Congressman Fred Keller (top photo, third from left) asks questions about the School of Petroleum & Natural Gas at the new Lackawanna College Tunkhannock Center on May 5. Participants in the tour included (from left) School of PNG director Sue Gumble, Sen. Lisa Baker, Wyoming County commissioners Rick Wilbur and Ernie King, Lackawanna College president Jill Murray, commissioner Tom Henry, Tunkhannock Center director Kayla Guilford, and (not pictured) Wyoming County Chamber of Commerce president Gina Suydam. Above, Sue Gumble (right) shows off the spacious classrooms at the new Tunkhannock Center to (from left) commissioners Ernie King and Tom Henry, Rep. Keller, and Sen. Baker.
The new Lackawanna College Tunkhannock Center will offer a variety of courses when it opens in the fall of 2021. Enroll is now open for degree programs for Business, Human Services, Cyber Security and Criminal Justice, to name a few. But the move to Tunkhannock of the college’s School of Petroleum & Natural Gas (PNG) has local, state and federal lawmakers especially excited.
On May 5, U.S. congressman Fred Keller, state senator Lisa Baker and the Wyoming County commissioners visited and toured the Tunkhannock Center in the Tioga West Plaza to see the space dedicated to natural gas-related studies and to discuss the school’s potential for local residents and the industry. The commissioners are also thrilled to have a Lackawanna College campus established in a former grocery store building that has been vacant for most of a decade.
“It’s great to see the building finally in use,” said Wyoming County Chamber of Commerce president Gina Suydam. “And it’s wonderful for our students to be able to attend college locally.”
Working during the height of the coronavirus pandemic, planners of the Tunkhannock Center had the opportunity to design and construct facilities that are spacious and versatile, allowing for safe distancing between students and virtual instruction as necessary. Large classrooms have cameras and wall-mounted TV screens to allow for two-way communication between those on site and those not physically present.
Center director Kayla Guilford told Rep. Keller that up to 125 students can be accommodated. “The students can start almost any program,” Guilford said of the college’s vast curriculum. “They just may have to finish in Scranton.” As interest in the Tunkhannock Center grows, Lackawanna College president Jill Murray noted, offerings will increase. There is also room for expansion.
Those enrolling in the School of PNG will be able to complete their entire course of study in Tunkhannock, finish a paid internship, earn an associate degree and job-specific certifications, and move directly into the workforce with a median starting salary of $51,130. It is not uncommon, said LC vice president for college advancement Brian Costanza, to hear from graduates who are earning $100,000 or more within two years of completing their coursework.
Amenities for PNG students at the new school include a drilling and production room; simulator lab; a massive workspace to learn about compressors, engine mechanics and other heavy equipment; electronics/pneumatics lab; and shared use of a large computer lab. A conference room was designed with a large picture window looking in on the heavy equipment lab to allow guests a view of the students in action without a need to interrupt their studies.
While classes at Lackawanna College in Scranton were conducted virtually last year, the School of PNG continued onsite learning at New Milford with special precautions like daily temperature screenings. “Because the program is so hands-on, you can’t really teach it without being there,” said School of PNG director Sue Gumble, who credited the dedication of staff and students for maintaining safety protocol. “We were fortunate to be able to keep things going.”
Twenty-four students graduated from the school on May 6, and classes will resume at the Tunkhannock Center in August.
In response to an inquiry by Sen. Baker about financial assistance, Murray assured her that scholarships and grants are currently abundant. “I can’t imagine that, if there were someone in need, that we couldn’t help them this year,” she remarked.
Costanza estimates that nearly 90 percent of the PNG students receive some sort of assistance, much of it supplied by the companies that hope to hire them, like Southwestern Energy, Williams, DTE Energy and Cabot. Many of those companies have also asked the college if they can occasionally use a laydown yard at the opposite end of the parking lot to exhibit heavy machinery and drilling apparatus for the public.
The number of companies outside the area that are partnering with the school is also on the increase, Gumble related, because of the varied skill sets with which they are graduating. Students can refine their certifications as they develop specific interests. In addition to drilling operations, demand is high for those certified as technicians in maintenance, compression and corrosion.
For Rep. Keller, the stop at the Lackawanna College Tunkhannock Center was the second of three on May 5 that focused on natural gas. “This is very impressive,” he said of the School of PNG. “The 12th Congressional District is one of the leading producers of natural gas in the country. We’re counting on a lot of students being able to get the proper training that is needed to get into this challenging field. Wyoming County is one of the centers of the gas industry, which is why this is an ideal location.”
A public ribbon-cutting ceremony at the Tunkhannock Center is planned prior to the start of school in August. To learn more about the Lackawanna College School of Petroleum & Natural Gas, interested readers may log on to https://www.lackawanna.edu/academics/school-of-petroleum-and-natural-gas/.
Rep. Keller (right) and Sen. Baker (center) take in the scope of the heavy equipment lab with Sue Gumble.