Wilkes-Barre Area Career & Technology Center students recently received work boots from Coterra Energy and T-Shirts from the Lackawanna College School of Petroleum & Natural Gas, which has begun teaching an Introduction to Natural Gas class in Wilkes-Barre. Taking a break from their studies are (seated, from left) instructor Hayley Rupakus, students Joel Javier-Maria, Jacob Shinal, Bethany Aberent, Tavin Brooks, Luis McCoy, and Oliver Larabee, (standing) WBACTC director Anthony Guariglia, students Hayden Drass, Brian Ashton, Jesus Florian, Jayden Kitkpatrick, James Yurick, Joseph Skipkoski, J-Da Toribio, and Ayden Asay, instructor Sue Gumble, and WBACTC principal Frank Majikes.
Students in Luzerne County are getting an overdue introduction to the natural gas industry that has already provided family-sustaining jobs for so many northern PA residents. Lackawanna College, which operates the School of Petroleum and Natural Gas in Tunkhannock (LC PNG), recently expanded PNG 105 – An Introduction to Petroleum & Natural Gas – to the Wilkes-Barre Area Career & Technology Center (WBACTC) where more than a dozen students have taken advantage of the free college-level course.
Three classes are held on Wednesday afternoons, and students participate in a virtual homework/study session with LC PNG instructors on Tuesdays. Just a few weeks into the program, the students had covered and been quizzed on the basics of geology, pipelines and drilling as they pertain to the industry. In addition to steel-toed work boots and T-shirts, they received a set of flame-resistant clothing and textbooks courtesy of Coterra Energy, which also covered the cost of the dual enrollment program.
“This is curriculum that will enhance their studies in our 25 shops,” said Linda Yurkoski, career and workforce specialist at the Center. “By being exposed to careers in the Marcellus shale, they are making vital connections to welding, auto mechanics, diesel mechanics, and other trade education we offer here.”
“It raises the all-over level of what they can do.” WBACTC guidance counselor Val Chittalia concurred. “And it gives them an understanding of how their shop classes can work for them in Pennsylvania.”
Wilkes-Barre High School junior Bethany Aberant is already looking beyond her diesel mechanics classes at WBACTC and how she might apply them to a job in the gas fields. “With my knowledge of diesel, it definitely sparked my interest. In this industry, there are a lot of big engines they work on. It’s a good balance for my studies here.”
Aberent is one of three students in the PNG 105 class who got a head start by participating in the Energy & Oilfield Career Summer Experience coordinated by the Northern Tier Industry & Education Consortium. The five-day course held in August gave students from numerous school districts access to the labs at the Lackawanna College Tunkhannock Center and included trips to active gas pads and a compressor station. Similar outings are planned for those in the PNG 105 class, for which they are now literally better suited.
“This is an opportunity that none of them would ever have. It’s a game changer,” WBACTC administrative director Dr. Tony Guariglia remarked. “There’s opportunities for them all over the country, and the response from students has been very positive.”
“There are so many different career choices – even environmental sciences,” said Crestwood High School senior Joseph Skipkoski, who also took part in the summer program. “There’s a lot more technical stuff going into them than what I thought.”
According to Sue Gumble, LC PNG program director, bringing natural gas classes to Luzerne County is not just good for the students but also the industry. Companies involved in the many facets of natural gas production are dealing with employee shortages, especially young adults who are qualified upon graduation from the full two-year course to move directly into the workforce. Coterra is one of many companies to support the school with both financial and material donations.
“The dual enrollment program through Lackawanna College is special to us because we are filling a pipeline of skilled individuals,” said Bill desRosiers, government affairs director for Coterra. “The industry has seen that students with a high school CTC background and a School of PNG degree have a strong work ethic and really do succeed in this industry.”
“We were thrilled to work with them,” Guariglia said of the partnership with Lackawanna College. “The kids can get an internship now through the program.”
“Taking a college-level course has been good for them,” Yurkoski added. “They are already more confident and outgoing. A lot of these kids like the thought of working independently, but they get along together and can also work as a team.”
Gumble was concerned that she might have overwhelmed the students the first week and expected that some might not return for a second class. “But, when I came back, not only were all of them still here, three more had enrolled,” she related.
Receiving the uniform pieces also brings the students a sense of pride, WBACTC administrators agree. “They are part of a group now, and it shows in their faces,” Guariglia stated.
“I’m excited to see them walking around in their uniforms,” said Chittalia. “It will make the other kids ask what they are doing.”
Pittston Area junior Ayden Asay already considered his diesel mechanics classes to be a viable path to a good salary and considers the PNG 105 course an added benefit. “It looks good on your resume, and you’re getting college credits,” said Asay. He suggested that the upcoming field trips to active gas sights will be eye opening for his fellow students. Asay found the size of the rigs, the thundering percussion of the drilling equipment, and the attention to detail to be intriguing. “I liked to watch the roughnecks do their thing, and there’s a lot of diesel engineering at the gas pads on trucks and rigs.”
“These kids are showing an interest in an exciting industry,” desRosiers related. “We are proud to make an investment in these students. Whether they come to work for Coterra or anyone else, the knowledge they acquire through the School of PNG will help them go far.”
With boxes of new work boots at their feet, Wilkes-Barre Area Career & Technology Center students listen to directions from Lackawanna College School of Petroleum & Natural Gas instructor Sue Gumble (left) as she and instructor Hayley Rupakus (back) prepare to administer a test.