Industry supports new School of Energy

James Fenton
Amanda Prugh talks about various projects at San Juan College's School of Energy in Farmington on Sept. 10.

FARMINGTON — According to Randy Pacheco, dean of the new School of Energy at San Juan College, combining academics and industry is at the core of the newly completed school’s mission.

“You’re looking for a qualified workforce and this is the future you’re looking for — bright, talented people that have a dedication ... and are hungry for knowledge,” Pacheco said. “It illustrates for me, that the vision behind the School of Energy, (is that) we can lead in training for the industry in the country. That dream is here today.”

Part of that dream is being made possible by oil and gas companies that donated part of the $15 million needed to complete the new school’s facility.

Tulsa, Okla.-based Williams Companies, Inc., which has a local office in Bloomfield, has sponsored scholarships for as many as four or five students a year for the last four years, according to Tom Droege, a Williams spokesman.

WPX Energy Inc., also based in Tulsa, Okla., but with offices in Aztec, provided $10,000 in scholarship dollars for two students at the school. Besides offering the scholarship that covers tuition for two years at the school plus expenses, WPX hosts students as interns during the summer months. That offers actual oilfield experience that tests the mettle and dedication of the students and gives the company the added benefit of gauging their talent in a search for prospective employees.

WPX Energy spokeswoman Susan Alvillar said that the investment in students committed to working in the oil field is also an investment in the larger community.

“WPX initiated the scholarships because we want to demonstrate that we care about the residents in the area where we are working,” Alvillar said. “Providing opportunities to students in our operating areas, in the form of paying for their education and expenses, along with the summer internship program, is an all around win for us. It connects us with the community while creating a more ready-made worker for WPX. Our partnership with San Juan College School of Energy made the scholarship program a huge success so far. We are very proud to be able to open more possibilities for our native students.”

WPX is currently making budgeting plans for 2016, and renewing the scholarship support is the company’s top priority, Alvillar said.

Pacheco said graduates can find jobs all over the world — in Alaska, Louisiana and offshore West Africa, for example.

Amanda Prugh listens as her lab partner, Johnny Brady, talks about their class project on Sept. 10 at San Juan College's School of Energy in Farmington.

Tony Otero is the coordinator for the Industrial Process Operator and Industrial Maintenance Mechanic programs at the School of Energy.

Otero said students range in age from 18 to their 50s, and many of them have returned to school to switch careers.

“We set up the programs to relate to a job in that we run it like a job, just like going to work. You have to wear safety gear, you have to take a turn being a team leader,” Otero said. “We run it like you were going to work, because we want to keep that work ethic going. If you can’t make it to class, you have to call us just like you would for any job.”

Otero said that the classes he teaches and the 10 instructors he oversees deliver instruction in classrooms and online, but mostly with hands-on, team-based training in oversized laboratory bays in the new school’s 65,000-square-foot building on San Juan college’s main campus.

“One of the things we do, once they learn the basic fundamentals, we let students be on their own, but we’re back with them, coaching, facilitating,” Otero said. “We also see that they train each other, that they utilize each other, depend (on each other) and work together as a team. Every semester, we change that so they (experience) different dynamics. Sometimes you work with somebody you like and sometimes you don’t. It’s a profession. Whether it’s with somebody you like or don’t, you still have to do the job.”

Otero said the college tasks students to work through real-world, work-based projects that will help guarantee a strong workforce.

“Students are here because they want to be here, they want to make a career change, to be trained and find new work,” Otero said. “Here, they get everything just like the real thing.”

From left, San Juan College School of Energy students Amanda Prugh, Jordan Domingo and their professor, Tony Otero, talk during an interview Sept. 10 at San Juan College's School of Energy in Farmington.

One of those students is Jordan Domingez.

Domingez, 29, grew up in Lybrook, an industry operating site. He came to the college nearly two years ago and interned with WPX, working alongside the company’s crews in Counselor, Ignacio, Colo., and other locations to get first-hand experience.

Dominguez had worked as a roustabout before but said he has found a new direction and hands-on training he enjoys at the School of Energy’s new labs in the Industrial Maintenance Mechanic program.

“It’s a lot more interactive learning,” Domingez said. “It’s an amazing facility. They provide all the instrumentation that we’re working on, all the piping. We get to see how everything works rather than just seeing it on a piece of paper. We get to see how it’s all put together. Here, we get to actually go out and see equipment (as part of our) hands-on work, get readings, get processes flowing and everything working.”

Domingez said he has picked up unexpected interpersonal skills through his training at the college, which he believes will give him a competitive edge.

“Communication. I think it’s going to transfer well in a job I get after this,” he said. “Just the communication that we have to have with each other to keep the job going. And having confidence, to know what you’re doing, that you’ve done the work already, when you get to a job.”

Amanda Prugh, 25, is about to complete a two-year applied sciences program in Instrumentation and Controls Technology, currently an in-demand career path that can lead to automation technician jobs in the oil field and refineries or work as a controls technician at the local power plants — Four Corners Power Plant and San Juan Generating Station.

“People think I’m involved in music when I tell them what I’m studying here,” Prugh said, laughing over the confusion lay people have over the term “instrumentation.” “I have to say, ‘No, I don’t play the piano.”

San Juan College students Amanda Prugh and Jordan Domingo talk about their classes Sept. 10 at San Juan College's School of Energy in Farmington.

Prugh got a federal grant this year that allowed her to quit her account manager job and commit to pursuing a career in the energy industry.

“I just don’t like sitting behind a desk all day. It’s boring,” she said. “Here, I’m excited to be here every day.”

Prugh said that advances in technology are what brought her to the school.

“(Technology and automation) is not just the oil and gas field,” Prugh said. “That’s why I chose automation (program). It’s just the way of life now.”

Pacheco said the companies that offer internships and scholarships for students are actively a part of the students’ training, consistent with their partnership with the school.

“Our relationship with companies like WPX ... placing our students, I think for San Juan College leads us into the future,” Pacheco said. “Amanda was here all summer, helping move in all the instrumentation and controls (into the lab) and Jordan’s getting great reviews for his internship and hard work. They are students who are driven and committed. It’s difficult to convince somebody to buy something when they’re already convinced to buy it.”

James Fenton is the business editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4621.

Tony Otero, San Juan College School of Energy program coordinator and process technology professor, talks with student Jordan Domingo during an interview Sept. 10 at San Juan College's School of Energy in Farmington.