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Energy Education, Experience, Entrepreneurship Meet at the Mewbourne College of Earth and Energy

Energy Education, Experience, Entrepreneurship Meet at the Mewbourne College of Earth and Energy

By Sarah Warren and Kierstin Nash

Petroleum engineering alumnus Ronnie K. Irani has enjoyed a successful career in the energy industry. He attributes his achievements to the concepts he learned as a petroleum engineering student at the University of Oklahoma and to the entrepreneurial skills he has developed throughout decades in the industry.


“Being an entrepreneur, in my mind, is not necessarily starting your own company. It’s how you approach a project or a problem,” he said.

Ronnie K. Irani

Looking to invest in future OU energy professionals, Irani decided to tackle a question that has intrigued and bothered him over the years: What if we could speed up the entrepreneurial skills typically learned on the job and imbed them into energy-related curriculums in college?


He knew that with the right experience and mentorship, OU’s new energy-focused graduates could leave the university steps ahead in their careers.


That vision is now a reality.


Students at OU’s Mewbourne College of Earth and Energy are gaining real-world experience in the energy industry at the Ronnie K. Irani Center for Energy Solutions.


The center officially kicked off in November 2018 and operates much like an energy business on OU’s campus by giving students valuable, practical experience throughout the academic year that is traditionally only gained during summer internships.


Working directly with a company, and with oversight from faculty members, Irani Center for Energy Solutions student teams are tackling the types of projects petroleum engineers work on every day by:

  • evaluating oil and gas resource plays
  • preparing type-curve and reserve reports
  • evaluating undeveloped zones for drilling and recompletion opportunities
  • assessing re-stimulation, artificial lift and compression configurations for optimizing production and
  • evaluating petrophysical and geological characteristics of resource plays.


“The center will play an important role in producing some of the very best, energy-savvy, new graduates in the world, graduates who – because of this new program – may have multiple years of practical experience by the time they enter the workforce,” Irani said.


Future plans include exploring strategies to grow the program to include students from the Price College of Business, Gallogly College of Engineering and the College of Law. This will provide experience for more OU students and expand the Irani Center for Energy Solutions into a multi-disciplinary environment that mirrors of the makeup of energy companies where experts from engineering, geology, business and law work together to create thriving businesses.


Joining Irani and RKI Energy Resources in investing in this new concept are Oklahoma Energy Resources Board’s (OERB) committee for Sustaining Oklahoma’s Energy Resources (SOER), the Oklahoma Energy Education Foundation (OEEF), and the Ernie Steiner family.

The program is currently operated through the senior capstone course. It will continue throughout the summer and will be opened up to sophomore and junior participants, giving students the opportunity to gain multiple real-world experiences on campus by the time they graduate.


Facilities, designed to simulate an office environment, were constructed on the 14th floor of Sarkeys Energy Center. Students like Andrew Oakes, a Mewbourne School of Petroleum and Geological Engineering senior, have access to industry-standard equipment like plotter-printers and software used by energy professionals to complete their projects.


“This was a really unique opportunity where my team was given space to develop skills and find solutions to real problems that the company entrusted to us,” Oakes said. “This is a program where you have the chance to prove your work ethic and engineering prowess to the industry.”


Last semester, 64 students worked on 14 projects with Ballard EnergyCanyon Creek EnergyCharter Oak ProductionKirkpatrick Oil and GasMack EnergyMuirfield Resources and Spartan Resources.


Students are not the only ones benefitting from the Irani Center for Energy Solutions. Companies themselves are benefitting from the additional resources provided by the I-CES student participants.


“For the small producer, it’s a win because many may not have this kind of expertise, technology or software,” said former OEEF Executive Director Mike Terry. “Many may not even have engineers or geologists on their staff, particularly since the oil downturn. If a student could help a producer in a way that turns out to be fruitful, what a learning experience for the student and the producer.”


The I-CES Center is currently invested in studying four Oklahoma formations, including the analysis of approximately 400 wells. Each of the companies that participated in the program during summer 2018 continued or added to their projects with I-CES when the program officially kicked off in the fall. Many still will continue into the 2019-2010 academic year. Additional industry projects are evaluated by college faculty and accepted on a first-come, first-served basis.


Nichole Buckner, a geologist with Kirkpatrick Oil, said even professionals like herself have something to learn from the students.


“We were highly impressed by the intelligence and diligence shown by the members of the team assigned to us,” she said. “Beyond the project, we gained a couple of new tips and tricks from these young engineers on how to more efficiently analyze our raw data.”

Irani has seen the fruits of a career established in energy education and accelerated by an entrepreneurial spirit. It has allowed him to grow businesses, contribute to the energy industry, impact Oklahoma and give back to the university that set him on this path all those years ago. Now he is ready for participants in the Irani Center for Energy Solutions to do the same: succeed in the industry, create opportunities for others and join in the great tradition of alumni who return to campus and resource the next generation of OU energy students.


Students and companies interested in participating should contact I-CES program coordinator, Kierstin Nash, at