Alumni-in-Residence Program Launches

June 11, 2019

For several days throughout the Spring 2019 semester, petroleum engineering alumnus Scott Sheffield (B.S. 1975) returned to the Forty Acres to engage with students and faculty as part of the new Alumni-in-Residence Program in the Hildebrand Department of Petroleum and Geosystems Engineering.

Sheffield drew from his four decades in some of the most pivotal roles in the oil and gas industry for discussions about where the industry is headed, why petroleum engineering remains one of the nation’s most significant fields of study and how students can prepare now for the changes sure to come in the future.

“When the department called to invite me to participate, I didn’t take long at all to think about it,” Sheffield said. “I couldn’t be more excited to spend time with these students and help launch what I think will be a truly important program in the years to come.”

sheffield on stage

(l to r: Professor Mukul Sharma, Scott Sheffield, Bryan Sheffield)

In 2017, the Cockrell School of Engineering celebrated the official naming of the Hildebrand Department of Petroleum and Geosystems Engineering in recognition of a transformative gift from Jeffery and Melinda Hildebrand. Through their extraordinary support, the Hildebrand family has helped the department establish new initiatives that will strengthen its already top-ranked undergraduate and graduate programs, propel groundbreaking energy innovations and provide unique educational opportunities for students.

One of these initiatives — the Hildebrand Alumni-in-Residence Program — launched earlier this year, with Sheffield, CEO of Pioneer Natural Resources, serving as the inaugural alumnus-in-residence. Over the course of three two-day visits to the UT Austin campus throughout the semester, Sheffield engaged with students, faculty and alumni through seminars, course sessions and open office hours to share his advice and experiences from over 40 years in industry.

“I think it’s so important to give back to the university not just financially but also through mentorship — through making an effort to help the next generation of engineers,” Sheffield said. “The department has done a wonderful job of organizing opportunities for me to meet with a variety of students at different stages in their academic career. By sharing the lessons I’ve learned with these students, I can hopefully help them set themselves apart after graduation.”

To this day, Sheffield remembers the impact his own mentors had on his Texas Engineering experience. Thanks to meaningful interactions with professors like Folkert Brons, Ben Caudle and Ken Gray, Sheffield was able to identify reservoir engineering as his discipline of choice, laying the foundation for a prosperous career.

“On day one of my first job at Amoco Corporation, I was able to stress my interest in reservoir engineering and began learning how to run the business side of it right away,” Sheffield said. “My mentors helped me figure out what I was truly interested in over the course of my four years studying petroleum engineering, and that preparedness guided me throughout the early stages of my career.”

Sheffield hopes to provide the same head start for the 200 students participating in the Hildebrand Alumni-in-Residence program by augmenting their technical training with advice on navigating the energy industry and becoming an effective leader. Through the topics and case studies he's covered, Sheffield will address the economics of oil and gas, highlight some of the real-world challenges he has faced and discuss the importance of entering the industry with an entrepreneurial spirit.

“One of the things I am most looking forward to is hearing the perspective of someone who has been at the helm of a very successful company,” said Amy Rueve, a petroleum engineering senior who participated in the program. “Mr. Sheffield has led Pioneer through the ups and downs of an often-unpredictable industry. Learning about the leadership techniques and strategies he used to navigate those challenges is an experience you don’t always get in the classroom.”

Opportunities for students to engage extensively with successful alumni on campus are rare.

“For over a century, UT Austin has maintained a proud tradition of training future leaders in oil and gas, like Scott Sheffield, who go on to change the world,” said Jon Olson, chair of the Hildebrand Department of Petroleum and Geosystems Engineering. “By establishing more connections between these successful alumni and our current students through the Hildebrand Alumni-in-Residence Program, we will continue to launch well-rounded engineers with both the technical skills and the leadership traits they will need to make an immediate impact no matter where their career may take them.”

Sheffield’s first two-day visit included a roundtable discussion with graduate students, a faculty lunch and seminars and open office hours for undergraduates participating in the program. During his next two visits, he continued his roundtable and seminar series, engaged in one-on-one meetings with faculty, spoke to freshmen in the introductory PGE 301 course and met with local alumni. His final visit in April will culminate in a plenary lecture that will be open to students in the Cockrell School, the McCombs School of Business and the Jackson School of Geosciences.

Sheffield believes that the department will have no difficulty finding others who are equally passionate about giving back through the alumni-in-residence program, and he anticipates that the department’s new initiatives will play a role in shaping the future of energy.

“I’m very positive about this industry and its future,” Sheffield said. “We need oil – over 2 billion people will join our population over the next 30 years, and the demand for energy will continue to grow. It’s up to institutions like UT Austin and the Hildebrand Department to ensure the next generation of students are prepared to meet that demand and overcome whatever challenges they may face.”

Scott Sheffield’s Five Tips for Petroleum Engineering Students

1. Don’t Rush to Get Your MBA

I tell students that, in addition to getting their basic training in the various petroleum engineering disciplines, they should consider learning more about the business side as well. But that doesn’t mean you should rush out and get an MBA right after you get your undergraduate degree. For your first three years after graduation, you will be trained in some of the same disciplines you learned as an undergraduate, giving you opportunities to go out in the field and apply that training in the real world. My advice is to go to work, get some practice and let your employer help you determine the best career path for you. They may even offer to help you complete an MBA program.

2. Limit Your Risk in an Already Risky Business

When people ask me what the biggest risk in our business is, it’s an easy answer — commodity prices. Our industry frequently deals with fluctuating commodity prices, and oil has been very volatile over the last several years. We’re making trillions of dollars in investments around the world to supply the world’s energy demand, and we have no idea what the price of the commodity is going to be. We’re one of the few industries that has to deal with that, and it’s always going to be a risk. I’ve learned that you need to have a great balance sheet to make sure you never get overleveraged.

3. Experience the World

I was raised internationally, and that experience has had a remarkable impact on my career. My father worked for Atlantic Richfield Company (ARCO), and in 1965, when I was 13 years old, he moved our entire family to Tehran, Iran. I spent my formative years in Tehran and have a lot of wonderful memories of that time — including learning how to ski, which is still my favorite sport — and I graduated from high school there in 1970. When you immerse yourself in another place, you learn how to work with different people and cultures. That global experience is one of the reasons I took Pioneer international about 20 years ago. I saw opportunities outside of the U.S., and I was able to work with our global partners to make it happen. In today’s energy industry, it’s crucial to have a global perspective.

4. Educate Yourself on Environmental Issues

It goes without saying that addressing environmental concerns has been a significant challenge for our industry, particularly over the last 10 years. It is so important for today’s petroleum engineering students to learn as much as they can about environmental issues so that they can, in turn, educate the rest of the world about the importance of our industry. We need to acknowledge that the climate is changing and develop new methods for limiting impact on the environment, but future leaders will also have a responsibility to teach people about the many great things our industry is accomplishing around the world. By serving as role models who can lead this conversation, students today will inspire the following generation to continue pursuing careers in energy.

5. Recognize That Great Leaders Don’t Know Everything

The most important trait of a great leader is humility. No matter what, you should always remain humble and treat everyone in your organization — from top to bottom — with equal respect. Developing trust is also crucial, so you should be highly ethical and promote open communication amongst your employees. Most leaders talk when they should be listening – be willing to listen. And never stop learning. Always ask questions and absorb as much information as you can. I read seven newspapers every morning, just to get an idea of what is going on around the world. Great leaders recognize that they don’t know everything, and they never will.