Educators Convene at Natural Gas School for Day of Exploration

IU18 instructors and administrators visited an active Coterra Energy drilling pad and a production site during their educator/industry event coordinated by the Lackawanna College School of Petroleum & Natural Gas and Coterra Energy. Participants included (front, left) Sue Kuhl; (middle, from left) Alexandra Tompkins, Katie Lykon, Colette Check, Nicole Gaetano, Lisa Bieri, Ann Jordan, Kara Donovan, and Coterra’s Bill desRosiers; (back) Ty Yost and (far right) Alicia Kirkpatrick and Mary Joyce Stefanowicz.

The Lackawanna College School of Petroleum & Natural Gas (LC PNG) in Tunkhannock teamed up with Coterra Energy and Luzerne Intermediate Unit 18 to conduct what they plan to be a series of Educator/Industry Events, a day of putting ‘Teachers in the Classroom,’ so to speak. Instructors, guidance counselors, and school administrators were among 16 participants who toured active gas sites, heard from College alumni who have taken on important roles in the industry, and took part in hands-on activities that teach students what the industry is all about.

According to Ty Yost, assistant to the executive director of district services for IU18, the idea was presented to him when he visited the School for the first time during a legislative breakfast, and he found immediate interest among the educators to whom he extended invitations. “I don’t think everybody understands how much is available to them in this industry,” Yost stated. “A few months ago, I didn’t know.” IU18 includes Luzerne county schools and Tunkhannock in Wyoming County.

All of those in attendance received a continuing education credit, but they went back to their school districts with so much more, which was precisely what organizers of the event were hoping. “Most people don’t know what workers in the natural gas industry actually do,” Yost suggested. “I think this is a good place to start. It will allow our faculty members to have more meaningful conversations with the kids.”

I didn’t know what to expect, but I walked away fully impressed,” said Alicia Kirkpatrick, a guidance counselor at Wyalusing Valley Jr./Sr. High School. “I now have a factual understanding of the industry and the career field/opportunity for my students.”

The group toured a drilling rig and were introduced to specific elements like containment practices, drill bits, mud motors, geology and the “brains” of the control room, aka the “dog house.” At another site, they were shown a wellhead, a gas production unit, and a Williams meter house/pipeline interconnect.

The drilling site was the most amazing because it was immense, gritty, and loud,” said Sandy Tompkins, an English teacher in the Lackawanna Trail School District. Tompkins also took an interest in the amount of technology and mechanics involved in the industry. “I particularly enjoyed the clear way the industry was portrayed from ‘upstream’ to ‘midstream’ to ‘downstream’ and the way the gas flows through the area and into different parts of the pipeline.”

During lunch hour back at the School, graduates now working in the industry provided a variety of perspectives on how they approached their education and what it has done for them. Most went to LC PNG directly from high school, but others enrolled for a career change and the opportunity to make more money.

Ashley Knox, an employee for Chesapeake Energy, recommended that high school students take more math classes. “Physics is a scary word to a lot of kids, but physics is the real world,” she told the educators. She also encouraged anyone with an interest in the industry to visit LC PNG to see all of the equipment on which they would be working and learning.

Ben Whitaker, who was hired by Coterra (then Cabot) a week before he graduated from the School, came from a family of machine operators. When work slowed during an economic downturn, he realized that he was tired of working in a plant. “I could have gone directly to work,” he said of the possibility of starting in the gas industry as a roustabout, “but the School gave me a broader perspective and helped me move up more quickly.” Whitaker also credits his success to a willingness to take on jobs and shifts that more qualified people would not.

After lunch, the group was split into three and given opportunities to work their way around a gas pad via high-tech computer simulators, work with an electric circuit training unit, and try out the Mobile Oilfield Learning Unit (MOLU) that Coterra takes to local schools. Each participating school district in the June 22 event can schedule a free MOLU experience at their schools in appreciation for their involvement in the educator/industry event.

The industry is a huge part of our communities, and I am absolutely delighted that Lackawanna College and Coterra are working to make it a huge part of our schools,” Kirkpatrick remarked.

The educators were equally impressed to learn what a large part dual enrollment is playing in getting young people into family-sustaining employment more quickly. LC PNG program director Sue Gumble explained that many students are starting college-level classes while still in high school and that some arrive at the School with a year’s worth of credits already under their belts. Likewise, instructor Jeremy Yadlosky said that the add-on certifications offered to the students save them valuable extra training time when they get their first jobs.

I was impressed by their willingness to support our schools and students in any way possible,” Kirkpatrick stated. “Until that day, I had no idea of the magnitude of this opportunity. These jobs are right here in our backyard, and this program gave me the pathway to bring this to my students.”

Gumble and Yost are looking forward to expanding the ‘Teachers in the Classroom’ program by targeting specific groups like guidance counselors and trades and technologies teachers as soon as the fall.

Lackawanna College School of Petroleum & Natural Gas alumni who spoke at the event included (front, from left) Hayley Rupakus, Crystal Bingham, Sue Gumble, Ashley Knox, (back) Tom Evans, Ben Whitaker, Dustin Holl, and Bryan Pert.

LC PNG instructor Jeremy Yadlosky walks a group of IU18 members through the basics of electronics with a circuit simulator unit.

Coterra district drilling engineer Frank Estes (far left) explains the operations of a drilling rig to IU18 associates during the June 22 tour.

LC PNG program director Sue Gumble shows the school’s new pump lab to participants in the School’s first Educator/Industry Event.

Yadloski fields questions about the School’s heavy equipment lab.

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