receive less coverage in standard curriculum.

Hiring Professors of Practice to teach courses on practical topics not currently covered by faculty members, will create attractive opportunities for academic and industry veterans to share their expertise with the next generation of energy leaders.

Shaping the Energy Narrative

Amidst the noise and competing voices that can impact the public perception of the energy industry, the Hildebrand Department will illustrate the value of oil and gas and serve as a champion for societal improvement. By providing expert thought leadership and by actively engaging in the public discussion, the department can help shape the conversation and encourage future generations to pursue careers in energy. One initiative the department will be launching to support this goal is the Petroleum Science and Technology Institute for high school STEM teachers.

Led by the department’s faculty and staff, the program will bring high school teachers and administrators from around the country onto the UT Austin campus every summer to learn oil and gas fundamentals. The hope is that the knowledge gained on the Forty Acres will then be applied in the teachers’ classrooms – showcasing that the oil and gas industry is a challenging, technologically advanced, and rewarding path to a great career. More exposure in the top high schools of Texas is expected to aid in the department’s undergraduate student recruitment efforts.

“This plan will guarantee our students, faculty, and staff will always have the tools and resources to be the best, and that they will continue to elevate the standard of quality in the oil and gas industry,” Olson said.