Kid of All Ages Learn STEM is Fun at Energy Day

By: Gene Lockard

On a pleasant fall afternoon, Sam Houston Park in downtown Houston, Texas became ground zero for an estimated crowd of 25,000 future rig hands, petroleum engineers, technology experts and scientists as Consumer Energy Alliance (CEA) hosted its annual Energy Day festival, a free, family-friendly event held annually in the city that touts itself as the Energy Capital of the World.

Attendees at this year’s event enjoyed a wide variety of scientific demonstrations ranging from creating static electricity to demonstrating how the industry combines hydraulic fracturing with horizontal drilling to extract fossil fuels from shale formations far below the surface of the earth. The event also introduced students and young children to a wide variety of technology-driven pursuits, such as hybrid vehicles like those made by the Red Devils, a team of University of Houston students who will be competing against an international field next year, and the school’s Team Crude, which is developing synthetic lubricants.

The energy industry, which represented the lion’s share of the more than 100 sponsors, did its part to make sure that a good time was had by all. There were more than 70 booths that allowed the attendees to participate in a wide variety of scientific experiments designed to demonstrate that science could be great fun, while also being invaluable to our everyday lives.

Along with the variety of scientific demonstrations, some of the energy companies had exhibits that included a collection of rocks and minerals that proved popular with future geologists.

Along with the various science-based demonstrations for attendees, the Lone Star College System passed out information on new offerings for the oil and gas drilling industry. One of the new courses is designed to help oil and gas workers who haven’t earned significant incomes in the past.

The ultimate goal of the event’s sponsors, however, is not merely to entertain or even educate the attendees, but rather to whet a passion for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) in the children and students who attend. In fact, while the overall vibe of Energy Day is similar to that of a carnival or town fair, there is a lot riding on the ultimate success of such events, particularly for the oil and gas industry.

It is no secret that a significant percentage of industry workers are at or are nearing their retirement. When these workers leave the industry, they will take with them much of the industry’s collective experience and knowledge. Therefore, it is critical for the industry to get new workers into the industry as soon as possible, to mentor with those experienced workers who are approaching retirement, and to develop a pipeline of new workers for the coming years.

This need for new oil and gas workers is made more critical by the growth in the industry in recent years amid the boom in hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling in unconventional formations. As the industry expands, the need for new workers becomes greater than ever.

The list of sponsors was inclusive, with groups representing academia, environmental and technology groups, utility companies, local sports teams, branches of the Armed Forces, the media and others.

The Women’s Energy Network, an international organization of professional women who work in a wide variety of areas within the energy industry, noted that without greater diversity in the workplace, those in the industry will be hard-pressed to find a sufficient number of new workers to fill all the openings created by growth, and by the expected attrition that is already underway.

There was a lot to see, hear and do at Energy Day, and it is difficult to imagine anyone attending who did not enjoy it. However, if some of the young children and students left with a little less apprehension about science or math or technology, and instead became a little more open to exploring a possible career in the energy sector, the goals of CEA and the sponsors will have been realized.

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